The World at Large

Moving to the US

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Comparisons

It's very easy to miss the things you like about where you come from, and to lament their absence in your new home. So when people ask about America, it's very easy to talk about the things that don't compare favorably between the two countries. My mother-in-law, who wishes we'd bring her grandsons back to Australia, wanted to know why we're there when we finished describing one of those annoying comparisons.

This was an interesting question, as everyone wants to know why their home is better than elsewhere. Not many people in Australia want to hear about those things that are better in American than here.

There are some things that are obviously better in Australia (from an Australian perspective). The one at the top of my list is health care. America may have more facilities, but the cost and complexity is a nightmare. Strangely, I've heard of Americans thinking that the Australian system is terrible because it's "socialized" (gasp). There's a far greater availability of nice lagers (not Fosters - urgh). There isn't the imperative to buy all the time (that's a tough one to explain, but it's a big one).

On the other hand, America has some wonderful characteristics. We have met some of the most wonderful people I know there. Friendships are formed somewhat differently in America, but the friends we've made have really put themselves out to help us on numerous occasions. Very often these people have exceeded anything I've heard of in Australia, and I have to say that I'm very grateful to them.

Also, the city of Chicago is a wonderful place. The weather may keep you indoors for a significant portion of the year, but there are many worthwhile things to do indoors to make up for it. We live within a 10 minute walk of the zoo, which means that I can take the boys to see several indoor exhibits for free on any day of the week, and there is an indoor climbing gym that Luc has proven very adept at.

The nearby zoo is not only good for it's indoor activities. Just over a month ago, Luc and I left the climbing gym when the sun had just gone down. There behind a large glass wall was a wolf standing high on a rock, howling at the moon. To me as an Australian, this is something straight out of the movies. There is also an amazing beaver enclosure that is half aquarium, with the glass wall against the room with teh climbing gym. Anne has shown photos of Luc near the polar bears, the primate house constantly amazes me, the big cats are certainly impressive, and Luc is always talking about the hissing cockroaches.

I enjoy tiring the boys out by sending them off to chase squirrels in the park (it amazes me how enthusiastic Luc is, when he's never made it closer then a few meters from a squirrel). It's also fun when Luc points out the rabbits that are all around us. The fireflies in summer are sparse in Chicago when you compare them to Ohio, but wonderful all the same.

The rest of Chicago is also full of numerous art galleries, museums, gardens, and the Shedd Aquarium. I've seen public art in Australia, but never before by Picasso. We have the opportunity to see things there that we could never see in Australia. To try to describe even a part of what is available, does a disservice to it all.

One of the things that Anne loves is the ability to buy anything online. It's difficult to buy many things online in Australia, and the range is often inadequate. Not so in America. The range of items is always the best, the prices are usually better, and you can get it all. I'm talking High Definition televisions to groceries. Toasters to toys. Shoes to cooking utensils. Since we had to start from scratch, we bought ALL of those items, and many, many more on the net (except the TV, where I went to a real shop, since I wanted to compare image quality). We did a little shopping in the real world, but 90% of what we have came from the net. Maybe that's not a good thing, but when you've just arrived in the country, you're relying on hire cars and taxis, you don't know where to go for things anyway, and the temperature can get down to -24C, then having stuff magically appear on your doorstep is just wonderful.

As for me, I love the faster internet (though it costs me a fortune), the cheap sporting goods (in fact, all clothes are cheap), and the SciFi channel. Don't underestimate that last one. My father had me watching Star Trek, Space 1999, and Thunderbirds with him when I was 4, and I've been addicted to the genre ever since! Thunderbirds were my favorite, and I was chuffed to see Luc totally engrossed in an episode we saw the day after we got here.

Business

But the real reason I'm in the USA is to get experience in business. It's conducted differently in America. There are several reasons for this.

One reason is because people seem more prepared to take risks. Businesses are prepared to take that extra step if it might give them some kind of advantage. That means they're prepared to invest in new ideas and risky ventures. In Australia, unless 95% of the top 100 companies are running a particular piece of software, you have almost no hope of selling it to anyone, even when it's cheaper, better, and more reliable than the competition. The only exceptions seem to be the ones that prove the rule. American businesses can be reluctant to spend, particularly when the market is tight, but the level of flexibility is far greater than what you'll see in Australia.

Another thing is a pervading optimism that it's possible to make millions. Regardless of how unlikely this may be, the majority of people seem to believe it at some level or another. One individual who went crazy with a gun recently apparently did so because he believed that his "turn" had been taken from him by his patent lawyer.

Between this optimism, and willingness to take risks, I've heard it said that people are expected to fail a few times before they succeed. If you're a successful CEO or CTO, then it's because you've worked in several other companies in a similar capacity, and failed. But on the way you learned what you were doing. Conversely, in Australia, if you fail like that, then companies are reluctant to let you have another go.

I haven't seen a lot of this personally, but I heard it from an Australian CEO in the USA, and what I have seen bears this out. It seems to make sense, given the climate.

But the one biggest difference in business, is that America has money. However much money you can imagine... America has more. This is what makes the risks I mentioned possible. What does a mid-size or large company care if it blows $1 million, when it's also investing in alternatives, one of which will almost certainly make it it $100 million? And I'm only talking about smaller companies. The big boys are looking at billions, and more.

A lot of this comes from size. Sell a $10 product to 1% of the population, and suddenly you have $30 million. So long as you can get a product out there, you have a good chance of doing well. Maybe you're not in a market who sells to consumers, but you're selling to companies who in turn sell to consumers. Either way, there's money in the system, and people are willing to do interesting things with that money.

This all provides an environment for opportunity that I just haven't seen elsewhere. It's intimidating and exciting at the same time.

Now there are downsides to all of this as well (What? There's a downside to money???), but that's not what I'm talking about. I was asked about what's good in America. The opportunities are great, and you just won't see their like in Australia. The attitudes to business lead to a new climate that can be refreshing (as well as stifling, but I'll talk about that another day). The experience is worthwhile, no matter where you end up practicing business.

A lot of the people are nice too. :-)

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