“You Didn’t Build That”

I’ve thought for a while now about writing out my thoughts concerning the “You didn’t build that” meme.  Context for any possible future readers, from Wikipedia:

On a campaign swing through Virginia, Obama stopped in Roanoke to speak to supporters. In his remarks Obama noted that while he was willing to cut government waste, he would not gut investments that grow the economy or give tax breaks to millionares like himself or Mitt Romney. Obama went on to say that rich people did not get rich solely due to their own talent and hard work, but that, to varying degrees, they owe some of their success to good fortune and the contributions of government. Obama said in this context:

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me – because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t – look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something – there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. (Applause.)

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

Obama then cited the funding of the G.I. Bill, the creation of the middle class, the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Daminventing the Internet, and landing on the moon as examples of what he was talking about.

It became this big thing that Republicans used to say that President Obama doesn’t respect innovators and entrepreneurs, based on the lines “You didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”  They weren’t worded the best, but when you read the full thing you can see how they were taken out of context.

Anyway, I mentioned that on Facebook today, a friend responded about how they thought the comments was offensive and I wrote the following, so I thought I’d go ahead and post it on here, since I’ve been meaning to anyway.  [Note: it’s been edited to take away the Facebook context.]

Owning a business that I started myself from scratch, I think that I’ve got a pretty unique perspective on “You didn’t build that,” and I’m not offended in the least. The truth is, I couldn’t have done it on my own.

I’ve had people throughout my life who have helped encourage me and teach me things that helped me turn a hobby into a growing business. 

My cousin David who introduced me to all kinds of books and other things that helped spur my imagination and love for creativity. 

My elementary school art teacher, Mrs. Barbara Bailey-Smith. Plenty of other teachers in my public school education and professors at UNC Greensboro, a public institution in the University of North Carolina system. 

My parents, who paid for my education and also instilled work values in me. 

The government unemployment I collected after being laid off that allowed me to pay for classes at Coastal Carolina Community College, where I furthered my education in the career I’m now in, while Amanda and I stayed with her parents (including my mother-in-law Karen, who watches Milly on Mondays so I can get more work done) until I found a new job. 

Bosses like Vic who pushed me to realize how capable I could be working on my own and managing people. My last boss, Scott, for giving me a chance with my little experience and trusting me with so many operations in his company, who taught me so many principles and gave me so many ideas I use every day in my own business and still gives me work from time to time. 

And the government again, for helping me get on my feet while getting my business going. For that matter, I can thank the government for the very platform my business runs on; without them we wouldn’t have the Internet and nobody would need websites or care about marketing them. (Obama actually mentions Internet jobs in that very speech). 

I did build my company, and it’s something I am extremely, fiercely proud of. It’s not something everyone has the courage, skill, faith, determination, creativity or discipline to do. However, it would be selfish of me not to recognize the help I’ve received throughout my life not only from people, but the systems provided to me by the government. 

Obama obviously didn’t mean a person had no hand in building their own business. It’s been well accepted since before the RNC that the “You didn’t build that” meme was out of context, and to argue otherwise after reading the speech in full is just… let’s call it silly. You’ve got to look at the full context and the meaning behind that.

“The point is,” as Obama said a few sentences later, “is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.” Right there he directly lauds personal innovation, and it’s on point. What does it matter if “You didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen” came out wrong? I don’t care about semantics- the message was on point.