Talkers and Doers – an exposé on “The Washington Disease”

We will get out of these hard times – and, once out, we will recognize it was the Doers that made it happen.  The longer I live, work and travel in and around Washington DC the more I am convinced that it is a city of Talkers. Yes, there are hard-working, sturdy doers here by the thousands, and our republic depends on them. God bless ‘em! But it is the talkers in DC who have the limelight. Blinded by their own brilliance, they rumble about the town like tumbleweed. I bump into them often – thus my rant.

I remember, as a much younger man, spending some time with an elder in our church who was a farmer. He didn’t say much. But I have seldom been so impressed at how much one person could get done in life. And it was solid. I would float my lofty ideas by him, and his wise words were often: “We’ll see.” We did.

Here in DC it is not just The Administration, Congress and the Media that clobber us with lofty talkers. They are everywhere, at all levels and in most organizations. Oratory is in vogue.  It is so pervasive that I have named it The Washington Disease. You see it in business, with gusts of “my-idea-is-the-most-significant-idea”  blowing down corridors and swirling around meetings. You see it in schools with the teacher asking the class for their feedback and then cutting off the discussion because the teacher thought of something more important to say.  You see it in the frenetic pace from the beltway to the National Mall to the suburbs – as a friend of mine puts it:  “Everyone’s in a hurry even if they don’t know where they are going.”

Where does it come from? People feel the need to get something DONE – but they are trained here to TALK. It is easy to talk. Talk is cheap. Meetings are easy to schedule in Outlook. We get to talk a lot in meetings. Makes us feel better. Gets us through the day. Makes us look even better if we rush. It is easy to rush – hey, I am an adrenaline junkie too – it feels good.

How about really getting things done?  That costs us more. As my dad, who grew up on a farm,  would say: “Time to put your money where your mouth is.” (Note to Congress and the Administration – the proverb cites YOUR money – not someone else’s).  It boils own to DOING something. That usually involves more work than talking. A great deal more. Doing things makes you miss meetings.

A big part of the problem here in the DC area is that people are too tired out from the talking and the rushing to move down from the 10,000 foot level and get their hands in the dirt like a farmer and make something grow. Besides, there is not much social value here in being a farmer. Doers don’t get much credit. My theory – it is too provincial.  Seems too much like it comes from the heartland or a red state. I digress.

Now THAT gets me back to some of my recurring themes: Politics – Business – Spirituality – Life – What’s good for America – and stuff like that.

Here is the summary:

  • Politics: I think America is really tiring of DC talkers. Recent elections seem to bear that out.
  • Business: It is still about the small-businessperson, the small business family, and the American worker who likes the feeling of being captain of his or her own ship.
  • Spirituality: The Bible says it is not the hearer of the Word but the Doer of the Word that is blessed…  (I think that also goes for the talker-about-the-Word)
  • Life and What’s good for America: It finally boils down to the regular American people who go about doing and helping their neighbors and making their small communities work. It is about volunteers and parents and kids and teachers and preachers and singers and diggers. It is about farmers with hands in the dirt. I would MUCH rather listen to the few words they have time to say than the over-caffeinated cacophony I hear in and around our nation’s capital.

I am about over that.

Jobs Jobs Jobs and Reality Checks

Prelude: It is really pretty simple. In business, when a product doesn’t work, you have to fix it or drop it – FAST. And you have to fix it the way the marketplace wants it. No exceptions. Circular reasoning, like: “well it is the customers’ fault – they just don’t realize what this product can do for them,”  doesn’t work. If you try to change the conversation or tell the marketplace that it doesn’t understand, the marketplace rewards you with this: “Hey! Listen to us or we’ll go elsewhere with our business. You have 10 seconds!”  That is a forced reality check most business owners cut their teeth on. The ones that didn’t are no longer around.

  • I think some politicians are getting one of those reality checks but they don’t recognize it for what it is.

It looks like the president and politicians in Washington are ready to move the conversation to the economy and the job situation. I thought we already did that early in 2009 with the stimulus package. But somewhere in early summer the emphasis got moved over to the health care realignment project. (I wonder if that got the spotlight because the stimulus launch didn’t produce the bump in jobs many pols hoped for last spring).

  • They can’t be unhappy about us

Now that a Massachusetts upstart (a Republican at that) helped put a stopper to the increasingly unpopular healthcare realignment project (as it now stands and was recently manipulated) it looks like it is time to turn the conversation back to jobs, jobs, jobs. After all, the public has shown it is not happy and it must really be about the economy, right? Perhaps we can lay the blame at the feet of the banks for the jobs situation and get some traction. If they’re unhappy, let’s by all means speak into their unhappiness!

Here is a possible script – “Jobs, jobs, Bush, jobs, last 8 years – oops before ‘the change’ – jobs, jobs, banks, Cheney, the French (wait, how did the French get there?)” Certainly they cannot be unhappy about us (ruling incumbents), so it MUST be about jobs and some still-repressed subliminal vibes from George Bush, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.  What else could it be?  So let’s hit jobs another lick.

  • A clue – how jobs come about.

I don’t pretend to be a big businessman but I did start several small businesses and learned a lot about where jobs come from. In the private sector they come from people in businesses having confidence, feeling like the captains of their ships, and having the strength of heart to take on risks. Then they hire. Oh, and there is another element. Decent business leaders (and the ones I know are mostly very decent people) refuse to hire a person and take on responsibility for other people’s lives unless they feel that the ground is solid under their feet. It would be unfair to do differently. They must feel there is enthusiasm in the public marketplace.

  • Why people aren’t enthusiastic

Massachusetts, an extremely entrepreneurial state, proved that the enthusiasm quotient is low. People questioned overwhelmingly answered that the thing they were most upset about was the way that Capitol Hill was approaching the health care realignment project. That does not explain the entire lack of enthusiasm, but it does point the way. The idea is that the politicians are not listening to us – they are only listening to themselves. The government seems to want to control all the ships (they understand ships in Boston).

Most businesses will not hire when they feel not-in-control. Maybe in France they do,  not in the good ‘ole USA. Not in the tinkering, garage-band, backlot-project world of the American entrepreneur. And when those folks are not enthusiastic, most of the rest of the country is not either, because they are us – by the millions – from the Amway rep to the basement programmer to the realtor to the Jaycees greeter.

  • Time for  a reality check.

Go back and study how Ronald Reagan got confidence back to into the entrepreneur class and how the enthusiasm swelled back into the whole country in 1981 and 1982. That was right in the midst of the last really bad recession. That same army of American entrepreneurs and unorthodox, underfunded tinkerers helped create the digital revolution we are still riding today. Talk about jobs…

You have to get the nation’s enthusiasm up. You can’t push your product at us if we don’t want it. You have to listen.

Bail out the auto industry? Freedom to fail.

The Detroit auto industry is crying very loudly that government bailouts are needed to save the industry. The problem is that aspects of the industry are doing just fine. These are cars such as Honda, Toyota, Mercedes, Nissan, and others, made in the USA by American workers (mostly in the South) that are thriving. Read very good article on this from WSJ here.

Why?

Could it be that the ones in the South are producing cars that people prefer? Is it possible that they actually made autos that saved their owners a lot of money recently when gas prices went over $4.00 a gallon? Are their (American) workers are more efficient?

I know this does not sound patriotic. Foreign-owned companies doing better than Amerrican? I should wash my mouth out with soap!

Truth be told, I am more patriotic than almost anyone I know. I am so patriotic I believe in tough love for those I love. I am a realist.

I honestly believe – now more than ever – that American businesspeople and entrepreneurs are fully capable of reinventing American industry WITHOUT the patronizing help of government, without bailouts and without a codependent dependency on a dole from Washington.

I also believe that businesses will not do that without the freedom to fail. Freedom to fail. That is right – it is an important part in the development of any person, family or business. It is part of the development of a school kid. We have to have failures. It is how we learn. I failed Chemistry the first quarter of tenth grade in High School. I brought the grade home to my father, a very influential engineer and scientist. His response – he bought me a slide rule and he taught me how to use it. He sat down and explained long formulas to me. Then he sent me back to work my *** off and succeed. I did. That failure became an important part of my development.

Detroit may need some failure experiences. They, and all other American businesses, do not need to be sheltered from the realities of life. If their cars or their efficiency are not up to par – they need to bleakly face it and either fix it so the market supports them or give way to those who can.

While I lived in Germany there was a lively debate about the German Autobahn, probably the world’s finest system of roads – and  no speed limit. They are engineering marvels. Porsches and Mercedes often cruise the system at 90-110 mph. They do it pretty safely and with a very strict driving ethos (unlike here).

The debate was about whether Germany should impose a speed limit on the Autobahn – in the interest of safety. It raged back and forth in Parliament for weeks, with the papers copiously reporting both sides of the question.

It was finally solved by one statement some delegate made. End of debate. Everyone silenced.

The statement?

“If we put speed limits on the autobahns, in 10 years we’ll be making cars as badly as the Americans do.”

That was 1980.

There is still no speed limit on the Autobahn.