(CORRECTION: Philip Beyer here - Thanks to Bob Bliss for finding an error in this “Ten Cannots” blog post. Although William Boetcker's list of “Ten Cannots” has been quoted by many others, including President Ronald Reagan, we mistakenly included President Abraham Lincoln as one of those. Good catch, Bob! A little more research shows that Lincoln never said them. The “Ten Cannots” were, of course, written in 1916 by the Rev. Boetcker, a Presbyterian clergyman and pamphlet writer, and President Lincoln was assassinated eight years before Boetcker was born. However, in 1942, a group called the Committee for Constitutional Government gave out a great many leaflets entitled “Lincoln on Limitations” that contained on one side a real Lincoln quote and on the other side the 10 Boetcker statements. Since then, many have attributed the “Ten” to Lincoln. I apologize for adding to that confusion. Thanks for reading!)
As a business owner for nearly 30 years, I have come to see how the state of our nation—the political landscape, a virtual battlefield for conservative and liberal thinking—has had a profound influence on the success or failure of American businesses.
Most of my energy over those years has been concentrated on the business of business—how it works, how to make it work better, and how to help others sustain the highest standards of quality, efficiency and productivity in their own businesses. My research has been fascinating, to say the least!
Recently, I became aware of a man named William J. H. Boetcker, an influential leader and public speaker in America during the early to mid-20th Century. His words, I believe, ring even truer today than they might have during his lifetime. Born in 1873 in Hamburg, Germany, and raised in Erie, PA, Boetcker was an outspoken proponent of free-market enterprise and entrepreneurship. He is best remembered for his authorship of a pamphlet he published in 1916, titled “The Ten Cannots.”
Given the current state of our nation—our over-taxed and increasingly floundering businesses, and the rise in unemployment—it seems important to me that we revisit Boetcker’s “Ten Cannots”
in order to determine America’s collective temperature. Will your company survive today’s economic pressures, or will it become a statistical fatality, as many others have now.
Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan are two of many who have quoted Boetcker over the years, hoping to inspire a return to reason and order for our nation and its business and financial structure—and our ability to prosper as a free people. I suggest that these same “Cannots”
also hold great wisdom for today’s businesses that find it harder and harder to afford to stay afloat, hire those who will work, and maintain order on a daily basis.
So, for those of you who are determined to find solutions to your business problems, and for those of you who can understand the correlation between the state of our nation and its current policies—and the direct impact they have on your business—I also submit to you “The Ten Cannots”
for your consideration:
- You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
- You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
- You cannot help little men by tearing down bigger men.
- You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
- You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
- You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money.
- You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
- You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn.
- You cannot build character and courage by destroying men’s initiative and independence.
- You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.
William Boetcker died in 1962, after also warning America about what he called “The Seven National Crimes.”
- I don’t think.
- I don’t know.
- I don’t care.
- I am too busy.
- I leave well enough alone.
- I have no time to read and find out.
- I am not interested.
It’s up to you and me, those of us who own or manage businesses in these challenging times, to make every effort to educate ourselves and others about our nation’s leadership; and to stand strong for our free-enterprise system, and the freedoms our country was built on.
Right-thinking leadership understands the imperative of businesses to thrive in America, and is wise to give business owners every encouragement and incentive to risk and to prosper in order to be able to afford to hire good workers, and retool as needed, and to meet the demands of ever-changing technologies.
You may be thinking, “Philip, what does this have to do with SYSTEMS?”
If our businesses are not running lean by systemized management—and remain in a state of chaos that keeps us “too busy” or “too tired” to get involved in local and national issues that have a direct effect on our business—it’s likely our freedoms and the worth of our hard work will continue to decline.
We must implement leaner, more sustainable practices—systems that will allow us time to get involved, educate ourselves in government practices and support elected leaders who will stand with us and for us.
As go our businesses, so goes our nation!
It’s up to you and me.
Did I mention? Great systems work!