Business as the ultimate act of creation

Those categories might have been useful or essential, but now?

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

There was a time, perhaps long ago and far away, or maybe just an ancient setting lost in the mists of time when human beings had settled categories – and each category clearly defined and protected its own boundaries.

Politics and religion, the arts and sciences, academic or vocational education, liberal or conservative, boomer or millennial, maybe even something as basic as work and recreation – the distinction between any of them was perhaps artificial if not enforced.

As we go through life we take on different roles and obligations, our values and priorities change. We understand, or even value things differently. Some things matter that we didn’t even notice or care about before.

And what seemed so important just a short time ago seems irrelevant and trivial to us now.

It has been said that the highest wisdom is the ability, with new information or new understanding, to change one’s mind.

In the business world, where, when the ultimate bottom line is that “the situation is the boss,” flexibility is the most important “super-power”.

Success, like bankruptcy as Hemingway put it, comes slowly then suddenly.

An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.   - Jack Welch

Tiny steps become larger steps, a few steps become many and, before we even notice it, changes in eating, driving, smoking, even investing, become universal.

We are in an era when the prevailing narrative is that we, as a nation, are divided into something resembling armed (sometimes literally) camps pitted against each other.

I don’t buy it.

The reality is that we all live in the same world, breathe the same air, eat, work, travel and inhabit many common spaces from occupations and neighborhoods to family activities.

I could not even count how many people I have known who held firm, uncompromising positions on everything from homelessness to addiction to being a refugee to same-sex marriage – until they had a friend or family member who had that experience.

This is my bias, but it seems to me that real wisdom, compassion or even basic human decency comes into play when one changes one’s position without being forced into it.

Whatever our political, philosophical or even religious beliefs, we have vastly more in common than in conflict.

Somehow it has become unpopular to say so, but we really do need each other – employee and employer, neighbor, student or teacher or a million other roles we might find ourselves in, some temporary and some permanent. But no matter where we find ourselves, we are making decisions and influencing others, and our choices now could easily impact our children, our neighbors’ children, or their children’s children.

Some of us, of course, have a more public impact than others.

These people, especially those willing to peer, or even reach, beyond their predictable, if not formulaic, presumed boundaries, are the ones who make a difference and pave the way for those who remain unconvinced.

One urban analyst put it this way, “the last seven words of a dying organization are ‘We’ve never done it that way before’”.

Photo: Morf Morford

Photo: Morf Morford

The unchanging reality is that the world, our values, our priorities, our opportunities (and our ability to make use of them) are always changing.

Our laws have literally changed in the past few years in ways that many of us have urged, many of us feared and few may have foreseen in the realm of marriage, marijuana and business.

The most astute business leaders are the ones who see trends or challenges on the horizon long before they hit.

Once they do hit, it is far too late to react.

The primary principle of business (and personal) survival, if not prosperity is similar to the principle of budgeting – it is always better to decide where your money goes than wonder where it went.

Businesses as varied as Sears, Kodak and Blockbuster fill our business textbooks as warnings to those who found themselves at the wrong end of unyielding market forces.

The cost of doing business is a harsh taskmaster. The bottom line is unforgiving.

But the bottom line is not everything.

Disneyland is a work of love. We didn’t go into Disneyland just with the idea of making money.   - Walt Disney

Believe it or not, the primary reason for starting a business should not be to make money – there are many far more efficient and less painful ways to do that.

As Paul Hawken points out, the purpose of business, he points out, is not to make a fortune or even to take risks but rather to get something done – to bring about the changes in values, products or services you want to see in your life, your social circle or your community.

Making a difference in your community will leave a far larger impact than any positive or negative quarterly report.

I want to put a ding in the universe.  -  Steve Jobs

As we all know, Steve Jobs did indeed put quite a “ding in the universe”.

And for better worse, he led the way in demolishing categories we had thought were firm – those between work and time off, the work week and the weekend and even the difference between goods and services – is the smart phone, after all, a good or a service?

It is obviously an object, but what makes it valuable, if not essential, is its linkage to services once out of reach to all but the most elite.

But as I mentioned in the beginning, perhaps all these distinctions are arbitrary and artificial -  and possibly as absurd as the distinction between inhaling and exhaling.

No one can do one of these. But we all do both of them.

Business is like that. And so is friendship. And marriage.

The purpose of life (and business) is not to inhale the most, or exhale the most. Or even to breathe.

Breathing is important, but it is not what stirs and motivates us – and it is not what the world needs from us.

What the world needs from us, and what we need from ourselves is to bring to the world, to the conversation and to the marketplace something only we can give it.