"You can’t start a fire worrying about your little world falling apart" – Bruce Springsteen
The financial panic of 1873, which set off a severe nationwide economic depression that lasted for 6 years, included The New York Stock Exchange closing for 10 days, 89 of the country's 364 railroads going bankrupt, and unemployment as high as 14%. In the midst of the panic, a gentleman by the name of Thomas Edison started a company called General Electric. You may have heard of both of them.
The Great Depression of the 1930's is even scarier in statistics than in legend. Industrial production fell by 45% between 1929 and 1932. Homebuilding dropped by 80%. 1,000 of the nation's 25,000 banks failed. US GDP fell by 30%.
And during these dark days, DuPont created new products and industries including rayon, enamels, and cellulose film. RCA invented television. And a little company called IBM started pouring research dollars into something called the computer.
The 1970's are commonly remembered as a dark period for America – stagflation, negative stock market returns for the decade, and hits to the national psyche including Vietnam, Watergate, and the Hostage Crisis. It was also the era that 2 ambitious and visionary young men named Bill Gates and Steve Jobs got their start.
Similarly, the severe global economic recession starting in 2007 resulted in American losing more than 25% of its collective net worth, the stock market declining more than 45% from its high, and the housing market down on average nationwide more than 30% from its 2006 peak.
And oh yes, during this last financial crisis the next generation of technology companies saw their most rapid growth, with Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter growing from somewhat novelties into part and parcel of global life and business, and fast on the path to other-worldly returns for their early investors.
Two main points to be made here:
1. Adversity creates opportunity. Always has, always will.
2. The world can easily be separated into two kinds of people – those that comment and complain on how things are and those that do something about it.
Since time immemorial, the town criers - those that comment and complain - have been heard more clearly because it is only human nature to be more easily scared by negativity than it is to be inspired by possibility.
Yet luckily for all of us, those that really matter aren’t wired this way. The Thomas Edisons and Thomas Watsons and Mark Zuckerbergs and Reid Hoffmans amongst us always - paraphrasing Robert Kennedy – invest their time dreaming and doing things that never were and saying why not?
The question, of course, is what about you? Will you be on the couch with the criers and the critics? Or will you be in the game with the dreamers and the doers?