Published October 31st, 2016
by Steven Clark

Writing is quickly becoming one of my favourite pastimes. This seems to be something I share with a variety of other design professionals as I regularly find myself procrastinating by reading posts – usually on Medium – explaining in detail why their way of doing things is better than mine. On the rare occasion I disagree with anything they’ve written (they’re usually right), I may go as far as to ask them to qualify their statements with all the tact and diplomacy you’ve come to expect of me. Until now, I’ve never felt this difference of opinion needed to go beyond a dumb Twitter argument.

Recently, in a post about international travel, fellow designer and business owner John Loudon made the following claim:

“Growing up in Scotland I quickly learnt as a nation we are very critical borderline self-sabotaging when it comes to business. Scotland used to be a visionary country, with a lot of people taking top positions across the world. Jump forward to 2016, and you will observe that there is an underlying opinion that to make money and have a successful business makes you “one of them” and you can find yourself alienated from friends, family and colleagues.”

He goes on to argue that – when it comes to business – an American mindset is far more conducive to success than a Scottish one. His overall point being that successful businesspeople in Scotland are ostracised and victimised for achievements that American businesspeople are celebrated for. He also argues that this is why American businesses are more likely to achieve global success. While he may believe these things are true based on his own knowledge and experience, I personally find his claims to be complete fantasy.

Business owners
“One of them”

I’m not a patriot – I was an apathetic and uninvolved independence supporter. I agree that England and Scotland seem to have gone in two different ideological directions but I’m not a huge fan of nationalism in any form. I can agree that – broadly speaking – Scottish people are quite pessimistic and this may affect their general attitude towards success and business. Lacking anything as culturally defining as the “American Dream”, it’s probably fair to say we don’t push people down entrepreneurial paths quite like Americans do.

To be perfectly honest, the modern economic and societal differences between both countries aren’t huge factors in writing a counterpoint to Loudon’s claim. The fact of the matter is, if you live in a capitalist country, no one is going to demonise you for starting a business, and they certainly aren’t going to discriminate against you for being successful. This suggested victimhood is dangerously close to the “anti job creator” rhetoric that disgusting Americans politicians have used to justify not raising the minimum wage and other more terrible ideas.

When any point being made begins with a nostalgic reference to a bygone era, I think you’re edging into desperation territory. Do people in Scotland – beyond the usual “simpler time, I can’t work the internet” shit – hold on to an idealistic view of the past as a time when we were a more successful and ambitious nation? Some might – I have grandparents that argue there was no abortion or teen pregnancy in their day – but this isn’t a reality, there are now over 25,000 private businesses operating in Scotland with the total registered rising by 8% and total unregistered by 13% from 2014 to 2015.

Being one of few western countries that wasn’t decimated by the Second World War, the United States of the 50s and 60s became a new world hegemon (I read a book once) and was in a unique position to drive economic growth in an era now affectionately described as the “Golden Age of Capitalism”. This time of unparalleled productivity and wealth is romanticised – often by those who never even lived it – and is an image invoked to justify conservatism while conveniently ignoring the vast difference in the United States’ economic advantages over other countries nowadays.

Make Scotland Great Again

Oddly enough, one of the best things about modern Scotland may be that we have had relatively serious economic, health and crime problems in the last 50 or so years. I firmly believe the reason we’re now such a progressive country is because we’re not blinded by nostalgia, unlike a very vocal minority of Americans currently influencing potential future policy. Excuse my uncharacteristic positivity, but it’s arguably never been a better time to start your own business in Scotland, you’re more likely to be awarded a grant than criticised for your ambition.

American companies are definitely leaders in the field of business ethics violations. They’re happy to sue their brain-damaged staff for injury settlement money (only to return the cash after significant public outcry), they’re cool with paying for bogus scientific studies that mislead the public about climate change for decades and they’re good at hiding billions of dollars worth of loans for the sake of a few people’s short term gain. If all you care about is your own bottom line as a business owner and nothing else, then America’s business mindset is indeed exemplary.

This speaks to a larger problem I have with the assumption or belief that thinking positively translates to positive outcomes, something I’ve been meaning to discuss for a while. This “The Secret” style bullshit perpetuates the notion that negative people are incapable of success, something I and many of my other introverted and miserable peers take exception to. Criticism is a necessary force for good – unless you’re willing to discuss, acknowledge and accept the negative about your business or industry and counter it with action, you’ll never build or improve on what you have. This includes being realistic about what you can accomplish in the long term. When business owners talk up this attitude, it seems to be less about unleashing their inner potential and more about deliberately ignoring complaints and criticism from those they consider to have attitude problems.

Fantasy world
Inside the mind of the average “The Secret” reader

Midway through his blog, Loudon states that “trying to tear another person down is energy wasted, no one benefits from it.” I hope that he doesn’t think this post is an attempt to do so. He’s completely entitled to his opinion and may have some compelling evidence or arguments that will counteract some of the points I’ve tried to make here. But as I’ve argued, I’m not particularly convinced that owning a small business in Scotland makes me any more likely to succeed or fail than someone in America in a similar position largely because of this suggested self destructive cultural attitude towards business owners. While admittedly it’s less common for Scottish businesses to have reach worldwide, selling and operating globally is something many successful American businesses have evolved into and any that intended to from the beginning are likely to have some serious funding or an online only service based business model.

Sure, but not every person who has been criticised has accomplished great things

As we come to the end of a particularly visceral election cycle in which someone with multiple well publicised failures is lauded as an industry leader, where nativism has been taken to ridiculous extremes and facts no longer matter, I think the last thing anyone in a post-Brexit Scotland needs to do is idolise or emulate an American attitude to anything, least of all business.

Note: This post originally appeared on the Habanero Digital blog meaning certain parts are probably weirdly self referential or talk about ongoing feuds that probably exist almost exclusively in the mind of the author.

Business Design

by Steven Clark

Steven is a designer/developer and wannabe intellectual with an obsessive personality and too much spare time. Don’t follow him on Twitter.

< Browse posts