No product or service is sold, no invention is achieved, no job is created and no opportunity arises until someone — somewhere — takes a risk. Taking a calculated risk to pursue a business idea has long been the bedrock of our free enterprise system.
With risk inevitably comes failure. Show me a successful entrepreneur, and I’ll show you someone whose first three business ventures never got off the ground. The beauty of our free enterprise system is that it allows people to make repeated attempts at success, rather than punish or stigmatize them when they fall short. The only true limit to the number of times people can try again is the limit they set for themselves.
Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success” — wisdom Edison himself tested in pursuit of the light bulb. It took him 1,000 tries to finally achieve a successful prototype.
The third time was a charm for Henry Ford, whose first two attempts to establish an automotive empire collapsed under bankruptcy and partner dispute. Ford was driven by a self-fulfilling mantra: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.” It took a failed first venture for Microsoft founder Bill Gates to learn, “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”
Faced with the weakest economic recovery since World War II, we need more risk-takers. Economists note that more businesses, entrepreneurs and individuals are hunkering down and playing it safe, choosing security and caution over hiring, investing and pursuing the next big idea. What’s missing from the economy, they say, is the dynamism that can help spark a much stronger recovery.
Nobody in business expects a risk-free decision. Opening a new plant, hiring a new employee or forgoing a steady paycheck to start your own business has potential downsides. But what should be expected, or at least hoped for, is a government that mitigates risk by establishing clear rules of the game, creating an environment for growth and then getting out of the way.
Unfortunately, Washington discourages innovation and business development as it lurches from one budget crises to another, fumbles to implement Obamacare, struggles to pass comprehensive immigration reform that would establish a stronger talent pool, and adds layer upon layer of regulation on the very people we depend on to create jobs. Until that changes, the economy won’t be firing on all cylinders, and we won’t continue to be the dynamic and innovative people we have always been.
For more free market news and ideas, visit FreeEnterprise.com.
— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The opinions expressed are his own.