Some of the best things in life are Free dom! You likely don’t hear this statement often, “Going to prison was a positive life changing event”. Prison can be an experience that gets you on a path of adding value to others and not taking from your community. It can also be a nail in the coffin for some because once the stigma is attached and believed internally it is hard to overcome it in life.
The bias that occurs for the ex convict is also the same bias that females, people of color and others with disadvantages deal with each day. Yes we read and hear about them more often today than 10 years ago, that is for sure. It is this bias that exists in business and in life, but I believe it is not congruent with American culture. Americans love underdogs! We almost always root for the underdog! They are underdogs right? According to the dictionary an underdog can be, “a victim of injustice or persecution”. So why do we not have some positive bias toward the people who have been dealt a disadvantage? Doesn’t make sense right?
Jail changes lives
You might ask why am I talking about this? Because I have seen both sides of this. When I was 27 I spent nine months in jail. I was from a white middle class family that allowed me all the opportunities; college education, role models, mother and father had their own small business. I had opportunities and I could create opportunities on my own but I made some very poor choices and I was correctly penalized for those choices. Watch 2 mins of this to learn more about my why. Watch 2 mins of this to learn more about my why.
I was given certain advantages. I related to all types of people. I could have a conversation with anyone, I was seen as smart, fun to be around and a go-getter. But I made mistakes by drinking and driving on numerous occasions and not listening to more experienced adults about how to conduct my life. I simply was not thoughtful when making life decisions. It took this type of major event to wake me up and to seize the opportunities that were around me.
Since then I have been lucky enough to go from prison to president of several businesses that I have started. I have sold two of them, started a non profit and today I help others start their own companies. One reason that I was successful was I learned shortly after my release that is was best not to talk about my past when meeting others for the first time. Surprise! There was a stigma that was immediately attached to being an ex convict, especially if they had no past interactions with me.
Time to Learn
The day I arrived in the jail was the day I started to change and started valuing the powers that were given me. I call them powers because I believe if you understand what thing(s) you are good at, it can become a super power in your life. I took the entire nine months I had in jail as an opportunity to learn more about myself. It was my focus to learn how people make good decisions and how I could apply this to running a successful business. I literally created a list of subjects I needed to learn about. Watch 2:30 of this for more details.
This time in my life was arguably the best nine months of my life. I grew intellectually. I became more focused. I became more empathetic of others. I became more resilient and it set me up for the rest of my life to know I could always get through rough times.
The day I left prison was the day that I started believing that it was up to me to create opportunities and not let past mistakes affect who I was and who I was going to be. I had a certain confidence and yet at the same time a level of embarrassment when talking about my past. I knew I was going to add value to people but didn’t want to share why I had confidence in my beliefs or where the experiences came from. I became good at asking questions and not telling my story.
Add value to others
I learned that the key to becoming successful was by adding value to others and I was committed to just that. This theme still guides my life today.
The reason I am sharing this past history is to show others that your past mistakes is not your future. People with support and motivation can comeback, they can be that new leaf or be the success where success has never been seen before. Remember Americans love underdogs!
Watch 90 secs of this to see more.
Almost everyone in their life wants to provide value to others. It make take some people longer to figure this out than others but most of us have this desire. We want to be able to be part of something that is meaningful. We do this with our job, hobby or even our volunteer work. Some of us may do this by taking our ideas and starting a new company.
It is those entrepreneurs who desire to start a business that need help so they can in turn help others. American business is made up of 98% of small businesses of less than 100 employees. They employ 50.2 % of the employed population and create a majority of innovation. Simply put starting a small business adds a ton of value to our communities. Source Small Business Council
Therefore we need to reverse the bias toward anyone starting a new business. I am talking about women, people of color, ex-convicts and others who might have a disadvantage.
Bias exists, but is it slowly changing?
According to new research from Florida State University, bias is real for women in business today which would give us a huge hint that it exists for minorities and others as well. (I know it is not perfect data, but common sense will connect a few dots for you. )
Once you have been born a woman, a person of color or made a mistake and been imprisoned, there is a bias against you to be a business owner. For the ex-convict I think it is easy to understand, if you are in prison you must have done something really bad therefore you don’t fit the mold to be an owner or leader. Which I know is not always the case. But for women or people of color that bias is unfounded and simply wrong as many studies have shown. Here is one from Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Fact: More women at the executive level creates higher profits.
We are making progress
Why did we celebrate the first openly gay mayor Anise Parker in Houston Texas in 2010? Because it was unusual. In 2019, according to Wikipedia all 50 states have been served by openly LGBT elected politicians in some capacity. It’s barely news today.
Why do we currently celebrate a women lead company who has an IPO? Because it is not normal in our business world. It is something we don’t see often. It is still news!
An article in US News showing 17% of business owners are minorities but they make up 36% of the general population. Weird huh!!
Americans love the underdog, Celebrate the underdogs
We love rooting for the team who is not expected to win. We love to see the student athlete who is a walk-on to their college team get playing time. We love to see the kid with a disability score a basket like in this video.
This is a fact of the American culture… we like to see the person who had to walk two miles to work each day and not complain and then get a car from the owner. True story. We applaud this.
We like to see people come back through adversity and win again, as Tiger Woods recent victory at the 2019 Masters demonstrates.
If this positive bias toward underdogs exists then why don’t we have more opportunities for people who are born into being treated as an underdog? Why is this happening more and more each year creating this divide from haves and have nots. If we could give opportunities to everyone with ideas or at least give them some more role models of how others have successfully created opportunities, then we should be able to reduce the gap of have and have nots. Celebrate the underdogs in business, increase profits!
Role models are important for everyone
People need to see that success can happen for anyone and it is by seeing others succeed that we can begin to realize that everyone has the potential to succeed.
For years no one believed you could run a 4 minute mile. In 1954 Roger Banister changed that belief and after he broke the 4 minute mark, within 46 days that record was broken and within 1 year many others did the same. But it took a role model to show it was possible.
The American culture supports coming from behind, turning over a new leaf, going from bad to good and becoming a success where success never existed before. Let’s go seek these occurrences out. Let’s talk about them each day, not in just the neighborhoods of where they happen but across all neighborhoods, the affluent neighborhoods, LGBT neighborhoods, people of color neighborhoods. Let’s showcase them inside prisons to show people can change and opportunities can be created no matter your background, race, gender or sex.
During my nine months in prison I changed in many ways so I know it is possible for others. Watch 4 mins to see how I did it.
Changes happen when there is good reason to change
Let’s start talking about failure and success and finding reasons to help everyone with an idea no matter where they live, the race they were born into or sex they choose to be.
This must become mainstream media across all cities, finding and highlighting people from diverse backgrounds and showing success.
We need to give opportunities to the underdogs. They will make our businesses more successful, our communities more diverse.
I do know when brainstorming ideas that having a room with people of varying backgrounds you will be guaranteed to come up with better solutions. They will meet a broader spectrum of customer needs than just a room full of white guys with MBA’s. (BTW I am a white guy with an MBA)
Many people have an interesting backstory
My cellmate was a man 20 years my senior that had killed someone in a bar fight. He was one of the most caring men I met while in prison. He liked to help and to teach people how to do things, (he was great carpenter). He provided value to society when given the chance. His viewpoints on life where very different than mine but he knew what was important to him and listened to what was important to me. He taught me several things about humility and empathy. Watch 1 min to learn more about Ed and I.
Diversity is good for business
The point is we need to hear views and ideas from others and doing this will create better products, services and solutions to the world’s problems in all our communities.
My ask to the media outlets is to find ways to highlight the people in areas where success isn’t the norm and give them kudos to show others that it’s possible.
My second ask is for every founder, organizer or community leader to look for ways to give opportunities and highlight people of different genders, color or background, to look out for that Underdog!
Show support and look for opportunities to find the Underdog. Diversity will make your company or group better and will make not just one person better but potentially an entire community.
The possible ripple effect is a HUGE unattended consequence that positively affects generations, neighborhoods and families. If you want to do GOOD, then seek out and include people NOT like you and your team. Be willing to accept differences as a value add not a value minus.
Support the underdog. Look for diversity. Provide value.
If you like to hear my whole story you can get it here.