I could give you a definition of ‘business’. That’s always useful. But quite boring. You don’t need to read a blog to find out that. So I’ll do something else instead. I’ll give you some metaphors.
Metaphors are powerful. They excite the imagination. They illuminate the sense. They fire up the will. Even when it comes to a word as initially dull as ‘business’.
Management thinkers have traditionally employed two mataphors to explain their understanding of business activity and often justify actions that to others seem unpalatable. That is why the first has played a part in Business Ethics over the years, while the second has became a much beloved of motivations speakers and venture capitalists in the 80’s.
Business is a game
This idea has shown itself in different ways. In 1968, Albert Carr wrote an outrageous and provocative article in the Harvard Business Review called Is Business Bluffing Ethical? In it he justified deception or ‘bluffing’ in business by comparing it to a ‘game strategy – much like bluffing in poker, which does not reflect on the morality of the bluffer.’ Another example of this is the successful cross-over of the activity of coaching from the sports-field to the board-room. This trend was started by the likes of Tim Gallway (initially tennis) and John Whitemore (racing).
Business is war
Perhaps you’re familiar with this one through the 1987 film Wall Street. In it the villain of the piece, Gordon Gekko, gives his infamous Greed is Good speech, and spouts quotations from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. (First Principle – ‘All warfare is based on deception’. Sound familiar? See above!) It has provided a rich source of thought for those in corporate culture, both from an office politics and a business management viewpoint. But the reach of this metaphor is wider than this one book. Think about the following phrases: guerrilla marketing, ambush marketing, mission statement, marketing blitz, price wars, aggressive trading, brand warfare, bullet points. OK I made up the last one, but you get the idea.
Business is an adventure
I’m sure you’ve heard of this: business is a journey in which we travel around meeting new people and exploring new ways of getting what we want. Much could be said on how this is the paradigm of the future, since it encourages innovation, inclusion, imagination, and the other new ‘I’s of 21st C business life. But I’ve come across a web-site recently that makes explicit connections between entrepreneurship and the ‘hero’s journey’ as described by Joseph Campbell (a main source for George Lucas when creating the Luke Skywalker character). There is an fascinating piece on Joseph Campbell on Entrepreneurship as well as a bold attempt to link each of the stages of the hero’s journey with an aspect of the entrepreneurial quest here. It’s not the best laid out site, but browse around and see what you think.
But is business only like an adventure, or is business an adventure?
What do you think?