What is the American Dream?

My 2017 New Year’s Action Plan is to spend my free time product managing the American dream. Along the way, I plan on sharing everything I know about innovation and entrepreneurship, to help everyone achieve their own American dream.

Last week’s post rightfully evoked the question: What is the American dream? So this week, I thought we could start there.

What is the American Dream?

If you ask Google, you’ll see this defined as “the ideal that every US citizen should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative.”

The second listing you’ll find in this query — courtesy of Wikipedia — defines the American Dream as follows:

“the set of ideals (democracy, rights, liberty, opportunity, and equality) in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers.”

The Wikipedia listing also references James Truslow Adams’ definition: “‘life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement’ regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.”

Finally, Wikipedia reminds us that the concept of the American dream is rooted in the Declaration of Independence, where our forefathers suggested “all men are created equal” with the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” (Of course, these seminal last few words have come to play an important role in US Supreme Court jurisprudence around our rarely-without-public-controversy conversation on personal rights.)

Truth is in the Eye of the Beholder

While these sources and others have neatly packaged the American dream in principle, the truth is that in practice, each American defines their dream differently. It is impossible, then, to define the everyone’s American dream in a pithy sentence.

For me, the American dream is about the individual empowerment that comes from improving one’s economic circumstances. Therefore, I will help by characterizing the challenges that businesses have in enabling themselves or improving their employee’s economic condition.

Enabling and Empowering Entrepreneurship and Small Business

Small businesses make up 99.7% of US employer firms. America historically has been and continues to be powered by entrepreneurs, many of them immigrants to this country. As a professional who has dedicated the better part of my life to innovation and entrepreneurship, I believe the greatest value to society I can create is supporting the development of small, local businesses and the Americans and immigrants who build and support them.

Supporting Large, Established Businesses

But it’s not just about new, small or local businesses. For our economy, our society and many in this country, the realization of the American dream also depends on larger, established businesses. For this segment, the best thing we can do is encourage corporations to partner with startups to modernize as quickly as possible.

The American Dream is about Equal Opportunity

Irrespective of the size of the business, I truly believe American equality and freedom will be only realized when we have equal opportunity to individual economic empowerment. Both the Large Corporate American Dream and the Small Business American Dream share a responsibility to learn from best practice and incorporate best practice into their business practice to keep their businesses alive and help their employees thrive.

In this era, with the technology we have at our disposal, we have an opportunity (I would say an obligation) to ensure that the rising tide lifts all boats.

If we ignore the plight of those with unequal access to opportunity we are no better than those who ignore the rights of our fellow humans of every race, culture, creed and religion. And we should expect to end up in wars that those intolerant cultures generate.

Author’s Note

Anyone who has talked with me recently knows that I am passionate about education, about national security and about the environment. I’d love to solve these problems; the solutions to these issues will shape our reality tomorrow and everyday after.

But given my skills I believe that by helping improve the performance of small and established businesses alike, I will have the greatest impact. And impact is what I’m aiming for, so let’s start there and see where it takes us.


West Stringfellow is the Founder of Potintia, Inc. and VP, Innovation at Target.

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