Richard Branson's Virgin MoneyYesterday, I spoke to a colleague, Jake, CEO of a successful boutique consulting business in the financial services. Jake had come to me with what he said was an exciting entrepreneurial “boot strapping” opportunity just few months ago that he wanted me to get involved in.

Today, it was as if Jake was a different person. He immediately launched into how “toxic the environment is” and how there was just no point in trying to “boot strap” something. With the Super Committee failing, and all the uncertainty about the Euro and “Occupy Wall Street,” everyone is hunkering down.

“Executives in the country’s biggest banks are constantly talking about the next layoff of 1000’s of people,” Jake said, “There are massive lawsuits going on already. Nobody is talking about growing their business or building a new product portfolio and taking it to customers to sell.” He said they are just at survival.

I couldn’t help thinking that that was a conversation out there about “how toxic the environment was” that had gone viral, and that had infected Jake and everyone else that came into contact with it.

The result? People giving up on their dreams and plans and essentially going home and hiding under the covers waiting for the disease to run its course. This had resulted in a psychological and economic malaise that was pulling the economy downward. Is there any respite from this?

Iconic entrepreneurial CEOs never complain about the environment. Then Yesterday afternoon, I opened my Twitter account and saw an intriguing Tweet by Sir Richard Branson. Branson had been asking for names for his new business on Twitter. “Thanks everyone – thumbs firmly down for any name with the word ‘bank’ in it. Virgin Money hot favourite to date!”

How fascinating! In an environment where everyone in financial services was essentially giving up due to negative sentiment about banks so well expressed by Occupying Wall Street. The puckish Branson had viewed all this as an opportunity for entrepreneurial disruption. Instead of talking on a macroeconomic level, Branson was talking to the man in the street about basic things like lowering the cost of home loans, car payments, and what not.

I wrote back to my colleague with a dose of tough love. “Jake, I keep thinking about that conversation with you. I got to tell you, there is no power in your speaking. Rather than source something, or as you put it “boot strap” it, you have let yourself become a victim of the toxic environment.”

I continued, “It is possible to do creative things in any industry, in any environment, as well as to find people who are doing so and align yourself to them.” I then offered Richard Branson’s telephone number for his new venture. Yet, I doubt if that person actually picked up the phone and called.

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