America’s Greatest Weapons: Innovation and Perspiration

Feb 10

Enough of this vociferation and hesitation! Now is the time for hallucination, innovation, and perspiration! (aka dreams, creativity, and hard work…)

Many thanks to the Rev. Jesse Jackson for the inspiration on the opening line. To further play on the themes of some of our great African American orators (even though I am probably the whitest man in America), I’d like to tell you about my dream, little more than a fleeting hallucination until a few months ago.

I have a dream. It has nothing to do with race, religion, or creed. Nor are there any purple ponies, edible paisley wallpaper, or obligatory flying sequences. My dream is a simple one, filled with creative, hardworking, and passionate Americans taking control of their lives and their futures. My dream is actually a dream about other people’s dreams. But first, let’s start by understanding the nightmares that can not be ignored and continue to darken the dreams of many.

Let’s not sugar coat things. Unemployment affects much more than the bottom line of a government spreadsheet. Millions of Americans are suffering from depression, anxiety, and insomnia related to either being out of work or watching their retirement accounts whither away. Family arguments over employment and finances continue to escalate, shattering once-solid marriages, leaving America’s children as the ultimate victim. Many unemployed are simply (and legitimately) traumatized, having lost the confidence and drive to re-enter the work force. People are giving up. Insomnia or nightmare. (More on the trauma of unemployment from the New York Times.)

The official unemployment rate hovers around ten percent at the moment. Sounds scary enough, right? However, when you add in the underemployed (only able to find part time work or given up on the search, leaving the workforce), the number tops twenty percent in many states. That’s one in five Americans who are no longer able to contribute their gifts, training, and passion toward the economic recovery. What about those who are in full-time, good-paying positions but simply don’t make the best use of their skills and abilities? Another 30-50% of the current work force? You do the math – that’s 50% of the country’s workers who are under utilized, under inspired, and under contributing. Millions of willing and able bodies, minds, and souls going to waste. An underwhelming nightmare. (More on underemployment from NPR News and MSN)

Something I haven’t seen much press on is a disturbing trend among some companies who take advantage of the tough job market, underpaying new recruits by as much as 40% as compared to average pay for the same positions from previous years. I was speaking with the head of a recruiting firm this week who has been struggling to keep their clients from looking for the most desperate (cheapest) workers who are willing to work for less than they are worth. This is a cheap short term solution that will cause greater long term problems in the future. We hear such outrage about the pay and bonuses of select Wall Street bankers, but what about exploitation of millions who are being hired for less than they are worth, just because it is an employer’s market?

But – wait! The economy has actually seen surprisingly solid growth for the last two quarters! How is this possible? It’s simple – fewer workers are doing more work than ever, making no net change in unemployment numbers while further contributing to employee burnout and turnover (thus being able lower the wage bit by bit from each revolution of more desperate job seekers). Disposable employees? Unimaginable nightmare. (More on this trend from MSNBC News.)

So – how do we make it better? The same way Americans always have through the generations – through innovation and perspiration. It is time to get creative and develop new ideas, new products, new services, and new markets. It is time to get our hands dirty, rolling up our sleeves, and going about the business of business – production or products and services. It’s simple. The solution is in our blood. What is the alternative? Giving up on the job search and snatching up government handouts until they are all gone?

Unemployment isn’t a classist problem like some might have you believe. Everybody is out of work – engineers, food service workers, non-profit executives, retail clerks, and artists. Imagine what could happen if these people all got in room together and said, Enough! Enough mediocrity! Enough status quo! It is time for change from the ground up and let it start with me!” What is the worst that could happen? A new bakery staffing eight people in Tucson? A new non-profit focusing on the very specific needs of autistic adults? A new plant in Oklahoma creating car engines that run on compressed air? The time has come for America’s greatest minds to just take a moment and dream.

This is actually how RelyLocal came to be. We started with a common problem (local businesses wasting money on ineffective (and archaic) marketing methods), we came up with simple solution (low-cost, locally driven multi-channel marketing), and we combined it with a passionate goal (putting at least 1,000 people back to work within a year).  Within a month we had our new business ready to launch and within thirty days we had created over fifty brand new jobs in twenty states. The goal of these jobs? To “pay it forward” by focusing on rebuilding their local communities from the ground up by strengthening the relationship between local businesses and their customers. Two guys in a room with an idea. Turning hallucination into innovation. Turning hesitation into perspiration. Turning vociferation into celebration. Dream!

My point isn’t how great we are, my point is that we are just like fifty percent of the country right now! I was out of work for over a year, looking everywhere, selling everything I had just to avoid foreclosure (by three days). I am no stranger to the anxiety, depression, and insomnia that comes from wondering how I am going to support my family. The only solution I could find was the one I made on my own:  innovate and perspirate! I’m not advocating that everyone launch RelyLocal in their towns ( it’s not for everyone and we are pretty selective about who we bring on board). What I am advocating is that everyone take a moment to look in the mirror, taking stock of their unique skills and traits, and look for a way to make a contribution in this world. What can you do to make a difference? Not your boss, not the government, not your neighbor. YOU!

I won’t get into a debate on whether or not it is the best time to start a new business. If you are looking for excuses to fail, you will. Every time. If you are looking for the easy road, just keep buying your lottery tickets and watch your ant farm grow – it’s all you’ll have left.

However, if you are looking inspiration to start another chapter in your life, here is a line from an obscure version of “Neverland” by grammy award winning vocalist Kurt Elling:

“If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure is not to dream less, but to dream more – to dream all the time!


  1. Mark Bossenbrook /

    That pretty much sums it up! Awesome article.

  2. I like it! Inspiring and motivating! Thank you Steve – great article.

    And to add one more quote from Pres. Kennedy:
    “Ask not what your country can do for you,
    ask what can you do for your country.”

    Now is the time for men to grow-up and rise to the greatness
    that resides within. We need to wake up the sleeping giant within.

    Let’s go – team!!!

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts (and your time).

    It is a crazy time in this – “the richest country on Earth.” All we have is each other and we must band together – work together – to survive this economic tipping point. I havn’t checked out RelyLocal yet. It looks like it’s time to do so.


  4. Few people realize the impact that the local economy has on the rest of the world. It is very important to point out, that the only way to rebuild something is by its foundation. The foundation of our economy grew from the local businesses. If we don’t achieve a solid foundation the economy will not strive again it will crumble. Spending on the local businesses, even when we think the price is a little higher is equivalent to re-investing in our own future it can mean the difference between having a strong community or a ghost town? We did pick the communities we currently live in for the benefit of our families; imagining our community with out any local business in NOT a pretty site.
    Steve, thank you for being the voice of many and for making a difference in the way we do business, thank you for being the conscience of the community and bringing back the heart felt values that we once had. It is great to see how many businesses are willing to share their discounts and unite to keep our communities just the way we love them… I will keep coming back for more discounts and also to see which businesses really care enough about our community to make an impact and to band together to make it strong again.

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