It’s State of the Union time again. Looking back over the past 12 months at the big picture, it’s hard to say much has changed other than dates on the calendar, a few faces here and there, and the size of the national debt.

The economy has shown signs of recovery, only to sputter now and again (new home sales fell 7% in December). And while the unemployment rate has dropped below 7% for the first time in recent memory, questions abound about the nature of that number and if it’s more indicative of the number of jobless who have simply given up looking for work vs. those who have actually found it.

That said, when I take a look at the local scene—when I consider friends, family, business associates, and colleagues working hard to make a living and make a difference—it’s hard to deny there seems to be a certain level of optimism bubbling just beneath the surface. It’s as though the next big thing is just around the corner, and we all sense it.

About a year and a half ago, I wrote the following blog. It’s about how by working together vs. working divided, we can grow the opportunity pie for ourselves and for others. It’s certainly something to think about. Enjoy!

The Butterfly Effect and Growing the Economy

(Originally posted on September 26, 2012)

The key to jumpstarting our sluggish economy isn’t to bury the competition. The key is to recognize there’s enough business and opportunity to go around for everyone. We just need to create it. And once everyone gets involved in the recovery and has a stake in the outcome, we all win—us, our competitors, customers, and future generations who will look back at this time in history and say, “You know, when the going got tough, they banded together and worked it out.”

Some might call my thinking naïve, but is it really? Together we got into this mess. Doesn’t it make sense teamwork is what we need to get us out of it?

In recent years I’ve seen far too many people copping a “mine, mine, mine” attitude—from job seekers ruthlessly undercutting other candidates, to businesses big and small engaged in a sort of cold war struggle to see who will survive, to politicians far too willing to pit one economic class against another. Like it or not, we’re in this together, so wouldn’t solutions founded on INLCUSION (teamwork, partnership, working with others) vs. EXCLUSION (winning at all costs, often at the expense of others) make the most sense?

The old school way of business came from a mindset of scarcity, that there was only room for one top dog (or King Monkey), that there could and should be only one #1. But what if we approached the way we do business (or conduct our lives, overall) from a fundamental notion that there is plenty to go around, that the opportunity pie in life and in business is infinitely large and abundant?

I’m not suggesting business owners and entrepreneurs suddenly clasp hands and join together in one, gigantic Kumbaya moment (though that would make one heck of a photo op!). And I am certainly not suggesting that the wildly successful should somehow be penalized. Hardly. What I’m suggesting is that we can all be successful, and we can start by abandoning the idea that to build ourselves (and our companies) up we need to tear down the other guy.

We don’t.

Even with its recent stock market ups and downs, Facebook has grown into social media mega-star. Have you ever considered how many other companies and individuals have benefitted from its amazing rise? Think about it. Entire businesses and industries have been built around this social media titan. Whether you’re a Facebook hater or lover, you could say our whole way of life has changed (and you would be right). Now consider if Facebook had done battle with everyone, excluding competitors from its platform, keeping a tighter rein on which web sites could post its “like” button, or who could become a Facebook member, or if they required a cut of every little business out there that benefited from using its social media platform? Most likely, the results would have been vastly different and not nearly as far reaching. Early on, Facebook realized it needed to include others, not exclude them, on its path to success . . . and it’s a lesson we can all learn from.

So what can we do—the big and the small businesses, the executives and the entrepreneurs, the employed and the unengaged? If contemplating action on a regional or national scale overwhelms, consider the butterfly effect, how one tiny ripple can grow to affect great transformations. Turn your attention to what you can control: your business, your actions, your community.

  • Work hard to improve your services, to build the best products, to be the best professional you can be. You, your customers, and countless others will gain.
  • Work hard to improve the business climate in your community; work hard to shape the regulatory environment . . . heck, work hard to improve your community, period! Again, everyone wins.
  • Become a model business and private citizen by participating in your church, in charities, through the local chamber, through the schools, through local government.
  • Accept that others, including your competitors, will gain from your actions. So be it. What’s the alternative, to go down with the ship?
  • Rest comfortable knowing that success breeds success, that the opportunity pie in life and in business is infinitely large and abundant.

John F. Kennedy famously coined the phrase, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” When he spoke these words, he was talking about how when an economy performs well, all people benefit. True, but I think we can expand upon his meaning: “When everyone gets involved and has a stake in the outcome, all people benefit.”

How can you make more success in your business, in your community? How can you grow the opportunity pie?

Share your ideas here.