Instinctive Drowning Response

Yesterday, Slate published an online piece to which numerous of my Facebook friends have linked. I initially read it wearing only my hat as a Mom and someday grandmother. The essence is that children who are drowning don’t behave the way you’d expect given TV and movie depictions. They are mostly silent and not flailing in the water. As a result, some 50% of children drown with adults nearby and a shocking 10% while adults are watching.

The post goes on to identify specific behaviors and why they occur–the instinctive drowning response. Do read it here if you haven’t. Having seen the impact of the drowning of a toddler granddaughter of my brother, it hits close to home.

This morning another image came to mind that relates to my founder of Descant hat. It’s the founders and managers of small businesses in the U.S. No, I’m not asserting that many of them are drowning. It’s more that many of them deserve and would benefit from greater access to credit, loans, and other economic opportunities and yet we cannot see their risk of “going under” and thus the need.

It seems everyone is paying lip service to the ideal of a thriving ecosystem of small businesses growing to the next level, impacting their communities, adding more jobs. Some have put money behind their promises. There is capital sitting in banks. Federal agencies have goals to allocate more procurement opportunities to small businesses. Great big companies promise revenue opportunities for small business suppliers and channel partners.

And yet, much of this opportunity is not reaching small businesses. It’s a bit like a crowd of adults ringing the pool with inflatable life rafts and rings in hand while business owners quietly bob in the water instinctively trying to survive.

In other cases, these providers of great potential opportunity are literally in the water with small businesses but unable to recognize they could bring these business alive with the right connections and attention.

Before I carry this frightening metaphor over an invisible line, I’ll cut to my main point. I really don’t believe that the current commercial credit industry means to harm small businesses. Giving the industry all the benefit of the doubt, it means to be the enablers of help flowing to the right small businesses at the right moment.

But, there is a huge disconnect in the process. Back in 1841 when the founders of Dun & Bradstreet set out to streamline credit checks, the model worked. Today there is so much more data, so much more noise. That model I’ve written about before too often not only keeps business owners from understanding the data being used to evaluate them but also from accessing economic opportunity they deserve.

In a sense, this situation calls for an eye-opening initiative not unlike educating parents and other adults about “instinctive drowning response.” Through this blog and our technology, I hope to do that. Illuminate the need to evaluate small businesses differently.  And illuminate new ways to engage small businesses all to take friction out of the flow of considerable economic opportunity to the right businesses and at the optimal moment. If we wait for them to scream for help and flail a la movie drownings, it will surely be too late.


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