2011 Opportunities & Challenges

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The start of 2011 brings with it opportunities and challenges.  However, in looking forward we should reflect on 2010 and see what lessons, if any, we can take from the year that has just ended.  To that end, I am indebted to Rosabeth Moss Kanter whose article in the Harvard Business Review bears examination.  Kanter notes a number of lessons from 2010 that are “worth repeating.”


Lesson No. 1: “Surprises are the new normal.  Resilience is the new skill.”  Think of the surprises that confronted us in 2010.  The recession, officially “technically over”, continued to starve the nation of new jobs despite efforts to stimulate growth.  Growth grew but hiring lagged and, in some months, actually shrunk.  The government’s bailout of GM turned out to be an investment which will actually end up making money for the U.S. Treasury.  Who would have guessed?  And BP:  Who could have predicted that a nation would be transfixed for four months on a gurgling torrent of oil destroying wildlife, blackening the Gulf of Mexico and bankrupting businesses and families living in the area.  The biggest lesson from the spill according to Kanter is this: “failure to communicate honestly is the biggest mistake.”


Lesson No. 2: “Innovation takes courage and the willingness to be out in front rather than following the herd.”  Kanter notes that a prime example of this is the ad campaign for Stoneyfield Farms, “the yogurt makers,” who used talking cows to promote their products.  The talking cows proved to be much better product endorsers than, let’s say, Tiger Woods. 


Lesson No. 3: “Openness and inclusion should be the new standards.”  It is important to seek ideas outside your normal channels.  Limiting participation in the decision-making process to only “insiders” can often result in a dysfunctional company and short-sighted decision making.  Make your leadership ranks diverse.  You’d be surprised where new and innovative ideas for your company may come from.


Let me add two more lessons that we should keep in mind for the new year:


Lesson No. 4: Compromise is not a dirty word.   From the beginning of the Republic, our leaders have moved this country forward based on compromise.  Indeed, the very existence of the United States Senate was a result of a compromise.   The smaller states who would not have representation equal to that of the larger states in the House of Representatives sought a separate legislative body where their representation would equal that of the larger states.  It was initially opposed but a compromise was reached and the United States Senate was created.  Compromise is not a weakness.  This country has been built upon the melding of ideas from all sides of the political spectrum.  No political party or ideology has a monopoly on good ideas.


Lesson No. 5:  We either hang together or we will surely hang separately.  Benjamin Franklin made this comment when he was urging unity on the part of the founding fathers.  It applies today.  Regardless of our politics, we are one country and as citizens we must hang together.  We can disagree on policy but personal attacks on our leaders accomplish nothing and in the end pull the country apart.  I am reminded of what John Wayne said after John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960.  Wayne, who was a strong supporter of Nixon, said Kennedy is now our president and I wish him success.  We should follow that example.


2011 will provide its own share of lessons and surprises.  No one, not the least those mindless talking heads we see on television, will accurately predict where things will stand on this date in 2012.  However, if history is a guide, the United States will emerge from this brutally difficult period immeasurably stronger.


Happy New Year and the best for 2011.

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Harrisburg Magazine Readers' Choice 2011