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The “humility” of Rick DeVos

April 11, 2012

Earlier today, the Hauenstein Center of GVSU hosted the last of their Wheelhouse Talks, which took place and the Salvation Army Kroc Center in Grand Rapids.

The guest speaker today was Rick DeVos, founder of ArtPrize and other “entrepreneurial” endeavors. DeVos, who read from a script, talked less than 15 minutes before he opened it up for questions.

DeVos began his talk by saying that “leadership” was a loaded word for him. He said he has a hard time with being considered a leader and that he tries to take a humble approach when asked to come speak about the issue of leadership. DeVos even said he prefers being in a quiet room reading a book and not around a lot of people.

DeVos played the humility card quite a bit in fact, but as someone who is born into wealth and has taken advantage of the privileges of using that wealth to start other business ventures, it just seemed like false humility.

DeVos said the main things he wanted to communicate about how he has been successful were three things: having good ideas, clear goals and courage. In fact, the talk he gave earlier today was quite similar to his comments in a recent article in the Fast Company Magazine.

The son of Dick & Betsy DeVos said that we in Michigan plan too much and don’t allow for creativity and that this is a hold over from the manufacturing days. DeVos said he had no proof that people would be interested in ArtPrize, 5×5 or water in a box, but people did. True, there has been interest in those things, but people also like American Idol and Tim Tebow. Just because people like something doesn’t necessarily mean it is a benefit to the community.

DeVos then talked about courage and bravery, which for him is in part coming to terms with the fact that you will fail at times. Again, this seems like such a strange notion from someone who got $2 million from his parents to start ArtPrize. When most people fail in the real world, they don’t have rich parents to back them up.

The third generation DeVos then talked about how there are trolls in the world that will criticize you. Some of those “trolls” are other business people who want to bring you down instead of supporting you and the other type of trolls are those who are “Internet loons with conspiracy theories.” DeVos didn’t identify any of the loons, but dismissing critics as loons who promote conspiracy theories is just a convenient way to dismiss anyone who honestly wants to challenge those who have power.

As someone who has written a great deal about ArtPrize from a critical point of view, I don’t see such criticism as conspiratorial, but an understanding of how power functions. When we posted a piece last November that looked at the second year financials of ArtPrize, where the was clearly monetary benefits being shared by a small sector of local businesses, that isn’t a conspiracy, it is business as usual.

As I already mentioned the talk was brief, so DeVos allowed plenty of time for Q&A. Most of the comments from those in the audience of about 200 were affirming of ArtPrize and the questions ranged from “will you write a book,” to “how did ArtPrize get started” and “what does it take to be an effective team builder.”

One woman did cite an author about how God is calling us to a place of purpose. She asked DeVos where God was calling him, particularly around issues like poverty and justice. Not surprising, those topics were avoided and DeVos instead said he was interested in creating systems where people could invest in each other and themselves.

Some would argue that such investment does address poverty, but the history of struggle for justice, from the 19th century labor movements to the current global uprisings against private economic power, would suggest that justice is about equity, human rights and the redistribution of wealth and power.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. akismet-d8daf30ccfc98365125d01a99ec9f470 permalink
    April 11, 2012 7:33 pm

    Reminds me of the Dickens “David Copperfield” character Uriah Heep, who couldn’t stop talking about how “umble” he was – when all he really was, was an ass-kisser.

  2. richardkooyman permalink
    April 11, 2012 8:57 pm

    I am probably the “internet loon” Rick Devos is referring to have written rather extensively on his and his families conservative political and cultural advocacy. I would agree with Devos by saying I sometimes do consider the amount of time I spend professionally on the internet as looney but none of my research or writing has anything to do with conspiracies or theories. That hasn’t prevented his organization from banning me and others who have been critical of ArtPrize from it’s Facebook page and web blog. Those avenues of dialog are rightly privately controlled so I have no problem with having been banned but I suspect they even went a step further when what I wrote about ArtPrize on my own Facebook page was deleted on the grounds that it was inappropriate. Fortunately I appealed and my work was reposted.

  3. Crispin Yahoo permalink
    April 12, 2012 12:54 pm

    Or you could just make your own opinion – here is the full talk – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95cSnXBMC-4

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