In the movie Jerry Maguire, the agent Bob Sugar (played by Jay Mohr) makes a series of hard-charging phone calls to his roster of sports superstars, trying to persuade them to stay with his agency instead of signing with the highly respected title character, whom he has just fired.
"Are you in or are you out?" Sugar asks through a headset before bluntly adding, "It's not show friends: It's show business."
The line is a sobering one for the athletes, whose playing careers are short enough to force them to "get while the gettin' is good." Sugar wants them to know that he, not Jerry (Tom Cruise), is the unsentimental guy who will "get" as much as possible when negotiating their various playing and endorsement contracts.
The numerous expressions that contain the word business always emphasize the seriousness of a situation. We get down to business, [i]take care of business, and mind our own business. A seemingly cold decision is explained with it's not personal, it's business.
While many people view business and companies through a prism of ugliness, many others think the practice of and products produced by business are as moving as an aria, as necessary as breathing, and as beautiful as any sunrise.
Beautiful businesses have a meaningful concept of value creation. They make a valuable contribution to their owners, employees, customers, suppliers, society, and the environment. People and the planet matter as much as profit. Businesses are capable of producing not just wealth but a lasting heritage. Their legacy is not just financial success, but a strong business capable of long life and development.
In short, business is beautiful, and there are five intangible ingredients that make for a beautiful business.
Beautiful businesses have a clear sense of purpose. A noble, unwavering belief that translates into firm principles for how to succeed. This is where a company's soul resides. This is what makes a business authentic, and being open and honest should be a precondition for business. Businesses are defined as much by these qualities as by their actions.
If necessity is the mother of invention, then curiosity is its father. A firm set of principles is essential to setting standards within a business. But standards shouldn't mean standardization. The ideals around which a business is built should not act as a straitjacket, stifling innovation and progress. They should instead act as a springboard for creativity. Beautiful businesses do not stand still. They are restless. They are brave. They are intrepid. They create constant surprise because they look at the world with originality and optimism.
It's not just about aesthetics but problem solving. Beautiful businesses are pleasantly simple. They find intelligent ways of doing things. They understand that persuasive presentation is a prerequisite for performance. Style and sophistication are tools for success.
Technology has created countless opportunities for businesses to streamline, outsource, and economize. The definition of what is possible is forever shifting. However, the definition of what is desirable is not so fluid, because people don't change as much as technology does. We like to see evidence of a human hand in the products we buy and the services we experience, a tangible demonstration of care that, in turn, makes the rest of us care about what a business does. Beautiful businesses apply consideration to every last detail, no matter how small. A human hand guides.
There is no point being in business if you're not going to make money. Profit is imperative in the short term for survival and in the long term for innovation and growth. Profit aids bold decision making. But the decisions we make as business people have implications beyond the P&L and balance sheet. They affect employees and their families and friends. They affect surrounding communities and businesses. They affect the environment. They influence us culturally, subjecting us to languages, images, products, and services that have a profound effect on how we think, feel, and behave.
To suggest that none of these considerations should factor into our definition of a successful and beautiful business would be a glaring omission, something that Jerry Maguire understood implicitly, which is why he was ultimately successful.
"Business as usual" can mean stability or stagnation depending on the circumstances. When business is beautiful, everyone wins.
[Image: Flickr user Jeff Eaton]