Why We Need a "Muchness" President

Last Updated Oct 20, 2010 12:18 PM EDT

America has lost its muchness. This is a real word, used by Lewis Carroll when the Mad Hatter tells Alice, "You've lost your muchness." According to Webster, muchness means "the quality or state of being great in quantity, extent, or degree." What it really means is the assuredness and confidence in ongoing greatness.

The United States loses its muchness on a regular basis, but what's truly remarkable is that we find it again -- even when it looks like it's gone for good. It happened in the 1970s during stagflation and Watergate, during the haunting year of 1968 with the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. It happened in the stock market crash of 1929, and that time we didn't regain our muchness until the end of World War II. In every case, some people said America had lost its way. Whether they were right or wrong, we found our way again -- and our muchness.

America's muchness has a lot to do with its president. When Clinton played volleyball on the beach after his election and before his inauguration, it sent the message that we didn't need to worry, because America would be just fine.

One of the most successful political ads of all time was Ronald Reagan's reelection campaign "It's morning again in America." The muchness was back. He said it, and we believed him.

When America has its muchness, the world is a better place. We use our powers of innovation to create the next generation of technology, to go to the moon, to create the future.

Very few countries have managed to regain muchness once they lose it or, for that matter, ever find it at all. France seems immune to muchness, enjoying its permanent state of angst and the joy of melancholy. The UK is trying to maintain its stiff upper lip about the loss of international power. China is basking in muchness, but it's likely that it will melt away due to the untenable denial of human rights and its restriction on the free flow of information. Japan's muchness is gone, possibly for good. India demonstrated its lack of muchness in the inept Commonwealth Games. Brazil seems three to five years away from muchness, just as its seemed three to five years away from muchness in 1990, 1980 and 1970.

Perhaps more so than any other country, we are our muchness. When we're stumbling, we look to the president. It's too much to ask America to feel muchness in the midst of 9.6% unemployment and record deficits, but it's also too much to ask the country to go long without it. It's as much a part of who we are as the flag.

Obama got elected by running ran on a platform of change. But under the surface of paper-thin bits of rhetoric, America wanted change in order to recapture its muchness, not to become something it wasn't. That fact, more than the ailing economy, is why democrats are about to get a shellacking on election day. We want the president to tell us how we're all going to get back to our muchness. We don't want to hear about change -- continuing the change, guarding the change. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

For business leaders, there are major lessons we can learn about what's going on in the political world:

First, recognize that it's your job to create muchness around you. Unlike raw goods and money (unless you own an illegal printing press), there's no limit to how much muchness you and your company can create. How do you do this? By emphasizing untapped opportunities in the economy, including incredible talent looking for a place to call home.

Second, if muchness is lacking, create it in pockets. People are tribal by nature, and one tribe can enjoy muchness while the next tribe over is in despair. While it's too simplistic to just tell your tribes to opt out of the bad economy, you can say you're going to do things differently and choose not take part in the collective melancholy. It's critical to avoid the common stupid business ideas that steal muchness from companies and individuals.

Third, see muchness as a cause, and not an effect. It wasn't morning in America until Reagan said it was. When people believed him, the economic sun started to rise. Muchness comes before a great P&L.

Got muchness? Miss your muchness? I hope you'll tell us about it in the comments below.

(I'm indebted to Elena Vasquez at Vistage for inspiring this blog post.)

Photo courtesy art_es_anna, CC 2.0.
Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

  • Dave Logan On Twitter»

    View all articles by Dave Logan on CBS MoneyWatch »
    Dave Logan is a USC faculty member, management consultant, and the best-selling author of four books including Tribal Leadership and The Three Laws of Performance. He is also Senior Partner of CultureSync, a management consulting firm, which he co-founded in 1997.