Mr. Smyth Goes to Washington

March 6, 2012

Peter SmythLast week, I had one of the most amazing experiences that any American citizen can have. Along with others from the Boston business community, I was invited to the White House in Washington to participate in a discussion and idea sharing session on the economy, jobs and tax policy.

Needless to say, I was deeply honored to be asked to attend.

We met on a recent Friday afternoon with the White House Business Council members in the Executive Office Building and spent five hours in a free flow of ideas and information, dealing with a broad variety of topics, including healthcare, technology, and job opportunities for returning veterans. The conversation was content rich, and resulted in a healthy, mature and open dialogue. We were joined by Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts as well as members of the Obama administration.

The objective of the afternoon was to generate policy ideas and suggestions that will be combined with those of business leaders from other cities who will be meeting at the White House. Ultimately, these suggestions will be filtered up to the President for consideration in policy making. The members of the administration were very appreciative of the work we did and valued our insights and comments.

The most vivid impression that I took away from the experience was the power of our American democracy. It is messy; it is frustrating, but when people come together with a serious determination to solve problems, we can create solutions that work. Just watching the daily deluge of the 24 hour news cycle, it’s easy to become jaded. Listening to the rhetorical excess of political campaigns, it’s easy to reach the conclusion that Washington is broken. But when you see for yourself the number of intelligent, dedicated people trying to find solutions, the picture becomes more balanced and considerably brighter.

I was also reminded that when we exercise our ability to listen with our ears and not our mouths, with mutual respect for differences of opinion, we can begin to effect substantive change. There are serious people wrestling with serious issues and I was honored to be asked to participate in one small part of the policy making process. Change is easy to say but hard to do, but change for the better is a deeply American characteristic. Our ability to reinvent our country and make new beginnings makes me proud to be an American. Regardless of your politics, America is still the shining city on the hill.

The quintessential American characteristics — entrepreneurial, creative, ingenious and risk-taking —combine to make our country and our character great. Our ability to discuss and examine issues from different points of view, to discuss them freely and without fear of retribution, and, yes, to compromise are the defining traits of American Exceptionalism.

Leaving the White House that Friday, I kept thinking about the creativity and problem-solving ability that filled the room. It reminded me of the newest members of our company and our industry, the disc jockeys, engineers, promotion team members who are just getting started in the business. And what I wanted to say to each of you is: —don’t be afraid to unleash your creativity! Einstein said that creativity is the most powerful virtue of all. Don’t hesitate to look at things from a different perspective and don’t hesitate to question the wisdom of your “elders” (whether they’re older than you or not). We need and welcome your passion, inspiration and innovation to move our industry forward.

In Washington last week, I shared knowledge, but more importantly, I re-learned creativity.