I know I often write about psychological inertia (PI) and the problems it creates, but today I want to talk about how PI can be beneficial in some cases and detrimental in other cases. As Americans, we used to embrace some PI that was great (the pioneering spirit) and I fear we are in danger of losing it – replacing it – overwriting it with something new (a system of entitlement).
This new system of beliefs is not beneficial in the long run. In fact, this new psychological inertia is hurting our country, our organizational competitiveness, and even our relevance to our careers. This detrimental mindset is the reason we are losing so many jobs and giving many of America’s core competencies to other countries; it’s why we are bowing under global competitive pressures.
Our country has always been built from immigrants. Even the first people are believed to come here via hide boats and ice bridges with visions of something better and courage to face the unknown. Our pioneering spirit is comprised of some darn good habits, values, expectations, and beliefs. They helped us build this robust country. We are inventors, builders, growers, and movers. At our core is the belief that when everything is finished, it is time to begin again. This is the inertia we are losing.
What is replacing our great pioneering spirit is a feeling of entitlement. Our country has reached a tipping point. It’s not just a corrupt few anymore; now millions of people have embraced a WIIFM (what’s in it for me) mindset. Our leaders demonstrate it and set it as the standard practice. We have a shared experience of entitlement, which has created systems of entitlement and we base our future goals on it, and we teach it to our children. We are creating a whole social landscape of entitlement by constantly reinforcing certain patterns of behavior.
Some of these underlying patterns of entitlement are: short-term focus, over reliance on trade-offs (instead of solving problems), constantly taking (rather than building), showing off (rather than cooperating) – basically, entitlement is the greed factor, (Hey, notice me, I’m pruning – then I’ll move on just before the bush dies and hope people only notice the cost savings, not the death).
The downside of all this momentum is stagnation. Politicians would rather fight for show and jockey for position than work together to solve real problems. And they set the example for the rest of America. Business leaders blame the workers for wanting benefits rather than accepting their own mismanagement traditions and entitlements (can we say “luxurious private jets & bailouts”). Unions are looking to the best of past tools instead of adapting to today’s situation and creating a new set of best practices, which leads directly to stagnation. Individuals, workers, the heart of this country are getting tired of shoring up all the greed, so we are beginning to embrace the “I gotta get some while I can” mindset.
But that’s not what leaders do. And it looks like we-the-people will have to be the leaders, the parents, the pioneers. We are going to have to embrace a new mindset, develop more relevant tools, set a better standard of behavior and educate our ‘leaders’ on what we expect of ourselves, of our families, of our businesses and government. Our leaders need to start leading – and that means every one of us.
We cannot let our problem-solving skills – the pioneer’s greatest assets – atrophy due to lack of use. We need to look at what’s ahead of us, see where we are, and be willing to work to build more options. We need to adapt and adjust and think our way out of our constraints. We need to envision something new, something better – not just stick to conventional patterns because they used to work or because ‘that’s how my father did it, and his father before him …’ – not just because that’s the way it’s always been done or because I’m entitled. We are pioneers. We do not cling to paradigms too long.As Louis L’Amour said, “No man can put a rope on the past and hope to snub it down. The best thing is to learn to it ride the new trails.”
From this point on, we need to embrace our pioneering spirit again. We need to BE all that we wish to create for ourselves. So, I challenge you to take just five lessons from the cowboy code and use them as analogies to apply to your situation. Here they are. Make ’em work, partner:
- Don’t take unfair advantage. Never hit a weaker person. (You don’t need to)
- Be gentle to small children, old folks, and animals. Uphold Justice. Know where to draw your line. Meanness don’t jes’ happen overnight.
- Go towards something. Build something of value to you. Maintain honesty, integrity and courage because frontiers are sometimes out of the reach of laws and government. You always start with policing yourself. Take care to understand what you are committing to.
- If you want to be respected, you must respect others. To have a friend, be one. To be a leader, do good for your people. Believe in the potential of your country and your people, and yourself. Remember that some things aren’t for sale. No matter how weary and hungry you are after a long day in the saddle, always tend to your horse’s needs before your own; don’t stir up dust around the chuck wagon; wake up only the correct person for herd duty; if you complain about the cooking, you become the cook; and be hospitable to strangers.
- And finally, there’s no need to boast or show-off, your good deeds will speak for themselves. Having said that, choose your company carefully and find people who are worthy of riding the river with. If you are riding for the brand, make sure the brand has integrity. There’s nothing worse than a good hero riding for a bad reason.
Thank you for your attention.