There was a very sharply-worded column in the New York Times over the weekend about the pity with which our great country is increasingly being viewed around the world. I don’t take issue with much of what the author said but find myself wanting to pivot toward finding a path forward, rather than brooding on the hurt. Right or wrong, most Americans have never cared that much about what others thought of us—or more precisely, the innovation and extraordinary developments throughout our history have not been motivated by international opinion. As a nation, we’ve mostly been inspired by what is possible, what is imaginable—and then put in the hard work to achieve those things. So how is it that we find ourselves seemingly without that inspiration at such a critical time—and what to do about it?

One of the concepts that permeates much of U.S. business thinking and public policy choices is the notion of getting things ‘to scale.’ Given the expansiveness of both our physical size and our economy, it is a pillar of most plans to gauge the potential to develop and build things that can serve the most (public sector) or sell the most (private sector). While we love to see both start-ups and small businesses thrive, the reality is that momentum in our country is driven by achievements at a massive scale (whether you watch Wall Street or the halls of Congress).

Because of how this novel virus arrived and the determination that states should drive the public health response, my observation is that we are very challenged to imagine the way out of this very sad time for so many. It seems we are struggling to understand the tools we may have to work with, because we’ve not attempted to work with them in quite this way before. It’s not that we don’t have the capacity to solve for this: We’re not acknowledging the size of the challenge and we’re not organized enough to see it clearly.

Full disclosure, I’ve not always been a big fan of the fascination with ‘at scale.’ I think some of the best ideas and experiences work better in smaller constructs, and I’ve successfully navigated the last 30 years of my career to prove it. But there are times when scale is critically important—and it may very well be that this is one of those times: a ‘Marshall Plan’ for the United States, as we recover physically and financially from the ravages of this enemy.

Clearly, there is a big role for government here (federal and states); but now we also need the bodaciousness of business leaders, engineers and inventors, the discipline and rigor of military leaders, and the energy and motivations of young people. We need to be drawing on our collective best, asking them to come together in ways they have not before—or at least not in a very long time.

Before the frustration with the fits and starts of ‘re-opening’ overtake our better selves, let’s encourage our public and private sector leaders to acknowledge what we’re striving for here: the bridge to the next generation of American imagination and accomplishments. At scale.

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