As I write this, the news reports are all full of coverage of Steve Jobs’ death, and that helps to bring into focus something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Much of the slowness of the current economy has to do with an unreasonable fear to invest in the future. That’s something that’s just not a part of the psyche of most successful business people and was particularly evident in the co-founder of Apple. Here’s what Jobs said about it in an address at the Stanford University commencement in 2005:
"You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something -- your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life."
But that’s not what most of us are doing these days. Large companies (and most notably financial institutions) are hoarding cash rather than investing in new enterprises. Consumer confidence is in the dumps. Only 11 percent of small businesses (those with 500 or fewer employees) expect to hire more workers in the next three months. And low stock values reflect low expectations for future profits.
But that’s all natural, you say, since the economy is down. Yet, historically, as economist Robert Litan of the Kauffman Foundation notes, half of today’s Fortune 500 companies began as start-ups in a recession or a bear stock market. I lived in San Jose when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple. It was an amazing time. Pong, the first successful video game, was a novelty in every bar and pizza parlor. A friend took CAD classes and quickly became a valuable commodity, jumping from company to company always working for a higher bidder for his services. Hand-held calculators were new and expensive, but coming down in price fast.
I caught the fever and started my own first business then. The bank wouldn’t lend me money then, either, but I found a way. Obviously, my business didn’t become the success Apple did, but it did well enough to put me through college. Today, I hear so many shop owners who say they are “sitting on their wallets” waiting for times to get better. Steve Jobs dropped out of college to chase his dreams. He didn’t wait for someone else to set the stage for him. He made his own future happen. The first step to a better economy for all of us is to stop standing still, take a little risk and dare to move forward.
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