Photo courtesy of Flickr.com – Photographer Salim Virji
Golden Gate Bridge

You’ve heard the expression, “You’ve gotta have skin in the game,” right? Sure you have, and you know it means that in order to make something worth doing, you need to have a piece or part of the activity. Doing so ensures that you share in the success and/or failure of the outcome. When you put some of yourself into it, and you take a risk, you reap the rewards of not only the outcome, but of the effort and the accomplishment. When you have skin in the game, you just get so much more out of it. It’s a great expression and one that is often credited to Warren Buffet (although he denies that he coined it).

I was reminded of this phrase recently, when I was in California. I was working out there for a little over a week, first speaking in San Diego then made my way to see a client in San Francisco. Since both events were within a week of each other and both in California, I decided to take the opportunity to explore the state; a gorgeous state well worth spending time in. By the time I hit San Francisco, I was officially a tourist, having checked off all the tourist activities one can do in every city along the coast. So naturally, in San Francisco I had to do the ultimate tourist activity; I strapped my hiking boots on and walked across the Golden Gate Bridge!

It is an amazing bridge with an amazing story. It was built in the early 1930s right after the stock market crash devastated the country. Despite desperate times and a national economy in crisis, the people of this city decided to go forward, take a chance and build the bridge. A construction project that cost more than $35 million to build (remember, that is $35 million in 1930) and one that many thought could not be built.

While that alone is impressive, the most remarkable part of the story is that in order to secure the needed funds for construction, the residents of this area put up their own homes, farms and businesses — actually pledged their personal wealth and signed the papers — to secure the loan for the bridge. Talk about having skin in the game! And talk about taking a chance! The people of San Francisco pulled together, took a risk and together they changed the future of their community and the state of California. There is a little brochure you get when you visit the tourist center at the start of the walk that calls the Golden Gate Bridge the ultimate triumph of optimism and courage over self-protection and risk adversity.

Now reading that, and then walking across this amazing bridge, I could feel the pride well up in me — and the respect for the people of San Francisco. Think about the courage and hope it took for that community (and note here, I said community) to come together and invest in their future with no guarantees. Then to see the level of success and growth their efforts created — it just made walking across that bridge all the more exciting.

Why? Because the people of San Francisco put skin in the game. They took a chance and it paid off. Obviously, they knew they needed to do something in order for their community to grow and their lives (and those of their children) to improve, so they stepped up to the plate and took action. They did not wait for the government or some organization to do it; no, they put their own skin in the game. With that, they changed the course of their lives and those of future generations.

Unfortunately, today we have lost so much of that in our communities, our schools and our governments. We wait and expect others to do it. Understandably, we don’t like to lose, but, unfortunately, not wanting to lose is taking away our desire to take a chance and take responsibility for our lives and our futures. In today’s environment, where everyone gets a trophy and everyone makes the team, we may arguably be happier in the short term, but believe me, it is costing us a very big price in the long term.

You see, putting skin in the game is about so much more than the outcome or the goal. It is about what you gain from just taking a chance, from taking responsibility, and from turning first to yourself for solutions rather than expecting others to do it for you. You gain confidence, pride, persistence, and personal power to control and chart your own course. In today’s economy, in the Trust & Value economy, those skills are priceless.

The people of San Francisco, by putting skin in the game, gained so much more than a bridge. They gained an amazing sense of accomplishment, personal confidence, and the sense of community and connection that comes from working together, taking a chance and creating something incredible.

If you find yourself in San Francisco, take some time to walk across the bridge. If nothing else, take a lesson from the courageous people who built that bridge: having skin in the game is how you win in the Trust & Value Economy.