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Americans Don't Need to Be the Best, We Need to Be Our Best

Being terrified of not being the best has us acting our worst, but 2012 is a great opportunity to turn that around.

We're entering the fast waters of globalization. Current trajectory says China will soon overtake America as the world's largest economy. India, Brazil, Indonesia, and others are enjoying faster growth rates than we are. It's logical, given that earlier-stage economies have room for easier growth than more mature environments like the United States. That's a good thing. It doesn't have to threaten Americans' actual quality of life.

Yes, there will be currency issues when the Yuan competes with the dollar in the international monetary market, and yes, competition for jobs will intensify in the ever-flattening world, and yes, more people with appetites will pull even harder on the fixed set of natural resources we all covet. But these matters will not capsize us.

The greater threat is the country's collective emotional and intellectual response to the evolution that is afoot. The exceptionalism that took us roaring past England at the beginning of the 20th century is a great thing, but it threatens to confuse the way we handle what happens next. And sadly, looking at the political fray shaping up as we enter an election year, I fear that being terrified of not being the best, has us acting at our worst.

There's good news, however. The show that's happening on Capitol Hill, while painful on a number of levels, is framing a reality, one that has never been clearer: We're all in this together, and this thing sure as shit isn't going to fly on the back of Washington alone. Government can, and must, play a productive role in the path forward, but it's on every citizen right now to step up and deliver. That's what being our best is about. And whether or not our actions generate a steeper growth rate than our neighbors is irrelevant.

So what does this mean? We need a booming return to making shit. Not random stuff that we think we can market into someones shopping cart, but stuff that responds to the needs we see all around us. And none of us our blind. We all see stuff that's needed. So we need to respond. And in doing so we create what's next. We create value, jobs, progress. And what's exciting is that there has never been a better time to go out and make stuff. The world and technology and human capital is all conspiring around the ethos of making it happen.

Last week there was Congressional dialog on emerging collaborative industries. GOOD has covered many of the leaders of this space, innovators like KickStarter, NeighborGoods, AirBnB, RideShare, and ProFounder. What their activity—and the activity of their rapidly growing user base—represents is a grand shift. A shift from the passive to the active, and a shift to the long tail of productivity. Forget waiting for a bank loan, KickStart it. Forget just having one profession, become a landlord on AirBnB or an investor on ProFounder. And what this shift means is that we start allowing the collective to move resources around to those who are responding to needs, and in doing so we're taking lots (millions) of steps forward.

In all likelihood, 2012 is gonna be gross from a tonal perspective. If the Republican debates are a bellwether, the presidential election will get ugly. What an interesting evolution it will be. In 2004 we had an election based on fear. Fear that we were really fucking this up (or fear that people were going to blow stuff up). In 2008 we had an election based on hope, that reasonable pragmatic folks at the helm of our government could steer us through complicated times. In 2012 we have a choice, it can be an election of apathy and cynicism—these dudes couldn't solve their way out of a paper bag—or it can be an election of unity. For the one thing we can all be damn sure of going into this race, is that whoever the winner may be, they surely won't solve our challenges alone.

So while I'm going to be voting, I'm also going to take my citizenship to a more aggressive level, I'm going to dig in and start acting on needs that exist, needs that I can see, and needs that I can respond to. Hopefully in the coming year, in the face of all the nonsense, we can dive into that which we do best—seeing where needs exist and responding with solutions that are awesome.

Thanks to Scott Heiferman, MeetUp CEO and all-around great guy, for the insights on the evolving collaborative economy that largely inspired this piece.\n

Photo (cc) via Flickr user qnr.

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