Post-Brexit we should be building strong and lasting bridges

Back in Roman times, building a bridge was no easy task. There was the very real possibility that the structure might fall down during construction, but even more problematic was the risk it might collapse sometime after it was finished. After all, this would be a disaster for whoever was crossing the bridge at the time.

As you can imagine, the Romans were keen to ensure that the people responsible for building bridges did the best possible job. So they came up with an ingenious method: they forced the engineers and their families to sleep under the bridges they had constructed. That way, if anything went wrong, the builders would pay a heavy price themselves.

It was a harsh tactic, to be sure, but you can’t fault the logic. The philosopher Nassim Taleb uses this historical example to show why it’s so vital that people with important jobs — like bridge-builders in Roman times — should have what he calls “skin in the game”. In other words, there should be some cost to them if they make a mistake, and it shouldn’t just be other people who suffer.

In the weeks after the EU referendum, this notion of skin in the game is as relevant as ever. The childishly hysterical reaction to Brexit of some pro-Remain politicians and media commentators would be hilarious if it wasn’t so damaging to the country. It’s been hugely frustrating to see some pundits claiming that our economy is now doomed, that Britain is somehow closed for business and that we inevitably face a diminished role in the world. After all, these petulant prognostications may well have a negative impact on investor sentiment and consumer confidence, which is bad for the economy as a whole.

Compare this hysteria with the calm and clear-headed response of London’s entrepreneurs, even though the majority of them wanted to remain in the EU. “Keep calm and code on,” wrote Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström on a widely read blogpost just days after the referendum. “It’s very much business as usual for us,” said Rob Kniaz, an influential tech investor. Lastminute.com co-founder Martha Lane Fox has also struck a forward-looking tone, finding it “inspiring” to see among her fellow entrepreneurs “a level of optimism and belief that there is opportunity even in turbulence”.

The reason for this stark difference is simple: entrepreneurs have skin in the game. Pundits and politicians will keep their comfortable jobs no matter what happens to the economy they’re talking down, while small business owners and their employees are the ones whose livelihoods are at risk if there’s a prolonged downturn.

“Entrepreneurs have no choice but to roll up their sleeves and make the most of things, as they always do — they can’t afford to flip out as there’s too much at stake.”

That’s why entrepreneurs have no choice but to roll up their sleeves and make the most of things, as they always do — they can’t afford to flip out as there’s too much at stake.

Running a business or working for a small company is a stressful undertaking. There are plenty of sleepless nights, and the pressure to generate enough revenue to stay afloat and pay staff can be unbearable at times. It’s a bit like sleeping under a bridge you’ve built, which certainly helps focus the mind. In these post-Brexit days, this skin in the game helps explain why London’s small business owners have been keeping their heads while so many politicians and commentators have been losing theirs.

by Rohan Silva


Originally published at www.standard.co.uk on August 1, 2016.

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