The Man in the Mirror0
By Frank J. Rich
Business turns furiously on the work of individuals, especially when joined as one in single purpose to form organizations. With opportunity so evident in the model of individual accomplishment, what keeps us from finding this essential guise?
Kohl’s recent quarter decline in sales may be a case in point. It positioned itself with lower priced items and earlier access to seasonal clothing, but failed to support demand with adequate inventory. Did they only half-heartedly commit to their new market position, hedging against potential losses should it fail to produce the hoped for result? Or did they purpose to risk little in an effort to test the market, content to count success in the next quarters after securing the value in the new market approach? Which was the man in the mirror? Kohl’s revenues for the past quarter dropped 23 percent.
Today’s culture insists on easy everything—from food to solutions— but the complexities of modern business belie the simplification. Yet, underlying the most complex analyses are simple rules of behavior. We turn wants into needs. We need the things made standard by another’s having of them. We do what is expected of us, and not what is best for all—winded, as though seeing through a glass darkly.
Individuals are celebrated for just that; it’s what parents and teachers alike encourage in us through the learning process and life. Unique contributions, most often born of unique perspective, imagine things not seen clearly by others, things hidden in plain sight. It is no secret how to distinguish oneself—be different. If the difference works for most, a crowd gathers to celebrate it. Not all those given of genius are well liked—consider Steve Jobs. But unique contribution is a compelling art form.
How then do we encourage the real me in a world preoccupied with the Hollywood effect, this new reality the essential you?
Small business, notably Main Street shops, are the bread and butter of economies. The local exchange that is common to them provides more than 60 percent of jobs and an even larger portion of the GNP. The impetus in starting local shops is the enterprise ethic that characterizes the American psyche, the hope of financial independence, if only by the hard work and investment that is uniquely theirs. This unique expression combines the energy, desire, and the plasticity required to weather the vicissitudes of local markets. Those who survived the recent recession are a testimony to the tenacity necessary to successful enterprise models.
Small business owners are qualified by no less; they are a benchmark of the Protestant ethic, made famous by Max Weber in his celebrated book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Their decision to open for business is inextricably tied to their identity, their image of themselves, and not least their hope for a better future. Few make it big, but the failure rate seems to affect the search for identity and the accumulation of wealth almost not at all. In a good economy they start 50,000 new businesses a month in the U. S.
Even Alice saw the shenanigans of the King and Queen of Hearts as no more than a deck of cards before she woke up to reality. Pray the moral of the story is not lost on us as we look for the man in the mirror.