Small business, America and the “Disenfranchized Diligent Optimist” gene

October 4, 2011

— John Krubski is an entrepreneur and the architect of The Guardian Life Index: What Matters Most to America’s Small Business Owners. He is currently working on his next book, “Cracking the America Code: How to Get US Back on Track”. The views expressed are his own. —

In their latest book — “That Used To Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back” — authors Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum maintain that our hope for a happy future lies in how we address four critical issues: resolving the impact of globalization, the revolution in information technology, the nation’s chronic deficits, and its pattern of energy consumption.

These are all very big issues requiring equally big solutions and presumably requiring some form of central planning.

The Messers Friedman and Mandelbaum have written a wonderfully articulated, excellently organized, and very informative book. The trouble is that they have pretty much altogether missed the point. The future of America will not be decided by how we tackle any one, or four, or any hundred particular issues. The future of the U.S. will be decided by how well we understand who we are, how we got here, and how effectively we tap into the fundamental operating system at work here for more than 250 years.

In other words, our future will be decided by us with the same tools we used to define our past. The real question is: Who that “us” will be?

Based on years of direct experience with thousands of America’s small business owners (not to mention being one since age 24) in combination with extensive original research, I can categorically affirm that these folks possess a certain “something” that makes them more alike on the one hand and more different from everyone else on the other.

“Disenfranchised Diligent Optimists”

That “something” is what I have come to recognize as a virtually genetic coding. At their core, successful small business owners are “Disenfranchised Diligent Optimists”. Disenfranchised in the sense that they did not neatly fit with the conventional expectations of others, especially the people for whom they may have worked. Diligent in the sense that they have the fortitude to stop complaining and take corrective action. Optimists in the sense that dealing with obstacles, hurdles, and even disasters comes naturally to this group.

As it happens, this genetic coding is precisely why most of us, or our parents, or grandparents, simply had to make the difficult journey to America. For them, remaining in the conditions “back home” inevitably became absolutely intolerable and they did what they had to do – tackled what they had to tackle to change those circumstances.

America’s small business owners create nearly 70 percent of new jobs, account for half our GDP, generate more than seven times as many patents as big business, account for 30 percent of export value overall (and they don’t sell millions of cars to do it) and 63 percent of wholesale export value. This is the sector of America that appears to “get it right” most of the time. Even “failed” entrepreneurs frequently have another go at independence until they end up creating something that works.

According to research and insights from the Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute they also effectively leverage technology, manage fiscally responsible and balanced organizations, and generally “walk the walk” when it comes to balancing energy use and the environment.

What we need to do to get the U.S. back on track is to stop trying to harness and direct the energies and talents of our key economic resource in the interest of a centralized national agenda. Instead, we need to “clear the decks” around American small business, stop getting in its way, and let it do its thing – which appears to be remarkably consistent with Friedman/Mandelbaum’s mandates in intended outcome, although functionally different in execution.

We can best get to our future by the same means that got us to the best part of our present. Rather than advocating a central plan, we should be thinking about returning to a less formal economy – an economy focusing more on the power of personal responsibility and personal initiative. There is no better model for that direction than the Disenfranchised Diligent Optimist fully supported and enabled.

We have historically waited until we could no longer tolerate even the worst situations before rolling up our sleeves and getting the job done. We aren’t quite at that point yet as a nation, but we’re darn close. When the moment comes our solutions will come from our core more than from central planning.

One comment

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I completely agree that America’s current challenge will not be addressed through concentration on a small finite set of issues. As such, allowing the disenfranchised diligent optimist to survive, and not smothering him with the requirement to adhere to rules and financial pressure established via linear large corporate thinkers’ conventional wisdom and broadstroke actions, is the important element. Krubski has it right. How can we simplify his language so that it gets adopted by the broader US population? There seems to be a strong correlation between some of Krubski’s statements and a recurring part of the Wall Street protesters themes.

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