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Editor’s Note: In 2011, we learned there are no quick fixes

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What a strange year.

We kicked it off on an upbeat note. Companies started hiring again, businesses made a few strategic transactions, private equity stirred and there was even rumors of an IPO here and there.

Then — wham! — at the start of the summer the nation found itself on the brink of defaulting on its debt, and everyone took a pause.

No sooner did it appear the coast might be clear, then Europe started going into economic convulsions.

So we paused again.

The path ahead looks no clearer to me today than it did a year ago. I think if 2011 is remembered for anything, it is that this was the year when we accepted the fact there are no quick fixes. Caution and lower expectations are the new normal.

Plenty of business leaders I talk to acknowledge as much. It’s better than the alternative — another dip into recession. One way or another, we need to bring ourselves back into financial balance.

Those who ignore that economic calculus do so at their peril. Isn’t that the lesson of the swift collapse of the brokerage firm MF Global?

Closer to home, this is also the year when the Washington business community learned it is not immune. The great spigot of government spending buffered the region from the worst of the downturn, but now the flow of dollars is slowing, and we’ll have to adjust.

Change is not all bad. It creates new opportunities for those who recognize what is happening.

The pages of Capital Business are filled each week with stories of companies that are innovating and finding new ways to meet customer needs. They are plugging away.

I keep playing back in my head an interview I heard on CNBC at the start of the credit crisis. It was the collapse of the housing market that got us into this mess, some Wall Street pundit argued, and it will be up to the housing market to lead us out.

If that’s true, the market still has some work to do.

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