Steve Morgan | Crain's Baltimore

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Steve Morgan

Background:  

Founded in 1949 in Baltimore County, The Arc Baltimore supports more than 6,000 adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. As one of the nation’s largest organizations of its kind, The Arc Baltimore provides employment training and support, day and residential services, family support and education, and public policy advocacy. Steve Morgan has served as executive director since 1985.

The Mistake:

As things evolved, we may have waited too long to take the next step in some cases. We failed to realize that we could have skipped a step in some cases, and gone straight to the next phase or the next cycle.

I’m reluctant to characterize it as a mistake, because if you look at the history of how we have supported people with disabilities over the years, it’s been kind of an evolution. We try one thing, and at the time it seems like the right way to go, then we realize this is maybe a bridge point, it’s not the end point.

Years ago, most folks with intellectual and development disabilities had few alternatives other than to go live in a state institution when their parents got older. They really had no other options to receive the support they needed.

Years later, the funders and the regulators began forcing the institutionalization. The Arc and others we worked with realized that was a mistake, and pursued getting people out of institutions by opening group homes.

In 1971, we opened our first group home for 14 people. At the time it seemed like a success worth celebrating. But a few years later we realized no, that’s too big. Very quickly we moved to opening homes that just had two or three people living together, which is a more normative kind of setting for people with disabilities.

Although we started opening other smaller homes, it took 15 years until we downsized and closed the original group home. We corrected our course pretty quickly after opening the big group home, but we left that home in place for a while.

Take some time to think or imagine a better, more ideal end point.

The Lesson:

We learned to do the best you can to anticipate the future. Envision the end product or service that you want to provide, and if you can get there directly as opposed to incrementally, that would be the way to go.

When homes were being opened in the 1970s, the trend in the community was to open larger homes. It was a little while later that we, and others, realized that smaller homes work better.

It would have helped us to envision the ideal end point. Since then, we’ve opened a lot of small homes. The large homes closed eventually, and all the homes are small homes, so that was our goal, and we have achieved that.

The lesson is don’t just focus on envisioning the next step, even though the next step might be desirable. Take some time to think or imagine a better, more ideal end point, and see if it’s possible to go directly to that end point.

The Arc Baltimore is on Twitter at @TheArcBaltimore.

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