What is Business?
The US Marine Corps’ “Warfighting” Manual defines the Marines’ “doctrine” – what they believe about their “business” and how they approach it . The manual starts out by defining the context for the whole thing, War itself:
“War is a violent clash of interests between or among organized groups characterized by the use of military force. These groups have traditionally been established nation-states, but they may also include any nonstate group—such as an international coalition or a faction within or outside of an existing state—with its own political interests and the ability to generate organized violence on a scale sufficient to have significant political consequences…”
To me, it seems eminently sensible to define what we’re talking about – “War” in this case – before we can productively start to define and discuss what we believe concerning appropriate means to go about e.g. Warfighting.
So too, it seems to me, is it sensible to define what we mean by “Business” before we can productively start to define and discuss what we believe concerning appropriate means to go about e.g. “running a business”.
Of course, war is about many things, and the definition in Warfighting focuses on just a few dimensions, to the exclusion of many others – those which may not suit the narrative of the Marine Corps or its political masters (such as the Myth of Redemptive Violence).
So too is business about many different things, many unspoken, some contradictory. And most organisations have their own shared narrative (aka mindset, memeplex) – often implicit – about the very nature of business.
Few indeed have been the business organisations I have seen where the fundamental topic of “Business Defined” is discussed, let alone debated.
Here’s just some opinions on “Business Defined”, from various sources:
“The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.”
~ Peter F. Drucker
“The sole purpose of business is service.”
~ Leo Burnett
“Profit is not the legitimate purpose of business. The legitimate purpose of business is to provide a product or service that people need and do it so well that it’s profitable.”
~ James Rouse
“A business is a nexus for a set of contracting relationships among individuals”
~ Jensen and Meckling
“Executives’ actions make sense [only] if you look at them as taken in order to maximise the executive’s well being.” [Ergo: a business exists to maximise its executives’ well being.]
~ Russell L. Ackoff
And we might also accept various other interpretations of “Business Defined”, including the perspective of Art Kleiner and his Core Group Theory, and the idea that businesses serve a social purpose – to give people some place or “ba” in which to come together and be human.
The purpose of organizations is to help people have lives.
~ Phil Crosby
Aside: Rightshifting takes the view that the purpose of any given business is more or less unique to a time, a place, and the people involved.
What do you believe business is for? How many of your colleagues share your perspective on “Business Defined”?
And how likely is it that – absent a consensus, at least within a given organisation – folks have any chance of meaningful discussions and decisions about the “hows” of the business in question?
How can we come up with a doctrine for our business, if we can’t even agree on why we all turn up for work every day? Are we doomed to all pursuing our various different agendas, milling around like a herd of cats?
From Knowledge-Creation to the Perfecting of Action ~ Robert Chia
The Theory of the Firm – Wikipedia entry
The Nature of the Firm ~ R. H. Coase
Theory of the Firm: Managerial Behavior, Agency Costs and Ownership Structure ~ Jensen & Meckling
Concept of the Corporation ~ Peter Drucker
What Is A Company For? ~ Charles Handy