As we prepare for the turkey, college football, and Black Friday deals coming up on this long weekend, I thought it would be good to reflect on what Thanksgiving meant to those who came before us. It just so happens that Thanksgiving Day 2015 will fall on November 26th, just like it did in 1789 when George Washington first issued his proclamation recommending a day of public thanksgiving and prayer.

Like the Americans of George’s day, we have a great deal to be thankful for. So, without further ado:

Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

Not sexy

Last week I read a great article over at Written by Andrew Yang, it’s titled “We’re Bringing Unsexy Back to Entrepreneurship.

I work in a world where the subtext to what we do every day is how we’re going to become the Next Big Thing. That’s not just my company, it’s the whole culture. Every developer’s got a big idea. Every tech startup wants to do something cool. Fourteen of the people you talk to every day have a simple idea that’s sure to be the next billion-dollar unicorn.

It’s a long way from where I came from. For a few years when I was a kid, we lived on a small farm on the edge of a small town in Idaho where my kid sister and I milked our cow by hand every morning and every night. Later we moved a few blocks “into town” but we kept the farm because my dad was a landscaper and we needed somewhere to park the trucks. Back then I was insistent that I wouldn’t work on Saturdays when I took over the business so I could play with my kids, but my vision didn’t extend much further than that.

So given my background as The Kid Who Smelled Like a Cow for the whole of sixth grade, I suppose it’s no surprise that I’m drawn to an article about the unsexy side of entrepreneurship. But I can’t help it.

Andrew starts out by talking about how he was talking to the founder of Chobani yogurt a little while back, then gives a series of “sexy’ entrepreneurship characteristics juxtaposed against “unsexy” ones. He wraps it up by saying that “it’s important to bear in mind that only 1 percent of new businesses receives venture capital (and would be appropriate for it). It’s the other 99 percent of businesses that create most jobs, employ most people, put yogurt in the fridge and make the world go round.”

And he’s spot on. One of the things I struggle with most as I write this blog is the feeling that I’m writing for the ivory tower, writing things that a few MBAs who are all excited about in big-E Entrepreneurship might read but that most people who really make our economy work will never see.

Another thing I struggle with is the sense that the 99% of entrepreneurs don’t need to hear anything I have to say. Collectively, they already know it.

Now, I’m not about to sit here and tell you that the average Joe could cogently describe the causes or effects of the economic dysfunction of western capitalism. He doesn’t have a clue, and he’s really not interested in helping you figure it out either. Most people work hard, trying to get their jobs done quickly and properly so they can go home and do something more important.

Because work isn’t the reason we’re here. In the end, an iPhone is just a phone and a venture fund is just a bunch of money unless they’re helping people live better lives. It’s time more CEOs and Chairmen of the Board started seeing their businesses as a way to help their employees earn a living so they can go home and do something more important.



Getting crazy

I’ve said before that this blog grew out of a crazy idea about giving up the profits of a successful business in order to spend that money on increasing the salaries of our employees.

That’s really a simplistic example of the core idea.

But this idea isn’t limited to millionaire executive types.

What if, instead of borrowing $50,000 to buy that jacked-up Chevy your wife’s been eyeing, you bought yourself a little four-banger Ranger and used the couple hundred extra bucks you’ll save on your payment every month to start helping your neighbor earn a few bucks so he can pay for new shoes for all his kids who are always running all over the place?

Or what if you just didn’t spend so much time working to buy that $50,000 Chevy so you could spend some more time with the old widow who lives across the street? Or volunteering at a soup kitchen? Or teaching your oldest boy how to mow a straight line when he does the neighbors lawn? Or reading a book that helps you be a better person?

The point is, this life isn’t all about work. Work begins to consume us and business leads us astray because they start to be about satisfying our desires instead of being about enabling us to live comfortably. And that’s just as true for the poor as for the wealthy among us.

James Clear recently wrote about the Diderot Effect, which is basically the idea that when we begin to focus on obtaining what we want, we will continue to multiply our wants at every step.

The way out of this spiral of consumption is self-denial or, as James puts it, living a “carefully constrained life.”  At the end of the article James says it another way: “my goal is not to reduce life to the fewest amount of things, but to fill it with the optimal amount of things.”

Getting crazy is about defining that optimal amount. It’s about learning to give so much—in terms of our time and our attention as well as our money—that it’s just a little bit crazy.



First principles, reconsidered

In The Widsom of Crowds, James Surowiecki quotes two economists, Joseph Blasi and Eric Kruse, who said “[t]he tangible rewards of employee ownership or some form of sharing the fruits of ownership must go hand in hand with work practices that give workers greater decision-making.”

In his article, How Do You Motivate Employees?, Frederick Herzberg explains that “[i]n attempting to enrich certain jobs, management often reduces the personal contribution of employees rather than giving them opportunities for growth.”

A few weeks ago, I said that one of the “first principles” I’m advocating for in this blog is that “business should exist to make life less difficult for as many people as it can.

That statement has bothered me. Not because it’s untrue, but because it’s not really what I meant and I knew that it wasn’t when I said it. It’s too lukewarm.

Yes, business should exist to make life less difficult for as many people as it can, especially its customers. Yes, I liked the opaque reference to T.S. Eliot’s question, “What do we live for; if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?” But what I really wanted to say was that “businesses should exist to serve their employees.”

A few weeks ago I saw an article on LinkedIn about why millennials are so notoriously quick to dump a job. It’s written by Elizabeth McLeod, and I almost quit reading it after the first couple of lines. But as I scanned it quickly, the last two paragraphs caught my eye. There, at the end, she said,

I was raised to believe I could change the world. I’m desperate for you to show me that the work we do here matters, even just a little bit. I’ll make copies, I’ll fetch coffee, I’ll do the grunt work. But I’m not doing it to help you get a new Mercedes.

I’ll give you everything I’ve got, but I need to know it makes a difference to something bigger than your bottom line.

It would be easy to write this off as youthful arrogance. Probably a few people have. But I think Elizabeth has put her finger on the same idea that James Surowiecki, Frederick Herzberg, and I are all circling around: people want to contribute to something meaningful.

It’s not particularly insightful to point out that a successful business has to serve its customers, and that it does that best by making life less difficult.

But what if making our employees’ lives less difficult was our top priority as well? Even more that maximizing our own profit. Could we pay them more? Trust them more? Give them more meaningful responsibilities? Expect more out of them? Teach them new skills? Could we love them?

I’d like to find out.