The Quiet Curse of the Midwestern Work Ethic

The Quiet Curse of the Midwestern Work Ethic

January 9, 2013

If you've lived in the Midwest for any length of time, then you're probably familiar with the concept of the "Midwestern work ethic." It's an unwaveringly pragmatic and dogmatic belief that hard work and perserverance rooted in quiet humility pays off in the long run.

And guess what? It does. You don't have to look very far around the Midwest and our beloved Kansas City to see evidence of that. The embodiment of those ideals are found in the stories of such figures as Joyce Hall, the Bloch brothers, Ewing Kauffman, the Kempers, J.C. Nichols and so many others. You could make an argument that the Midwestern work ethic is like some sort of supergene.

While I was born in Chicago and apart from my college days spent traipsing about the Midwest and a bit of the UK, I've lived in Kansas City for nearly all my life. I was married in Kansas City. My career has been in Kansas City. My kids were born here. (You get it. Go ahead and cue the John Mellencamp.) So I like to think of myself as somewhat of an expert in the Midwestern work ethic as manifested here on Missouri's left coast. My conclusion?

The Midwestern work ethic is also a quiet curse.

Our cousins on the coasts think of us as provincial. Slow. Conservative. Unimaginative. That we live in the heart of flyover country with little to offer except jazz and barbecue, even if those two things alone are pretty damn good.

Unfortunately, in the past we've done little to battle this perception, even going so far as to say that our little oasis should be a quiet haven for those seeking simple lives, a low cost of living and a safe place to raise kids.

"Kansas City: It'll be our little secret."

I don't bring that up to bash my good friend Brent Anderson or to bemoan what has become our brand. Instead, I'm simply offering this: in order to change a perception you must actively and, yes, vocally work to reshape it.

Thankfully, it's starting to happen.

Psst. Kansas City. It's ok to talk about these things.

In our own industry, the work coming from Kansas City is being recognized on a larger stage. We had two Cannes Lion-winning agencies last year. Six National Gold & Silver ADDY Award winners. There have been countless new business wins and positive growth for local shops. In the past few weeks alone, three major announcements have created a remarkable sense of optimism right at the start of this new year.

Kansas City. Really. WE SHOULD BE SHOUTING ABOUT THESE THINGS. Not bragging, but showing some hard-earned pride in our work.

Within our own organization, the last six months have been an extraordinarily busy time: we moved to a new physical location for the club at 1722 Main; we hired a new director; greeted the fall with a First Friday Marty; held Art+Copy Club's annual Clios watch party; hosted Justin Ahrens from Rule29 and former Apple creative Ken Segall; threw a successful Ad 2/Art of the Call bingo benefit for reStart; and brought our popular Wednesday Accelerations breakfast panel series to Overland Park. In a couple of weeks, Art+Copy Club's Cheeky Award will be given to Teri Rogers in classic roast fashion. In just over a month, we will convene for our annual ADDY Awards at the Midland Theatre.

And there's still much more yet to come.

I'm damn proud to call Kansas City home. I'm damn proud to be part of such a remarkable creative and entrepreneurial community. I'm damn proud -- as are my fellow board and council members -- to represent Kansas City's dynamic advertising industry and to serve the membership of AAF-KC.

So there you have it. I'm done quietly celebrating our collective accomplishments. You should be too. From here on out, it's time drop the decorum, kill that quiet curse of the Midwestern work ethic and declare with a unified voice one simple response that can be heard from here to the coasts when someone asks the question "Kansas City?"

"Yeah...Kansas City. Creativity lives here."

John Kreicbergs [Director, Digital Strategy at Meers] is president of the American Advertising Federation of Kansas City and is proud to declare that he's built his life and career in KC. Advertising aside, he enjoys all things local. That includes Sundays at Arrowhead, evenings at Livestrong, weekends on the trails and a Boulevard beer in his hand.