The Need for Leadership

By Bruce Gjovig
Center for Innovation, UND

In 1859 Charles Dickens opened up A Tale of Two Cities with “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”  That tale was set during the French revolution with the tension between pheasants and the aristocrats.  Sounds like 2011 as we compare good & evil, wisdom & folly, and light & darkness in our state, nation and the world.  I am glad to live in North Dakota and have Norwegian roots as they look like pretty good places. Those are my two “cities.”

There are long and short cycles of economics, business,  politics, wars, weather and more. Since our founding, the USA has gone through 47  recessions. Yet, we remain startled when we go through a new recession. Such is free market capitalism which has raised more people out of poverty (our immigrant nation) than any other system, even with the down cycles. Most recessions can be explained by a bubble bursting.  In the 1990s the internet bubble was caused by investors throwing money at online ventures in search of a fast buck.  In 2008 it was the real estate market, subprime loans, and financial/trading institutions. What did these recessions have in common?  People trying to create wealth without creating value or doing the work, i.e. artificially inflating value and skimming money. Thus the market correction or bubble burst.  Historically we pulled ourselves out of a recession by growing our economy (i.e. private sector)  through innovation, entrepreneurship, investment, trade,  productivity, efficiency, strong fiscal policy, etc.  But entrepreneurs are hunkered down and going slow with the economic, regulatory, tax and cost uncertainties.  Unfortunately government spending, bailouts and stimulus are not working so well, esp. with massive debt and deficits to pay rapidly growing entitlements. There is legitimate fear that we will drown in dark, deep waters of debt….the hole we dug.  Politicians continuously kick the can down the road rather than make the tough corrections.  Instead of passing the torch of freedom and opportunity to the next generation, they send them the bill from the last generation. Like greed and corruption on Wall Street, this is not honorable work, even if it pays well. No wonder the nation holds Congress and our President in such low regard with historically low ratings.

A leadership crisis is brewing across the world, with a generation of leaders who serve themselves selfishly rather than truly serve others honorably. This growing leadership crisis is in government, corporations, labor, universities, communities, churches, and on down the line. We have ‘leaders’ eager to have power, authority and the perks of the office; but who do not serve well, lead well or add value. Worldwide protestors are taking to the streets (Tea Partiers, Occupiers, Arab World, Europe, Russians, Chinese, etc.) trying to force leaders to get their act together. There is loud, clarion call for quality leadership to do the right things and cast away cowardice, expediency, vanity, greed, corruption, etc. and lead us out of the fiscal wilderness. The solutions are not so clear, but the call for leadership is.  Our worldwide holiday gift would be good, visionary leadership. That is all I want for Christmas.  Really Santa. 

Our country is going through a 30 year political cycle now with tension between those who believe government security is the answer and those who believe the answer is a regulated market economy and limited government.  This is one of those major elections like 1980, 1960 or 1932 where our country seeks new leadership like Reagan, JFK, FDR, TR or Lincoln. You may guess my predilection since my life is innovation, entrepreneurship, and investment.  I was stunned in 2008 when so many people were willing to abandon capitalism for more government activism. Now people understand the limitation of government security. Through the regulated market economy, there is no limit to upward mobility for the masses when entrepreneurs innovate to solve problems and find opportunities. Now to find a candidate who exemplifies that.Einstein wasn’t Einstein before he spent years of dedicated, passionate work.  Entrepreneurs expect to work hard for success, and their stock is in their integrity, good relationships and practical knowledge. This is the American dream. Entrepreneurs are the class of people we need to unleash vs. regulate, audit, control, stifle, tax, and demoralize. The worldwide call is not only for visionary leadership but also more freedom, simplification, efficiency, productivity, and lower overhead costs. Our forefathers did well without the thousands of rules and regs that have come along lately. We do not need to be protected from ourselves by a ruling class that comes from the same pool of people who they say cannot be trusted to do the right thing. What makes the expensive, paper-pushing bureaucrats more important than the productive?  The productive need to be protected from the unproductive.  Bureaucracy is the natural enemy of innovation.  We need more people pulling the wagon and fewer riding in it.  There is nothing like unleashing the potential of creative people who find opportunity and passion. Life could be easier, but not better.  Innovation, progress and positive change are miracles…and our future.

2011 was a good year at the Center for Innovation as we launched the EB5 Regional Center to attract foreign investment, and continue our many programs to foster innovation, entrepreneurship, angel investing, incubation, innovation park, internships, etc. Our incubator is just one of 19 out of 5,000 worldwide to secure the NBIA “Soft Landings International Incubator” certification meaning it is welcome to international entrepreneurs. Our Foundation remains awesome in all the support it derives from successful entrepreneurs who remember the next generation. Our entrepreneurs are finding a path forward even in a recession. Our entrepreneur-minded students remain world class and can go toe-to-toe with any Ivy League or Big 10 graduate and actually run circles around them. The Center is working closely with the Entrepreneur Department and we expect that program to soar in the future. With help, it will. It is 27 years in the saddle now for me, unleashing the potential of creative, innovative entrepreneurs.  This is an old cowboy taking care of the mavericks. This was a good year for travel as I was in Berlin, Hamburg and Magdeburg Germany in August and did a Baltic cruise to Tallinn (Estonia), St Petersburg, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Kiel. Wonderful trip. Buy me some wine and I will talk. A month later I was in Sarpsborg and Moss Norway to see good friends, give talks on innovation and entrepreneurship, and find ways to support my favorite American College of Norway. There were several trips around the US to see family, friends, colleagues, and my German son Jan in Kansas City. Plus I was host several times to good friends whose journey’s took them to Grand Forks. Special people make for special moments and great relationships.

My yearly Christmas Holiday closing: think deeply, speak gently, love much, laugh often, work hard, give freely, pray earnestly, be kind….and call or email once in awhile.  God Jul og Godt Nytt Aar!  All best wishes for a joyous and Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with health, love, passion, prosperity and happiness!  And may we all find a little wisdom along the way.