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July 4th is a Great Day for Entrepreneurs

I love the Fourth of July. Friends, barbecue, fireworks. Many years I celebrate the Fourth with my family in Ashland, Oregon where I watch a small-town parade, and then afterward, the community gathers in the downtown park for a music festival. Before the music begins, they do something that is always a highlight for me: an actor (from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) reads the Declaration of Independence.

The crowd goes wild - cheering America's independence, denouncing tyranny. The Declaration of Independence once again becomes a living, meaningful document instead of a school assignment.

I love it. It reminds me of the best that America stands for - freedom, independence, equality, opportunity. It's also a terrific reminder of what makes America a wonderful place for entrepreneurs - we nurture freedom, respect and value differences.

As entrepreneurs, we need freedom to flourish. And we need it not only for ourselves, but for society as a whole. A society that allows - even encourages - diversity and difference is a society that is most likely to be inventive, resourceful, entrepreneurial.

Think about it - if we're all the same, we can't create new products, services, technology. In a world of rapid change, it's more important than ever for us to be taught to think independently and value creativity if we're going to be able to compete economically. Many people understand why it's important to limit government regulation - but it's just as important - perhaps even more so - to truly embrace social diversity.

Think about it: Some of those nerds who were considered weird in high school became billionaires creating new technology. Some of the kids now with nose piercings and purple hair are going to be our future product designers. And some of those immigrants who are struggling to learn English are going to establish major businesses, employing hundreds. Just because someone is different doesn't mean he or she doesn't have a lot to contribute.

America has prospered economically because our society has allowed each of us the freedom to be different. America thrives when we tolerate - even celebrate - those who do not follow the crowd, who forge a new or different path. Never forget: The United States has a creative business climate because we also have a tolerant social climate. The two are intertwined.

In other societies where you are not permitted to behave differently or pray differently, it soon becomes difficult to think differently. If you can't "think outside the box," you can't think up new products, services and inventions.

When we encourage conformity - in thought, behavior, religion - we reduce our ability to create and innovate. Entrepreneurs, by their very nature, challenge the status quo. If we want to have a society where entrepreneurs flourish, we have to nurture a society where everyone who is different is still respected and valued.

People everywhere yearn for freedom and tolerance, and our freedoms have made America a nation of immigrants. Immigrants are among the greatest contributors to our small-business community. The man who invented blue jeans was an immigrant, and there are few things more American than a pair of Levi's.

This holiday, I'll reflect on how the freedoms I enjoy as an American have contributed to me. I'll consider how these freedoms have enabled me to create my own business and also my own life. This is a country that welcomes not only my work but also my ideas. I don't have to think the same as others, be the same as others, to succeed.

That's why I love the Fourth of July - it's not just the food, although I do love barbecue. And it's not just the parades and fireworks, though I do love a sense of family and community. It's because of what this holiday stands for - a country that cherishes freedom. Freedom for those of us who are here, opportunity for those who long for freedom throughout the world.

America will stay strong and free as long as we continue to welcome everyone's ideas and differences. That's what makes it a wonderful place to be an entrepreneur.

Enjoy your independence and your Independence Day.

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