Sunday, January 23, 2011

Finally something to talk about

This past week, the Chinese President visited the White House for a state dinner. It has brought up understandable concerns over the rise of China and what that means for the US.

It is estimated that by 2025 or 2030, China will overtake the United States as the largest economy in the world. The US surpassed Great Britain in 1877 as the largest country in the world. Ever since, the foam finger industry has been going strong making "We're Number 1" foam fingers. America has enjoyed a long run as the strongest and richest country in the world. Losing that number one spot will be tough to our national psyche, however, we should actually start to question what we have done to earn that number one spot.

We American's have been riding the wave of previous successes for a while. The real question should be, "What have we done lately?"

There is no doubt that China is hungry and ambitious. But just how ambitious are we as a nation? Most of what we do now is respond to problems. No longer are we racing to the moon, learning to fly, creating new inventions, or building the big dams. It doesn't mean we are dumber than our ancestors. It does mean we are not as ambitious as they were. Our hunger has been calmed by plenty of food, loads of leisure and comfort. We don't take the risks we once did largely because we have so much to lose or we have too much stuff already and don't need to go higher.

I was visited by a man this week who wants to build his own business. He is about 40 and makes good money working for someone else. After a very long talk, I realized he won't actually follow his dream because he is comfortable now. He won't take a risk for something bigger because what he has now is good enough.

Multiply that across an entire generation and you will see why we Americans have a problem. In order to grow as a country, we must take risk. But individuals don't need or want to take that risk for the possibility of something big.

The missing element is ambition. You cannot teach it. Either you hunger to achieve something or you don't. It is tough to act hungry when your belly is already full. I don't know what the answer is to this dilemma. Of course, we will all point the finger at someone else for America's decline in the world. Luckily, there will be a huge supply of foam fingers to fill the demand.

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