To Kill a Mockingbird

Set in a small Southern town, To Kill a Mockingbird is a quintessential story about justice. The movie, which won 3 Oscars (including best actor for Gregory Peck), was based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same title.

Told through the eyes of a precocious 6-year-old tomboy named Scout, the story revolves around Atticus Finch’s (Peck) principled defense of Tom Robinson, a poor black man who is wrongly accused of rape. Intermixed is the story of the fascination Scout and her brother have with Boo Radley, their shy, mysterious neighbor whom the townspeople believe is insane.

At the heart of the conflict lies self-induced ignorance and blind hatred versus benevolence and uncompromising principles. The conflict reaches its apex when Atticus rebuffs an armed mob with nothing more than the power of his convictions.

Just as Atticus stood alone, so we must often stand alone as the owner of a smallbusiness . We must often reject the common wisdom and create a new path. We must often stand alone, with nothing but our independent judgment.

Business success requires that we offer a superior value than our competitors. This means breaking the mold, being better in some regard. It means that we can’t do it like everyone else. That takes strength in our convictions, confidence in our judgment, and the courage to tell the mob to go home.

Working for “the man”

I have heard many small business owners say that they started their business because they don’t want to work for “the man”. They want to be their own boss. They don’t want “the man” to make money off of their sweat and toil.

These comments are usually accompanied with claims, both explicit and implicit, that “the man” uses others to further himself. “The man” they claim, both explicitly and implicitly, is a dishonest charlatan who will do anything to make a buck.

As is common with those who cast such aspersions, “the man” remains unnamed and undefined. He is a faceless, nameless demon who sucks the life out of decent, hard working people. Who then, is “the man”?

If we accept the implications of those making these comments, “the man” is anyone who employees others and/ or makes a profit. A profit is a gain, an improvement in one’s position. If someone profits during an exchange with others, the thinking goes, it could only be at the expense of others.

The fact is, an economic transaction is a voluntary exchange. Each party believes he will profit—he believes he will gain something he values more highly than what he is giving up. Voluntary exchanges are mutually beneficial.

An honest businessman (and most businessmen are honest) offers value to his customers. He does not seek something for nothing. He seeks to create values desired by the purchasing public. And the greater the values he creates, the greater his profits.

This concept is completely lost on those who disparage “the man”. To them, a profit is a sign of dishonesty. A businessman is simply a slick talking conman. A business is simply organized crime. Those who put down “the man” are really putting down businessmen.

They do so because they believe that mutually profitable relationships are impossible. They do so because they cannot or will not create greater values. They do so because the successful businessman represents everything they are not.

The history of mankind is replete with examples of men and women who created tremendous value and profited in the process. Some look at these heroes as inspiration and as evidence of what is possible in life. Others look at them in envy and as evidence of what they will never be in life.

Golf is sorta like business

In an age of prima donna sports stars, one group of professional athletes stands head and shoulders above others. One group of professional athletes embody everything that is good about sports. That group is the men and women who play professional golf. (There are of course, some exceptions.)

Consider a two facts about professional golfers: they keep their own score and they call penalties on themselves. Can you imagine a football player calling a penalty on himself? Or a pitcher calling balls and strikes on his own pitches?

Golf is unique in that the players themselves apply the rules. Just a few weeks ago a player disqualified himself from a tournament after learning he had broken an obscure rule. Even more remarkable is that he did so the next day!

The essence of sports is the pursuit of a goal within a clearly defined set of rules. It is this pursuit that makes watching sports enjoyable. In most sports this pursuit involves a direct competition with others, and the competitors generally take actions to impose obstacles to fellow competitors.

Again, golf is unique in that the players do not directly compete with one another. The primary competition is against the course—an inanimate object that provides the same obstacles and challenges to each competitor. The secondary competition occurs within each player—he must control his emotions during the inevitable highs and lows that occur within a round.

Indeed, golf is largely a mental game. Players do not have to react quickly. They have time between shots to identify and consider their options.

The same is true of our small business. We have time to plan our shots. We have options that we must consider. We must make decisions. And then we must execute those decisions. Like golf, business combines the mental and the physical. Unlike golf, business is not a game.

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