This is a new topic which is out of order, I know, but I promise to get to the others on my list soon.

The topic of the "Immigrant Mentality" has always been a passion of mine, as it seems to be a critical element for success in this now globalized world. Today, the playing field between rich and poor, have and have-not, etc, has been filled with many "hungry" people from the emerging economies. Today, there are tons of talented people from these markets eager for a life as good, if not better, than the one enjoyed in the west. What these people did not have in formal social benefits and opportunities available to many of us, they more than make up for with ambition and incredible determination. As a result, those of us educated and brought up in the western mentality must adjust our thinking to compete with these people on a global scale.

So what is the "Immigrant Mentality"? To me, it is the approach taken by 1st generation immigrants and one that is fairly personal to me. When my grandfather, Louis Weiss, first came the U.S. at an incredibly young age (early teens), he got off the boat from Hungary alone and immediately began seeking any form of work that he could do. This was a boy who should be in school by today's standards, worrying about his middle school prom date, not how he'll be able to afford bread and water for the day. It was his focus and intense interest in providing a life for himself and his family that drove him during his lifetime. His life was not easy by any means, but he was able to build a fledgling business, become a college graduate, and inspire family.

On my mother's side of the family, my great grandfather and grandmother were both Americans by birth, but also had to manage in a similar manner. After getting married, my great grandfather was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Because there were no formal cures at the time, doctors suggested that he go to upstate New York and breathe "country air". The photos of this treatment are quite amazing - men sitting in heavy coats, hats, scarves, gloves by a frozen lake. Truly amazing. My great grandmother was a brave woman to be able to handle such a radical shift in lifestyle so early in their marriage. After he was cured, the two of them opened a pharmacy and gift store in Long Island, in a strong Anglo Town. This was a hard place for them to live, given the fact that they were Jewish and were not entirely like their counterparts in this highly conservative town. Nonetheless, my great grandfather managed the business to success, building a name for himself and his family in the town, even being a Free Mason and members of the key local clubs, despite being a Jew. He was also a major participant in the building of the town's synagogue and Jewish Day School.

My grandfather was sold the business and built it into a much larger and impressive enterprise, leveraging the reputation his father had built in the community, and adding his own narrative. As a trained pharmacist, my grandfather was known to offer the best customer service in town. One particular story I recall, involved his filling a prescription and dropping it off to a customer on Christmas Eve in several feet of snow. He was a tireless leader who worked hard and played hard, for the sake of his family. He too further extended the family's commitment to the local general and Jewish communities. Unfortunately, as a sign of how unfair the world can be, he was diagnosed with Alzheimers at a relatively young age, pretty much at retirement, and died a slow, fairly painful death. Since I was the youngest in my family, and he was diagnosed with Alzheimers when I was in elementary school, I never had a great personal connection with him. In fact, I actually had a stronger relationship with my great grandparents...

OK enough about family history... I believe that to survive today in this world, with the competition that exists for talented people, one must take on the "immigrant mentality". What does it mean in practice? It means saying yes more than saying no at work. It means being aggressive all the time. It means constantly fighting mediocrity in nearly all ways - work, education, arts and culture, physical appearance, etc. It means doing the work now, not later, and becoming a go-to guy for colleagues and friends. It means always being "hungry" to suck the marrow out of life...

As I write this note from Fontainebleau, France, I cannot help but note that France is an excellent example of a market filled with talented westerners who chose not to take this exact path. Their model seems fairly obvious to me at this point - they may be the most creative, liberal-minded people in the universe. You'll never see shoes, clothing styles or cuisine quite as unique and creative as those made or thought up in France.

Why is that? I'd argue the French Revolution, which jumpstarted the secularization and westernization of societies around the globe (including the U.S. or course) gave the French the inspiration to push their limits and further personalize this country's already storied creative past. However, one of the points of the French Revolution that was not taken in the U.S. to the same extent was the pursuit of bettering one's life through a more collective, moralistic view. In the U.S., the model of laissez faire became more and more prevalent, although, to be fair, it was always driven by a deep moral base (albeit more personal or communal than government sanctioned). As a result, there were diverging views of how government should participate in the lives of constituents and the specific role of constituents in society. It seems that in France, the constituent was part of a collective, known for creativity, good food, good wine, good life, and high class. In contrast, the U.S. constituents were individual entrepreneurs known for hard work, willingness to change, energy, and aspiration.

The result is two divergent points of view, and countries in completely different places right now. The U.S. became the most wealthy nation on the planet, while France fell to obscurity in many ways (politically, financially, etc). However, when you look at a microview of the two societies, it is not clear who is actually better off - the American who works 60+ hours a week (more than our parents), highly materialistic, focused on bettering themselves, but struggling from the "rat race", or the French person who works less and less (35 hour work week) than their parents, materialistic, but not necessarily to the same extent as Americans, focused on enjoying the good life, not competing in the "rat race" by and large. I'm frankly not sure...

What complicates this whole situation is the emergence of immigrants who are eager to work in the (now post-)American world. Firstly, it means Americans must compete with people who are using the same mindset as them, for the most part. It also means that the underlying value of an American (education and skills) come into question in relation to those from these emerging countries. Herein lies the complication - do Americans have a true competitive advantage vis a vis the Indians, Chinese, or Israelis for that matter? Are we willing to put up a fight to stay on top, or are we too fat and happy at this point to care? I would argue that the French have taken a form of the latter approach, taking the "higher road" and creating an environment that is sustainable, as long as you dont care to be the best or have the best. They seem content with that solution. The French do not seem obsessed with new technology as much as Americans as the emerging East. The French have stopped innovation in some businesses a few technology generations ago, simply because they do not need to be enhanced - the added speed is not sought by the French people. This allows the company to maintain several local industries that would otherwise have been eliminated due to inefficiency many years ago (think gas station attendants)...

So, where do I stand on this whole issue - I'm a strong advocate of the immigrant mentality, of staying hungry, and seeking to be the best I can. Yeah, it leads to a lot of nail-biting and few moments of sheer bliss (I cannot sit on a beach for more than 10 minutes without needing to do something more useful), but it helps to differentiate me from my friends and colleagues. To some extent, it defines me.

Some of the downsides of being of this mentality includes "being a sucker", when confronted with folks who do not subscribe to this mentality. At work, in school and in life, I find myself often eager to get my hands dirty and push a project from idea to execution. Until recently, I was not convinced this was a unique quality or even something positive/negative. However, it became clear to me this week that I have, and likely always will be comfortable with the idea of doing more than others to achieve. Its how I was brought up, how my parents were, how my sisters are, and the only way I know to behave.

This week, we had an American party at INSEAD, which i agreed to take part in organizing. I took on the role of picking up alcohol, paper goods, food, make the jello shots, and coordinating ice. The others organized music, negotiated the space, set up, cleaned up and sent out e-mails. It was clear to me and others that I took on more than was required of me. One of my colleagues even called me "a sucker" for sweating through the whole ordeal of moving all this crap into the party... I'm not sure how to be different. I'm not sure what that might even look like? I am not convinced I could take on smaller roles and still feel comfortable? I guess i'm a micromanager... To me, it fits with my "immigrant mentailty" model, that rationalizes such an approach as necessary and useful...

Thoughts? Confused? Drop me a line...