Polity: A particular form of political system or government.
[Author’s Note: Please do not be confused. This essay is not meant to be supportive or, even, non-supportive, of either of the current candidates for president of the United States of America. It is, rather, about the backbone of the American economy: the small business owner for whom, collectively and individually, I have a deep and abiding respect.]
Recently our esteemed president made the following comment regarding the role of business owners: “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” In all fairness, I have also learned that Governor Romney took a similar tack some years ago when referring to the achievements of Olympians. He said, “You Olympians, however, know you didn’t get here solely on your own power…all Olympians stand on the shoulders of those who lifted them.”
Well, before I go on, let me set the record straight from a personal perspective: I have managed to launch two successful businesses in my adult life (two for two—batting 1,000), and you can take it from me, there was no one looking over my shoulder making that happen, least of all, the federal government. One should also know that the SBA estimates that nearly 60% of all startup businesses fail within their first four years of operation. Therefore, by this measure, a “successful business” would be one that manages to get past, at least, that fourth year. Pretty scary odds.
One other quick point: In my view, if one has never attempted to start/build a business from scratch, successful or not, then one’s credibility for opinions on such is as shaky as those of a man having the gall to explain to a woman what it is like to birth a child. Okay, moving on—here’s my interpretation of these comments:
Referring first to President Obama’s comment, I am inclined to believe that what the president meant to say, when taken in the full context of his speech, is that no one can build a successful business without help from others, with which I would certainly agree. Or, at least that is what I prefer to believe he meant to say. In fact, if that is not what he meant to say, and he actually meant what he actually said, I am, hereby, officially terrified regarding our president’s total lack of understanding of how capitalism actually works.
I wrote of “keystones” recently (you will find it under the Reverie tab). I made the point that we often find that there are certain keystones in our lives that hold our individual worlds together—that keep our arch bridges from collapsing. But, to extend the metaphor, there are a lot of other rocks in such a bridge that are, collectively, of equal importance. It is these other rocks, or connections, if you will, to which I believe both candidates refer.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that most deals, arrangements and accommodations are consummated between people who already know one another. The practice of what we refer to as networking is nothing new, of course—but, reportedly, it wasn’t until 1985 that someone came up with this popular term for it. Well, in any event, we now all know about networking. Two-thirds of the human population participates in networking every day on Facebook, for example—when we are seeking employment, need a baby sitter or have an opinion to share, we post it on our wall; LinkdIn is a prominent networking system among peers in the business community; and there are myriad other digital as well as face-to-face networks that bring participants together who have a common interest, including their places of employment, families and friends.
But, speaking specifically of business owners, those who have the moxie to pursue the dream of owning and operating their own businesses, well, these folks are of a special lot (as are Olympians, for that matter). Business owners are often referred to as entrepreneurs, a French term meaning “risk takers.” It is not uncommon for them to commit their life savings, max out their charge cards, and encumber their homes and use their 401ks to raise the capital to start their businesses. They not only learn how to deal with the impediments of government, but also try to benefit from federal, state and local laws and policies that might actually help them in their quest. (They have no control over such things, of course, but they need to have the savvy to figure out how to either avoid or take advantage of them, accordingly.)
“Connections” for these folks might include any combination of family members, friends, successful business owners with whom they may be acquainted, and even the federal government for that matter (via the Small Business Administration, for example). For professional assistance, and to the degree they may be able to afford such services, they look to consultants, CPAs, attorneys and other advisors in the private sector to learn how to navigate the mind-altering maze of laws, regulations and challenges of the modern business world that must be overcome in order to achieve success: a profitable enterprise that can last for at least four years.
I think Mr. Romney was correct in his use of the term “lifted” in the context of an Olympian in pursuit of gold medals—lifted, in a manner as one might be transported by an Otis elevator. This is due to the fact that in many cases those doing the lifting, such as sponsors and coaches, have a vested interest in their success—if the aspiring Olympians they choose to support are successful, they and their gyms, and the private enterprises that support them will, by association, gain international notoriety, which is expected to provide a financial benefit to such supporters in the future (there’s that capitalism again). Thus, it is the lifters who select whom they will lift, not the other way around. This, however, is an entirely different business model than the one faced by those who have a dream of building their own businesses.
The business entrepreneurs to whom Mr. Obama refers are rarely “lifted” by those that assist and encourage them, other than spiritually, perhaps. Rather than being chosen by a lifter and then invited to enter an open elevator cab, business owners are presented with a static ladder leaning against a wall that must be climbed—one rung at a time. Thus, aspiring business owners must possess the requisite level of intelligence, persistence, determination and skills in order to scale the ladders they’ve chosen, and then, along with a little luck, these attributes might be enough to allow them to achieve their goals. In other words, that ladder is useless to someone who does not possess some combination of the smarts, skills, vision and will to try to use it. And, furthermore, there are no guarantees—there will likely be no one with whom to share the blame for failure.
Thus, and with all due respect, I believe Mr. Obama has his cart before his horse. It is the entrepreneur who must figure out how to achieve success within whatever system may exist at the time, and by no means the system itself that is responsible for one’s business achievements—otherwise we would all be business owners. And, lastly, I think most of us would agree that luck definitely plays a prominent role in achieving any goals, be they goals of Olympians, business owners or anyone else. But, as Samuel Goldwyn, the famous film producer, put it, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”