Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Book: Raymond Seitz, Over Here (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998)

Why: From a former American ambassador to the United Kingdom, a fascinating comparison of the two countries, including the differences in social attitudes that encourage or hinder entrepreneurial activity.

What is it about the United States that nurtures the entrepreneurial spirit?  It doesn’t take great intellectual insight to posit that there must be something about our culture, and—at the risk of incurring Russian President Vladimir Putin’s wrath by making another claim about American exceptionalism - I’m not the only one who has made that connection.

  On the heels of sending my middle child off for another year of postgraduate work at a British university, I have just finished reading this memoir by Raymond Seitz, once the American ambassador to the United Kingdom.  Seitz’s book is fascinating—if somewhat dated—reading for anyone who might be curious about how two countries, sometimes said to be divided by a common language, can be so different. But it is especially illuminating in the way he shines a light on business as experienced on both sides of the Atlantic.

As a basic tenet, Seitz observes that “in Britain, economic questions have social answers” (unlike here, where I would argue the opposite quite often seems to be a fundamental premise). American-style competition is seen as “selfish in its pursuit of profit, too careless in its consumption of gain, and too callous in its disregard of wider responsibility.” To sum it up in one idea, “for the British, enough is enough; for Americans, enough is a beginning.” 

These attitudes can weigh heavily on those who seek to create, to expand, and to build, and “many British who go to America stay there precisely because they enjoy the invigorating sense of economic liberation.”

The American “can-do” spirit really seems a fundamental part of successful entrepreneurship. Why else would anyone even attempt to start a business against such staggering odds of failure?

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