View From Abroad: "America, Get Your Act Together or Get Passed By"

After compounding the latest news on the $500k Solyndra loan debacle with the fact that China is already way ahead in the push for renewable energy, I’ve been speaking with a some executives I know in Europe, South America and India about their current view of America especially with regard to our politics and business practices.

I love America, but businessmen and executives from India (which I will have the pleasure of visiting in early October 2011) are emerging as one of my favorite people.  What I like, admire and respect most about the Indian individuals I have spoken to is their respect for tradition and previous generations, their dedication to their families and their ongoing and I believe noble struggle between aspiration and ambition. 

They aspire to become successful both in their region and on the world stage, but the ones I have spoken to eschew the ugly ambition that many countries, especially the United States, possess where “winning is the only game” and winning at all costs is perfectly fine and will even draw “high fives” in many American financial circles. 

The Indians I have spoken to are incredibly hard working, smart, decent, humble and want to be successful, but don’t want to do it if it hurts or breaks other people.  They don’t approach life as a “zero sum game" and they are not interested in profiting at our expense nor gloating about the United States difficulties.

When I’ve asked several how they view United States they have given me some Indian metaphors which because Americans are so “self interested” will not make any sense.

Here is my best translation.  Our President and Congress are viewed as the Keystone Kops minus the humor.  They don’t know how to cooperate or collaborate, they start down one direction and then flip flop, they say one thing one day and then reverse it the next. 

When it comes to how American business is viewed, the view is more dark and sinister.  The best metaphor would be William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.  Whereas the President and Congress are seen as ineffectual, our business practices are seen as more malevolent, malicious and devious.  To many in the global community, American business especially our financial institutions are seen as a bunch of thieves and as the saying goes, “There’s no honor among thieves.” 

Honor is very important to cultures such as India and used to be important in the United States. 

To show you how disconnected -- even dyslexic -- that concept has become, I recently asked a young American business person what he thought about honoring people from inside and outside his industry.  His response, “Guilt trips don’t work on me.”