It’s easy to be down on America these days – the economy is struggling, unemployment is still way too high, and the past 10 years of business scandals, terrorism, disasters, war and political stalemate have led many to question whether America’s best days are behind it. This 4th of July, I’ve been thinking of some reasons why America shouldn’t count itself out just yet. Even though our country is facing many significant challenges, America still has many important advantages that make this country a great place to start a business.
Here are a few reasons why American entrepreneurs and Americans who are thinking of starting a business can take heart and find reason for optimism:
- America embraces innovation and new ideas: I have lived in Japan, traveled in Europe, and hosted international visitors in my home from 8 countries. One of the biggest advantages of American business culture is that we are willing to embrace innovation and new ideas. We’re not as hidebound by traditional ways of doing things like in other cultures where people are more reluctant to consider change. I remember talking with an Italian friend during a visit to Paris, and he said one of the things he had always admired about America is that in America, he felt that people were more open to multiple ways of thinking about a problem. “Multiple solutions can be considered in America,” he said. “There are no limitations, people are not as quick to judge or make assumptions about the right path to take.” If America can continue to be an open-minded place, our entrepreneurs will reap the benefits.
- America is more relaxed: I remember having a conversation with my friend Fabrice from Germany, who said that one of the biggest differences between Germany business culture and American business culture is the level of formality. In Germany, as in many other European countries, people never call each other by their first names – it’s always “Frau” (Mrs.) or “Herr” (Mr.). In Japan, where I lived, work colleagues never call each other by their first names, even after working together for years. This formality is not just superficial, it indicates a different way of thinking about everyday interactions and assumptions. Americans aren’t as likely to be preoccupied with social niceties and job titles and credentials. Sometimes this makes America feel a bit impolite compared to these other more formal cultures, but it also indicates an impatience for action that can lead to faster breakthroughs and bigger productivity.
- America welcomes immigrants: U.S. immigration policy is a controversial subject and a lot could be done to make it easier for talented people to pursue opportunities in America, but the fact remains that compared to many other countries, America is more of an open society that is welcoming to immigrants. Many other countries struggle with this. Japan for example, is almost entirely homogeneous – linguistically, culturally and ethnically. Even though Japan’s population is declining, Japan has been reluctant to actively seek out immigrants to move there and work there. Many European countries have high levels of immigration, but low levels of integration – the immigrants to European countries often do not feel “at home” in their new countries, which makes it hard to put down roots and start successful businesses. I’m a white guy from Iowa who was born in the U.S., so I don’t mean to suggest that I think it’s “easy” to be an immigrant in America, but compared to a lot of other countries, it seems to me that America is more of an open society where you don’t have to be “from” here to succeed here. Anyone can be an American. You don’t have to be born here to be an American; instead, American identity is something you can adopt and shape for yourself. My friends from Japan could move to America and over time, they would become just as American as I am – but as an American, even if I moved to Japan and became fluent in Japanese and became a Japanese citizen, I could never truly “be Japanese.” Not that this is a bad thing; it’s just a cultural difference. The idea of what it means to be American is more flexible and expandable than many other countries’ national identities.
- America still has a lot of “soft power:” In foreign policy lingo, “hard power” means military might and economic clout, and “soft power” means less direct ways of influencing and winning the admiration of other countries, such as music, food, and culture. Even after America’s many mistakes and missteps on the global stage, the fact is that most other countries still admire a lot of what we do – American movies, music, culture, fashion, food and brands are still very popular overseas. When we hosted a foreign exchange student from Brazil, I was amused and encouraged to hear that he and other Brazilian kids are obsessed with Michael Jackson and American bands like Slipknot. As long as America is the kind of country that other people around the world want to emulate, American businesses will continue to prosper.
This 4th of July, I hope all American entrepreneurs can take a few minutes to reflect on the many things that make our country a great place to do business. As long as America continues to be the kind of country where talented, energetic people from around the world want to live, as long as we have positive things to share with the rest of the world, and as long as we are open to new ideas and innovations, America is going to continue to be competitive in the global economy.
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