28 / 10 / 2020

What Business Leaders Want (Or Be Nice to the Government)

Much of this year has felt like a Twilight Zone episode. But there’s one simple thing the government can do to ensure we don’t stay trapped in a different dimension after the election.

Carey Smith | Founding Contrarian

It’s not that I enjoy seeing the world in terms of old Twilight Zone episodes, it’s just that this year I can’t seem to help it. In the spring, stuck at home and meeting every day with disembodied faces on a screen, I felt like the man in the series’ very first episode: “Mike” wanders a town where there are no people, only signs that they had been there — a jukebox playing, a cigarette burning in an ashtray, and coffee still piping hot. “Where Is Everybody?” the episode was titled. Its theme was isolation, and I could definitely relate.

Now we’re back in the office, thank goodness. But a recent series of articles by Fortune on what business needs from the 2020 election has brought to mind another Twilight Zone classic.

The authors cite business leaders’ desire for both stability and predictability from government; CEOs want to be able to plan, we’re told, and feel reasonably confident in making projections several years ahead. While I agree with that, I’d have to add that, from my experience, what business leaders want more than anything is for the government to get the f— out of the way. Because from my experience, the government is a lot like Anthony, the creepy little 6-year-old with superhuman powers who can wish you into a cornfield if he doesn’t like what you do or think. (That’s episode 73, “It’s a Good Life,” in case you’re wondering.)

At the fan company, we had a few memorable run-ins with representatives of governments. On the local level, there was a city council in Texas that banned our fans because of a trumped-up claim that they interfered with sprinkler systems, which patently wasn’t true. But because some fire marshal wanted to be on the front page of the paper, we had to jump through hoops to prove our product was safe.

And I’ll never forget the time the Department of Energy sent a couple of 23-year-old English majors from Yale to town to write fan efficiency regulations. They might have gotten the punctuation right, but they knew absolutely nothing about engineering or energy efficiency. According to these two geniuses and their cockamamie calculations, the slower a fan went, the more efficient it was. By their reasoning, the most efficient fan was one that was never turned on. This created all kinds of headaches for our engineers. But because those Yale grads were government representatives, we had to kowtow to them like those people in the little Ohio town who had to tell little Anthony that every bad thing he did was “really good” or else be sent packing to a cornfield, never to be seen again. Thankfully, a Congress-critter owed us a solid, and the rule was retracted.

At the end of the episode, Rod Serling says of the boy: “If by some strange chance, you should run across him, you had best think only good thoughts. Anything less than that is handled at your own risk, because if you do meet Anthony, you can be sure of one thing: you have entered The Twilight Zone.”

It always felt kinda good to turn off the TV at the end of the show and know you were safe at home. I bet most business leaders wish they could turn off the government the same way.