Jackie Gingrich Cushman

It's spring break week for my children, and this year we are joining others who are staycationing. We spent Monday morning at the Georgia Aquarium, and Tuesday we went to the Atlanta Zoo, where I learned something new and was reminded of something I already knew.

What was new? Pandas bleat to communicate.

The sound is similar to the noise goats or sheep make. When I first heard the soft, faint bleating I did not connect them to the 270-pound giant panda Yang Yang. Heather, a giant panda keeper, had been giving treats to Yang Yang, but she stopped to talk to us.

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Evidently, Yang Yang wanted more treats. "I can't give him treats now," she said. "We reward positive behavior and ignore bad. Reinforcing positive behavior works best when training animals." The bleating was Yang Yang's way of letting us know that he was still around and ready for a treat.

This reminded me of what I already knew: Positive reinforcement works.

It made me wonder: Are we positively reinforcing the behavior we want in our economy?

What do we want? Jobs. Who creates jobs?

"Fast-growing young firms account for a disproportionate share of net job creation," according to Robert Litan, vice president of research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation. Who creates fast-growing young firms? Entrepreneurs.

So -- pardon the redundancy -- entrepreneurs create jobs.

In this week's New York Times article "Even Among Animals: Leaders, Followers and Schmoozers," Natalie Angier notes, "The only reliable predictor of goose leadership was boldness -- the willingness to approach a new item like a scrap of carpet. ... The boldest birds also proved the most adept at finding new food patches."

Sound familiar? Those entrepreneurs who are willing to venture where no goose has gone before get the golden egg.

"Scientists suspect that small inherited predispositions are either enhanced or suppressed by experience," Angier wrote, "and computer models show that tiny discrepancies at the start can become enormous over time, through feedback loopings of positive reinforcement."

This might help explain where entrepreneurs come from. Those who took risks and were positively rewarded continue to take risks and reap more positive rewards.


Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.