Eric Lefkofsky, one of the most successful business leaders in Chicago believes that the key to sparking our Midwestern economy is a change in culture.
We have the cash. We have the talent. Why are we not growing as many new businesses as California or New York?
Because we don't value risk. We don't embrace entrepreneurs. We are stuck in a culture of risk-aversion.
And that is something we can change today.
Here is his example.
In order to innovate you need a culture that honors risk taking. One of my co-panelists summed it up perfectly. When the day comes where a 35 year old husband and father comes home from work one day and says to his wife, “honey I just quit my job today to launch a start-up” and she says “that’s great news” – that’s when you’ll have a culture that honors risk taking.
Unfortunately, we don’t have that culture yet in Chicago. We don’t encourage people to drop everything and pursue their dreams. We don’t encourage them to sit in front of a white board and sketch out untested solutions. We don’t throw money at new ideas.
We don’t start off believing, we start off disbelieving.
The same is true in politics. Too often, the initial reaction to a bill or a proposal or a great idea is to say why it can't be done, why the established powers will never allow it and why it won't happen.
Instead, we need to embrace the new ideas and the new policies that are relevant for growing our economy, not the economy of 1930 or 1950 or 1970.
We need to look at immigration policy (something I debated last night on Beyond the Beltway) as an opportunity to forge a new North American Union, similar to the European Union, to reflect our inextricably linked destinies in Mexico, the US and Canada, rather than reflexively try to throw out the undocumented who stream north.
We need to look at higher education as an economic driver if we reject prestige-driven performance measures (like the US News and World Report rankings) and develop our own performance measures that focus on economic growth through smarter students at the lowest possible cost.
We need to look at our transportation network as another driver of economic growth, and realize our failure to embrace high speed rail for decades has put us at the mercy of oil-producing nations and kept our cities in the Midwest too far apart to operate as one regional unit -- sapping the potential of tying the intellectual capital of our universities to the business savvy of Chicago and smaller cities.
But it all starts with embracing risk and embracing the failure that comes with risk. We should reject the safe path. That leads to mediocrity. It's a powerful thought that our personal valuation of risk can lead to major economic growth for the region -- and significantly better public policies.
How do we build a social norm that celebrates risk?