November 15, 2011 | By Peter Bihr |
You do what’s good for your business. It’s a truism. It seems obvious. And maybe it is. But let’s look at that for a moment.
What you want for your business is to earn money. More money than it spends, to be precise. So the intuitive choices are those that make your business earn more money. Simple, right?
It’s something that we hear often when talking about why a company makes a choice. Apple’s DRM? They had to do it to make the music labels come on board, otherwise they wouldn’t earn any money. Cutting down on onboard food on planes? Cutting costs, otherwise they wouldn’t make any money. Plainclothes ticket controllers on Berlin’s inner-city trains? Hey, if they weren’t around people wouldn’t pay for their travels.
It’s the business equivalent of what in politics is referred to as Realism. At the core, this doesn’t mean being more realistic, but the idea that states or state-like actors make a rational decision based on a (mostly) economic cost/value analysis. Peace is cheaper than war? Alright, let’s do it. Bombing that country is cheaper than building a defense? Alright then, let’s get to it.
In business terms, replace states by companies and – to some degree – even consumers: They all act perfectly rational, based on the information they have at disposal, and by applying (again, mostly) economic cost/value analyses.
But it’s not that simple.
First of all, every player in this game has imperfect information. Imperfect information leads to imperfect decisions, no matter what. So that’s that.
More importantly, though, we also base decisions on non-rational factors, like emotions. (I don’t have any but the phoniest numbers, so I won’t even try to quote any – but I’d assume that non-rational factors are easily as strong as rational ones, maybe more so.)
Another factor that influences our decisions is: values. And that, I believe, holds true for companies as well as consumers.
So whenever someone points out to me that I shouldn’t be so naive as to demand a company to take a stand, or act in a way that might reduce their revenues, I kinda only shrug.
If it’s the wrong thing to do, don’t do it.
It’s that simple, it really is. If – and that’s a big IF – you evaluate your company’s success not exclusively in terms of a spreadsheet.
In my company we choose not to work with potential clients all the time: When we think they act outside our believe system, when we think they value things we cannot value. In other words, when we think that company is, for lack of a better word, evil.
If you believe in openness, try to be open. If you believe in transparency, be transparent wherever you can. If you believe in not locking users in, don’t lock them in. If you believe in collaboration on eye level, collaborate away.
For the protocol: We don’t get that kind of call often, the kind that makes us employ this most anti-intuitive of business tactics. Usually by the time someone finds us they more or less know what they’re looking for. But we’ve turned down potential clients, and we’d do it again. Does that mean we lose money? Of course. Does it mean we’re fluffy, naive hippies? I don’t think so, not at all.
Quite the contrary. I believe that adhering to your core values is good business sense.
It’s stated values and a long record of being relatively true to them that make me trust Google more than Apple, and certainly more than Facebook. It’s what makes me trust and choose one energy provider over another. It’s putting my money and my attention where my mouth is, and where my values are, both as a consumer and as a business owner. As vague as this is, in the context of a global consumer culture.
And it’s also, y’know, the right thing to do.
Note: I can’t even remember what conversation triggered this blog post originally. It comes up often enough. I didn’t write this because of today’s news from NYC, even though it seems eerily fitting in that context, too.