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Risk-Taking On the Wane? Why America Needs the UnStoppables

Our friend Dr. Jeffrey Zink, a renowned business leadership specialist, told us about this summary of a recent Wall Street Journal cover story he found in the Politico Playbook. Here’s a summary of the summary:

The article was called “Risk-Averse Culture Infects U.S. Workers, Entrepreneurs,” by Ben Casselman. It said: “Fewer Americans are changing jobs. Companies are hoarding more cash. And the proportion of new businesses has fallen. The result? A less dynamic economy. Three long-running trends suggest the U.S. economy has turned soft on risk: Companies add jobs more slowly, even in good times. Investors put less money into new ventures. … Americans start fewer businesses and are less inclined to change jobs or move for new opportunities. …” “For the first time since such records have been kept, the e Census found in 2008 that more Americans worked for big businesses-those with at least 500 workers-than small ones. The trend has continued since.”

Not good. Sounds like “red sky in morning, sailors take warning.” But why should we care if America’s great tradition of risk taking is losing its mojo?

If you think like an entrepreneur, it’s pretty obvious. Like the article says: “Entrepreneurs…create jobs for many others. And just as important, say economists, are small acts of risk-taking: workers who quit their jobs to find better ones, companies that expand payrolls and families that move from sluggish economic regions to ones with low unemployment rates. Multiplied across the U.S. economy, these acts of faith and ambition help speed money, talent and resources to where they are needed. …”

The WSJ article goes on to say that up until the 1980’s the economy used to take about 20 months on average to recover the net jobs lost in a recession. The early 1990’s recession took almost 3 years. The mild recession of 2001 took four years to get back to our employment peak. And four years after the great recession? We haven’t recovered yet. The overall conclusion backed by “a broad cross section of U.S. economists…is that a necessary kind of risk-taking is on the decline” in America.

Whether decline in risk taking is the disease or just a symptom is debatable. There are myriad global forces contributing to economic re-alignment. But the facts cited here do highlight one great big American reality–a central premise of The UnStoppables: We need millions more entrepreneurs if we are going to win the war for the economic future. The institutional status quo won’t get us there. And the need to mobilize every ounce of our Entrepreneurial potential is as vital an issue as any wartime threat we might have encountered in the past. If what it takes is to educate our students in new ways to understand fear, re-frame failure and to undertake the inevitable risks that that go with any achievement–if our society needs to focus once more on the “emotional mechanics” of doing great things, not just the technical mechanics learned in air conditioned classrooms–then that’s problem we have to solve with all the creativity, innovative spirit, energy and character we’ve got.

America can still be UnStoppable– but only if we dare.

For the full articles go to

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