BY G. A. FINCH
Where Do We Go From 2011?
2011 has been a mixed year with the economy technically growing but the employment rate stubbornly ranging from eight to twelve percent depending where one lives in our great country. We now have terms like “Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Chicago, and Occupy Oakland” that now have more to do with notions of income inequality, unemployment, and financial industries’ excesses and bailouts than with any physical possession of geography. Sovereign debt defaults keep looming making for nervous financial markets and for doomsday scenarios by pundits. Americans are also war weary.
For too many Americans, Reality TV personalities, Dancing with the Stars winners, and American Idol contestants have more street cred than poets, philosophers, physicists, farmers or clergy, let alone business people and economists.
Congress seems incapable of reasoned compromises. The president said, “What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends.” No, President Obama did not say that. That quote was from President Jimmy Carter from his infamous “malaise” speech of July 15, 1979. Sounds eerily contemporary does it not?
What Else Is New About America?
Tough times, no doubt. Is America new to tough times? Of course not. We endured the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights struggles and more. Will prosperity return? Yes, of course.
Reinvention, Re-imagination, Re-whatever
But our recovery will be uneven and America must reimagine its economic and social structures to accommodate those segments of the population that cannot be meaningfully employed as low skilled, un-automated jobs continue to disappear. New kinds of jobs that we have not even thought of and that require unheard of skills will continue to emerge to both create and fill the demands of the marketplace.
Atypical and Exceptionalism
What does all this have to do with the typical executive, professional, or entrepreneur? It has nothing to do with the “typical” and everything to do with the “exceptional” executive, professional, or entrepreneur. Let’s call them the exceptional ones. Superheroes of sorts. I saw the movie Captain America last night. In that fantasy story, a superhero was created with new technology to overcome the heretofore unimagined challenges of World War II. After the movie, my little son ran upstairs, donned his Captain America costume and came back down to vanquish America’s imaginary foes, in this case his villainous stand-in was his dad.
In adversity, there is often opportunity. The resourceful, inventive, relentless and curious executives, professionals and entrepreneurs can lead the way. The exceptional ones must learn new skills, expand or change their networks, be comfortable with rapid and continuous change and alter their ways of thinking. Apple entrepreneur Steve Jobs personified what we must become. The iPod changed the way we consume music as the iPhone changed the way we communicate and access information. What changes will the exceptional ones birth and implement?
It Is About Business and More
These superheroes must also be compassionate and inclusive. The one per centers should not be penalized for performance or their good fortune. Neither should the 99 per centers be penalized for macro-economic forces beyond their control or for their misfortune. The trick for the exceptional ones is to expand opportunities for the middle again so we do not have such extreme disparities in wealth.
Extraordinary executives, professionals, or entrepreneurs are not solely limited to their efforts in private enterprise, but also can serve the enterprises of government and not-for-profits. All sectors can benefit from the know-how and grit of these kinds of executives, professionals and entrepreneurs. Our country needs their energy, discipline and imagination to propel us through the second decade of this millennium. We can view them not so much as captains of industry but as real captains of a reinvigorated America.