💡 The highest expressions of business become philosophical.
Business when expressed at its highest level becomes philosophical. I’ll use 2 stories to exemplify this.
A poor understanding of business people think of numbers and revenue. a business is just a group of people who came together to produce a good or deliver a service that offers value to customers. If they can sell at a higher price than it cost to deliver it then that’s called profit).
James Dyson’s Outlook on Business
I was listening to David Senra’s Founder’s podcast #25 which covers James Dyson’s life up until the age of 50.
My biggest takeaway was Dyson’s view of business, which can be summed up as ‘a business is just a group of people who have come together to produce a good or deliver a service.’ If they are able to sell this product or service at a profit (meaning that customers are willing to pay more than the cost of producing it) and at high volumes then the company will be a success.
”The only way to make real money is to offer the public something entirely new, that has style value as well as substance, and which they cannot get anywhere else.”
This can be described by a simple equation: People (come together and produce) a Product (which they sell to customers and generate) Money.
This simple equation can be lost, especially by people who view a business as a set of spreadsheets or a set of profit and loss statements. They lose track of the fact that a company must produce a good or deliver a service that ultimately benefits customers.
Dyson warns us about what happens when you lose sight of this equation.
“This is not even a business book. It is, if anything, a book against business, against the principles that have filled the world with ugly, useless objects, unhappy people and brought the country to its economic knees.
Jeff Bezos Last Shareholder Letter
Often people speak the most truth at the end of something (a relationship, a job). In 2020 Jeff Bezos decided to step down from the position of CEO of Amazon and in doing so he published his last letter to the shareholders of Amazon.
The last section of his letter is titled “Differentiation is Survival and the Universe Wants You to be Typical”. This is what he chose to leave with:
This is my last annual shareholder letter as the CEO of Amazon, and I have one last thing of utmost importance I feel compelled to teach. I hope all Amazonians take it to heart.
Here is a passage from Richard Dawkins’ (extraordinary) book The Blind Watchmaker. It’s about a basic fact of biology.
*“Staving off death is a thing that you have to work at. Left to itself – and that is what it is when it dies – the body tends to revert to a state of equilibrium with its environment. If you measure some quantity such as the temperature, the acidity, the water content or the electrical potential in a living body, you will typically find that it is markedly different from the corresponding measure in the surroundings. Our bodies, for instance, are usually hotter than our surroundings, and in cold climates they have to work hard to maintain the differential. When we die the work stops, the temperature differential starts to disappear, and we end up the same temperature as our surroundings. Not all animals work so hard to avoid coming into equilibrium with their surrounding temperature, but all animals do some comparable work. For instance, in a dry country, animals and plants work to maintain the fluid content of their cells, work against a natural tendency for water to flow from them into the dry outside world. If they fail they die. More generally, if living things didn’t work actively to prevent it, they would eventually merge into their surroundings, and cease to exist as autonomous beings. That is what happens when they die.”
We all know that distinctiveness – originality – is valuable. We are all taught to “be yourself.” What I’m really asking you to do is to embrace and be realistic about how much energy it takes to maintain that distinctiveness. The world wants you to be typical – in a thousand ways, it pulls at you. Don’t let it happen.
You have to pay a price for your distinctiveness, and it’s worth it. The fairy tale version of “be yourself” is that all the pain stops as soon as you allow your distinctiveness to shine. That version is misleading. Being yourself is worth it, but don’t expect it to be easy or free. You’ll have to put energy into it continuously.
The world will always try to make Amazon more typical – to bring us into equilibrium with our environment. It will take continuous effort, but we can and must be better than that.
It’s fascinating that Bezos emphasises the key to survival, as a company, as an individual and as an animal is to maintain your difference. When you die you literally become the same as the environment.
This is a useful description of companies that can be thought of as ‘dead.’ Not dead in the literal sense that they no longer operate, but dead in a metaphorical sense. They no longer respond to the environment. They have become part of it.