Risk and Sacrifice

January 8, 2012 by comments 6

The measure of any successful company is its ability to affect sustainable growth while maintaining strong cash flow and a healthy balance sheet. The measure of any successful country is roughly the same: a growing GDP, consistent surpluses, and a portfolio of tangible and intangible assets that easily cover its tangible and intangible liabilities.

The seven men and women currently running to become the 45th president of the United States are effectively trying to win a race that will end up in another race: the race to right our economy and get our national income statement and balance sheet back in order. It is a race against the slippery slope of time and competitive nations, a race against the erosion of consumer confidence and the declining capacity of our nation to create equity versus simply issue debt (and print money). It is a race against the daunting and growing complexity of every problem we have, from the crushing deficit to the skyrocketing costs of health care and the declining efficacy of our education system. Ugh.

So the question is not who is going to win the first race but how they and we can win the second? How can we unravel all these cans of worms? How can we break the paralyzing hold of partisanship, the limitations of myopic thinking, and the fundamental inability to forge policies and paths that actually make sense? While I am no economist I am a historian of sorts and I often find the answer to the future somewhere in the past. And the past reveals quite clearly that the success of virtually every new or reforming enterprise lies in the ability of its leadership and citizenry to do two things:  take risks and make sacrifices. Risk and sacrifice were the hallmark behaviors of America’s founding fathers and the put upon colonialists. Risk and sacrifice are at the core of every entrepreneurial enterprise.  And risk and sacrifice are the headlines that sit on top of every corporate turnaround story since the beginning of time.

The problem with risk and sacrifice is that it demands risk and sacrifice. And most of us, starting with our leaders don’t really want to take risk or make sacrifices. We prefer to seduce ourselves into believing that holding on to what is, maintaining the status quo, waiting it out, and not giving up much of anything, will somehow magically turn into a turnaround. It’s a mainstream societal and corporate approach that perfectly captures that classic definition of insanity: doing the exact same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.

The sad truth is that risk and sacrifice will most likely only come when it has to. When the state of the nation is so dire, so desperate that people come together to work together, to share together, and to give up together. It happened in 1776.  It happened again in 1941. It happened for three weeks in 2001. What’s different this time is that the enemy is us.

  • Jim

    Wow, nicely put. Do you think any of those candidates are up to the task?

    • Chris Colbert

       The race cannot be won by any individual.  The fact that much of society thinks that the president actually controls/guides/influences the health of our economy and the efficacy of our systems underscores part of the risk and sacrifice problem.  We don’t want to believe/accept what we don’t want to believe. 

  • Nicolas Boillot

    Very well said, and I would add: the ability to understand where risk is appropriate and when sacrifice is warranted are hallmarks of an adult mindset. When I look at our leadership, it reflects the increasingly adolescent and tribal mindset visible in our culture. A century of unbridled growth in consumerism and instant gratification, with decreasing suffering and the watering down of all rites of passage from one stage of life to another… we are a bunch of teenagers governed by a bunch of teenagers. Of course the enemy is within us. Who among the seven shows adult qualities, and will lead us into adult behaviors and decisions?

  • Chris Colbert

    Agree to the question and to the observation of a watering down of our culture and values, fueled perhaps by our melting pot genesis or simply the power of the media to convince us that the ways of the past are no longer relevant.  All for one, and none for all. 

  • Jon Carson

    What is also different this time is that it is possible to be too late, to let the issues compound to such a degree that they are simply unmanageable without huge mega consequences. What we face is multiple systems disorders;

    – The economic system is out of balance and not properly distributing gains. In essence capitalism as practiced here is no longer working for middle class Americans. Moreover, large debt buildup is beginning to impose unacceptable risks to the system.

    – The political system is increasingly out of alignment and unable to govern from the center. The right in particular is becoming increasingly extreme (look no farther than the leading voices of Cain, Bachman, Palin, Gingrich, Perry, etc, etc)

    – The social system is out of balance. Example #1– cuts to k-12 schools and public universities as the U.S. increasingly has to compete in a knowledge economy. NPR reported two weeks ago that the biggest trend in public education is going to 4 day school weeks in order to save money. We are in effect eating our seed corn.

    All of this is putting enormous pressure on the populace. Expect to hear more from both the Tea Party and Occupy and hope that the unrest does not intensify. Democracy is great at handing out bigger pieces of a growing pie. Not clear how it does at administering haircuts.

  • Chris Colbert

    remarkably similar conditions to all the prior empires…we’ll no doubt just keep fiddling…ugh.