Not long ago I attended an entrepreneurship conference that attracted people from all sectors.
The organisers kicked things off with a ‘motivational speaker’. The billing stated our man of purpose was a ‘leading entrepreneur and businessman’.
Now, in my experience these things are capable of giving business a bad name. I won’t mess you about. He had a shocker…
The excruciating pain of listening to arrogant and superficial babble from a self-proclaimed squillionaire (who’s risen from apparent destitution) is as much fun as a dodgy ‘take-away’ force-feeding you poodle.
Shelling the audience with multiple barrels of patronising and shallow b******t, we were told we too could reach Nirvana. However, getting ourselves anywhere close to his financial status required us to ‘dream’, ‘focus’, ‘work’ and ultimately ‘expect’. “I’m expecting him to finish” whispered my neighbour and friend Colin, who up to that point had sat in silence.
Colin’s mastery of the dry, pissed-off tone brilliantly illustrated the incongruous nature of the speaker’s tactless use of language and pitch. Lacing every sentence with ‘I’ and ‘Me’ he delivered his heavily masculine sermon with spellbinding omnipotence that must have left some thinking their time on earth had been little more than oxygen theft.
Our suffering lasted 15 minutes – or 900 seconds depending on one’s endurance strategy. As the presentation ended, Colin and I agreed we were highly motivated to get on with the rest of the event; which thankfully proved to be very worthwhile. So maybe there was method in the speaker’s madness.
The thorny issue of making money
But whilst he was excellent at giving business a bad name there is one point where I would side with Mr D. Motivation. Business is first and foremost about making money. Whilst business owners possess many deeper reasons for running companies they also know that bringing in cold, hard cash has to be a priority. Otherwise their business would cease trading. The survival instinct is extremely powerful.
But for some people the issue of making money in business is perceived as somehow grubby or dirty. We’ve all read about rich bankers, city ‘fat-cats’ and the like.
But to help demonstrate the point, my work with SimVenture means I’m continuously in touch with schools, colleges and universities and regularly present to and discuss a wide range of issues with lecturers, students and teachers.
And occasionally I will hear someone use the ‘business’ word and then immediately apologise for what they’ve said – as if they’ve sworn. Such an ‘outburst’ may be followed up with the justification that some students or colleagues don’t like the notion of commercial business and/or the idea of profiting from others. This is then sometimes linked to a comment about the burgeoning popularity of social enterprises.
Let’s not apologise
Whilst the fine differences between a social enterprise and the ‘B’ word are for another blog post, I believe that given the opportunity we all have a responsibility to explain the value and merit of seeking to make money through risk-taking and commercial trade. Surely we should never link the word ‘business’ with an ashamed and embarrassed apology?
Okay, some aspects of commercial trade are still giving business a bad name. For example, pressure telephone selling, should be reigned in, but only a microscopic proportion of all firms are involved with this type of marketing. But having said that, how many educational courses help people to develop their sales skills?
By way of contrast, take a look at where you work. I’m grateful to Dell, Apple and o2 for making and providing brilliant IT equipment; the local builders and joiner that built my office; and to all the other commercial suppliers that provide a variety of goods at a competitive price and at a time that suits me. Without them I couldn’t do my job.
In all my experience of working in the private sector, I’ve learnt that most small businesses only ever have enough cash in the kitty to fund the next 1 to 3 months of existence. And as the last recession showed, many organisations are even more fragile. Such uncertainty highlights why ‘selling’ has to take a high priority and loss rather than profit is an easy position for any business to find itself in.
As traditional ‘career’ opportunities fragment and die, people entering the world of work need to be much better equipped to manage opportunity and uncertainty. Regardless of perspective or motivation, the benefits and truths of working in every sector should be shared and understood by all.
So we are right to celebrate business rather than apologise for it. Although not in the mindless way of my squillionaire speaker. At the same time we need to recognise that sectors outside our own have different perspectives and motivations.
Key Learning Points: The public face of commerce is occasionally responsible for giving business a bad name; this is in part driven by the relentless pressure on commercial companies to make money to survive. It is easy to misunderstand this dynamic and thus misjudge ‘business’.