Risk and Sacrifice

by colbert | January 8, 2012

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.