James Max - James Max is a broadcaster, columnist and business expert

If 2011 was a year to forget will 2012 be one to remember?

Unlike many of you, I have been working over the Christmas and New Year period. That means as you get to go back to work and feel depressed about everything, I can reflect as I take a couple of days off to think about what 2012 may bring.

2011 was a turbulent year both here and abroad. The revolutionary spirit in the Middle East is very different from the violence, wanton destruction and protest we witnessed at home. Much of what people are prepared to risk their lives for elsewhere in the world, we have already. We’d better pick and choose what we protest about carefully so as not to squander what we have.

I am actually half glass full about this year. We may be surprised by what we achieve. The outlook is somewhat negative.As a result, we may well do better than we expect. For too long we have compared our country to our neighbours and trading partners. Yet we are different and will remain so. Instead of trying to be like Germany and to have a manufacturing based economy or to emulate the US by borrowing and eating our way out of every crisis… perhaps we should concentrate on what we are good at.

Creativity. We are a creative people. Inventive. Resourceful. Plucky. Determined. Enthusiastic. Embracing. Complex. And actually we are quite good at a lot of things even if we aren’t the best. We underplay our strengths. That can be endearing to some and as the world spotlight will fall upon our small little eccentric island for two great events, it’s about time we started to celebrate difference rather than trying to go mainstream.

It is a commonly held myth that if you throw money at a problem it will go away or bring the desired result. The Beijing Olympics was a case in point. They threw one heck of a lot of money at a ceremony that was spectacular. In many ways it was a vulgar display. It missed the point as to the reason the Olympic Games are held in the first place. I’d hope that our games here in the London would showcase us for who we are. Talented, hardworking, sophisticated and resourceful in challenging times. As for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee? Not only do we do pomp and pageant extremely well in this country, it is unique. It is a matter of circumstance and history that we have a Queen who is so respected around the globe and this gives us a wonderful chance to demonstrate what fabulous heritage we have.

Economic growth
For all the political rhetoric about rebalancing our economy, I wish for once we’d get some common sense injected into the mind-set of those who seek to govern. We can only afford the social services and public spending we want, if we generate the revenue from our economy. Rebalancing doesn’t just mean reducing our spending at a national level. It means from the bottom up living within our means and using debt only when we can afford to pay it back. It means at a local council level spending wisely and not sloshing money about to line pockets of those who least deserve it. It means at national level spending on care and services that are needed not simply wanted. On reforms that deliver improvements rather than winning votes. On infrastructure that improves our quality of life, whilst generating economic growth.

In 2012 we have to change our attitude. The attitude to learning is the very core of our potential success. As educational standards improve around the world so we have to do better, learn more and free our minds. Learning for exams is all vey well. However training the mind to think differently and to use intelligence rather than book-led intellect and ideology to make decisions is critical. For those of you who think I am being rather nebulous, let me spell that out. Innovation and invention is where we can make our economic fortunes revive. It’s not those who make the products that make the big money. It’s those who lead in the ideas revolution. And that has to start in schools and universities.

However it doesn’t stop there. Our tax system has to encourage entrepreneurial minds to risk and innovate whilst allowing those who do a hard day’s work to spend their money how they choose. The state has a role but we have to free the shackles of exactly how much the state should interfere with our lives. We all want our bins to be collected, the health service to perform and our schools to teach and educate. Indeed we want our social services to look after those who need help. Yet government has become too intrusive in our lives. Too burdensome in the way it manages and too interfering in some areas of business.

Meanwhile, every Tom Dick and Harriet seems to think that protest will get some form of change. No. It won’t. The Protestors outside St Paul’s and The Houses of Parliament should be packed off home. I am all for legitimate protest, if that’s what you want to do. However it isn’t a lifestyle choice and nor should we encourage it. The changes they demand seem to assume that taking from the rich to give to the poor will assist. But it won’t. As we have seen in countless African nations it actually makes things worse. What we need to do is give people the tools to help themselves. It’s no wonder we have such an unemployment problem if youngsters come out of school without a meaningful or tangible skill base. It’s no wonder we have high unemployment rates if it’s more complex to hire and impossible to fire. It’s also no good if social care and housing acts as a disincentive to work.

Whilst the government and popular protest has concentrated on business and in particular pay and bonuses as the focus of their attack, I hope in 2012 we start to realise that there are far more important things to worry about. How did they produce the massive profits to pay themselves large bonuses in the first place? What about the rights of workers to look at their employment contracts and to have a greater personal strength for information to ensure they are rewarded for what they do? To the authorities and regulators to really focus and banish bad business practises? How do we encourage those businesses that can be successful on a global scale to locate here in the UK? What can we do to inspire a new breed of entrepreneurs to innovate and create new businesses, concepts and ideas? What should we do to improve the relationship between hard work, revenue creation and reward?If we change our attitudes and approach then, even in a difficult economic environment, we can succeed.

The most important attitude we need to change, however, is this. Instead of developing solutions to symptoms we need to tackle the causes. In business, in government, in schools and universities, in society and at home. If we manage to do that? We’ll be a lot happier, wealthier and more comfortable with ourselves.

Happy New Year!

In my next blog I’ll be looking ahead to see what 2012 may bring.

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