Here’s a question for you:  Have bright and optimistic entrepreneurs in today’s America been over-taken by bored and entitled employees?

That’s the claim an old friend recently suggested to me.  This friend – a brilliant, jack-of-all trades kind of guy with an insane amount of potential – is now an in-house lawyer at a large and public corporation living in the suburbs.  That’s not meant to sound dismissive in the slightest.  My friend is doing very well financially, seems respected by his colleagues, and is overall content with his personal life.  He was in no way lamenting his own path, he was merely articulating the general trend he’s seeing throughout the broader economy.

I, on the other hand, was quite disturbed by this suggestion.  Replacing scrappy, starry-eyed entrepreneurs with complacent, (though financially secure), mid-level employees?  Is this really the new American Dream?

Here are the facts:  There are about 28.7 million firms in the U.S.  More than 75% of those are non-employers and of the remaining 5.7 million or so, about 90% of those firms have fewer than 20 employees.  So while it may sometimes feel like the ‘big companies’ are everywhere, the truth is, they’re still in the minority.

BUT, the number of employees is a different story than the number of companies.  While only about 0.3% of U.S. firms have more than 500 employees, this super tiny fraction of companies actually accounts for more than half America’s total employment.

Even that’s not terribly alarming.  Instinctively we all recognize that while there are only 500 companies listed on the Fortune 500, this exclusive list employs a LOT of corporate America.  What bothered me most about my friend’s comment was the realization that regardless of the numbers or their consistency over the years, it does seem like the entrepreneurial mindset in America may be radically shifting.

America has always been a country built on opportunity; here you have the chance to turn any pipe dream into a reality.  This prevailing optimism is fascinating not only because it stems from innovation . . . but also because it serves as a catalyst to fuel more of it.  In this country if you see a problem, you can go fix it.  Find a gap?  It’s yours to fill.  That’s the beauty of capitalism.  Sure, we have some rules and regulations, but very little is fixed or incapable of being improved.

And the best and the brightest with regards to people?  They LOVE being challenged to keep innovating!  In fact, I’d argue they actually thrive on it.  Americans love competition because we recognize it brings out the absolute best in people, it makes each of us better.  American business has always been a perfect illustration of this.

But lately, it does feel like some of that has changed.  So much time is spent talking about what is fair to employees, how to improve work-life balance at large companies, and how to impress-, get-along-with, or emulate- your boss.  Have we become a country full of repetition and copy-cats?

I don’t think so. At least not yet anyway.  Yes, large corporations are expanding globally and gobbling up a lot of great talent.  But that’s just it, there’s still great talent within these larger organizations, at every level.  That’s where the leadership becomes so critical. If a leader wants to merely replicate and clone one type of employee, then sure, we’re going to become a collection of mindless bots.  But the best leaders won’t do that.  Be it a solo entrepreneur or a global CEO of thousands, the best leaders will find ways to make sure each of their employees is encouraged to think creatively.  They’ll see that entrepreneurial, competitive juices can run internally too – inside our companies, our teams, ourselves.  Entrepreneurship is a mindset.  And an entrepreneur and an employee don’t have to be mutually exclusive concepts to excel.



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