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Fool me once, shame on you … Fool me twice, I’m an idiot!

Thom Ruhe, Director of Entrepreneurship, The Kauffman Foundation

In my past companies while interviewing prospective new employees, when I get to the topic of our corporate culture, I was fond of saying that we encourage an entrepreneurial environment that respects the intellectual contribution of others, encourages rigorous debate, and is open to intelligent risk taking.

I have been known to say, “If you aren’t making some mistakes along the way, then you probably aren’t challenging yourself enough.”

I was quick to follow that up with a warning that there is zero tolerance for repeating mistakes. It is my belief that repeating mistakes is an indication of many problems within an organization and usually a character flaw of the individual. As a matter of fact, few things get under my skin more; except for deceit, usually motivated by flagrant self serving interests at the expense of others.

So it is that this year’s round of bank bonuses once again provides that ‘perfect storm’ of anger and disbelief. We (tax payers and our surrogate elected officials) are repeating the mistakes of rewarding terrible performance, while the financial industry incredulously enriches themselves in some perverse group-think that tries vainly to apply a fig leaf of rationalization to their actions. They do so while still failing to increase much needed access to capital and credit, thereby continuing to stifle economic recovery.

Simply put – I just don’t get it.

How morally bankrupt and pathologic do you have to be to assert that you are entitled to millions of dollars in compensation for working at an institution that was sparred from implosion by the public? How perverted is it that you then refuse to extend the grace you enjoyed when it comes to your clients now? And finally, how lazy and cowardly are elected officials for allowing this to continue?

We need an awakening, a rebirth. We need to have the intellectual stamina to research the data and understand the real drivers of our economy and stop outsourcing our support to the highest bidders.

We also need to assign and support appropriate roles to this wonderful play that is our economy. To that point, the financial institutions (especially those bailed out by taxpayers) are the grease of the machinery; and entrepreneurs are the gears. They are the ones laboring to produce products that create genuine wealth that results in employment growth, wages, and the income tax that will be required to pay back the huge deficits that were racked up bailing out institutions that were “too big to fail.”  

And while I am dreaming of a better tomorrow, please let us learn (and not repeat) the notion of being “too big to fail” is deeply flawed and simply a subterfuge for those of dubious motivation to protect self interest.

We have to expect better, demand more transparency, and dare to dream about a future that rewards the actions that are driving real growth. In short, we need to promote entrepreneurs for role they have in our society; namely, driving the innovations that create a higher standard of living while enabling national security through economic independence.

Other thoughts are always welcome … that’s what the comment button is for.

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