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The Nightmare of Business… and the Dream of What It Could Be

business reimagined

Your eyes open with a start.

Drenched in cold sweat, you shudder, as you try to piece together the images swirling through your mind.

They’re hazy, taunting you with the threat of vanishing forever. But slowly, they coalesce.

You know this feeling. You were having a nightmare.

Your mind frantically examines the fragments as they reassemble, looking for clues.

Did something really happen? Or was it all just a horrifying dream?

As it all comes into focus, it dawns on you that this time, the nightmare was real…

The Real Nightmare of Business

Nightmare of business

The nightmare in question is the nightmare of business.

It isn’t a personal nightmare that’s unique to you and you alone. We all share this particular nightmare—we’ve seen and experienced it first-hand, in all areas of the business world.

We’ve been aggressively marketed to and faced manipulations and pressure tactics designed to separate us from our hard-earned money.

We’ve been made grandiose promises that were never delivered, and we’ve accepted sub-par service because we had no recourse.

We’ve learned to navigate the misleading jargon of marketing, as when “investment” really means “price,” and “opportunity” is just code for “network marketing pyramid scheme.”

We’ve seen staggering levels of apathy and disengagement on the part of so many people who are overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated.

We’ve watched with outrage as rich people made themselves richer at the expense of those who had so much less, to begin with.

In short, we’ve seen the worst version of what business can be: bereft of compassion or humanity, driven by greed, and insatiably chasing after money and power.

It really is a nightmare from which we desperately wish to wake.

And thankfully, the awakening is already underway.

Because, as it turns out, everything that makes the business world such a nightmare isn’t really about business at all….

What Business is Really All About

Business is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the world today.

People think it’s about making money… but they’re wrong.

Certainly, money is important. Without money, everything stops dead in its tracks. But business is about so much more than just money.

Here’s my definition of business:

“Business is about building a sustainable way of making the impact you care about making.”

business-reimagined-1
“Business is about building a sustainable way of making the impact you care about making.”Click To Tweet

Profitability, of course, is an important part of sustainability—if a business isn’t profitable, then it can’t sustain itself and keep going.

But it isn’t the only part, and that’s where the nightmare of business gets it all wrong.

Because not one aspect of the horror we see in the business world is truly sustainable….

A Perfect World that Favors Good Business

In a perfect world, good business always wins.

It sounds trite, but there’s a beautiful elegance that drives it all.

Fundamentally, business is driven by the choices consumers make around where to spend their money. We all vote with our wallets, and that means bad business is inherently unsustainable.

Whether the bad business practice in question is…

…aggressive marketing, manipulations, and pressure tactics…
…over-promising, under-delivering, and sub-par service…
…misleading jargon and dishonest business practices…
…disengaged workers creating poor experiences…
…or unfair treatment that angers and outrages us…

…they all make us less likely to give a company our vote and more likely to discourage the people we know from doing so as well.

Not only that, but we might even go so far as to rejoice at the downfall of the companies whose business practices we find repugnant.

Case in point: Earlier this year, when Netflix surpassed cable in the United States, my wife and I did a little happy dance to know that the cable companies that had been screwing us for so long and in so many ways (poor service, overpriced contracts, cable packages full of channels you don’t want or need, unannounced overage fees for internet usage, etc.) were finally having their comeuppance.

In other words, bad business is inherently unsustainable. Period.

Which begs the question: why is there still so much of it out there?

We’ll come back to business in a moment, but first, a short detour into the world of comic book super-villains….

Magneto’s Helmet (a.k.a. Why Bad Business Has Survived)

Meet Magneto, one of the greatest villains in the Marvel Comic Universe:

He’s not just your garden-variety evil genius. He can also manipulate magnetic fields, to essentially control the movement of metal objects, great and small.

He is practically unstoppable…

…except for one weakness: he’s susceptible to the telepathic mind control powers of Dr. Charles Xavier (a.k.a. Professor X, who puts the X in X-Men).

And that’s one hell of a weakness: the good guys can literally stop him with a single thought!

That wouldn’t make for an interesting comic book or movie, so Magneto gets a special metal helmet that blocks Professor X’s telepathic powers.

Now we’ve got a ball game. 😉

So what does this have to do with business?

Simple: for most of human history, the world of bad business has had its own version of Magneto’s helmet, protecting it from the elegant selection forces that would render it unsustainable and, therefore, extinct.

How Transparency and Choice are Killing Bad Business

business-reimagined-6

Two things: secrecy, and the lack of options.

A consumer’s power to vote with their wallets only matters if you have the opposite of those two things:

  1. Transparency. When a company acts badly, people find out about it.
  2. Choice. We have alternatives we can do business with instead.

Simple and straightforward? Today, yes. But for most of the history of business, not at all.

Until recently, if you had a bad experience with a product or service, it was very hard to tell the world in a meaningful way. Sure, you could talk to your friends, and if you cared enough you could even issue a press release.

There was investigative journalism, and sometimes it would touch a nerve and spark a movement. But, by and large, the news of bad business behavior remained fairly contained.

But not anymore.

These days, everyone has access to a megaphone through social media—to share their experiences (both negative and positive), and also to preemptively ask if others have had a relevant experience before making a buying decision (it only takes a moment to ask on Facebook whether anyone you know has done business with a given company and what their experience has been like).

The same is true when it comes to alternatives. For most of the history of business, substantial barriers to entry prevented new players from offering you a competitive option to the mainstream player. These barriers ranged from startup costs to economies of scale, market reach, protective legislation, and more.

But these barriers are collapsing faster and faster:

  • Startup costs for many businesses have dropped from hundreds of thousands of dollars to hundreds or thousands of dollars, thanks to the ability to work remotely and online, “rent” the infrastructure you need through software-as-a-service solutions, and even manufacture and drop-ship on-demand using technologies like 3D printing.
  • Economies of scale that made it impossible to compete with big established companies are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Think self-published best-sellers or cases like Uber competing with taxi cabs and AirBnB competing with hotel chains… without owning any taxis or hotels, respectively!
  • Market reach, which used to require a massive media budget to buy exposure in major publications or on one of the three big television channels, can now be accessed for practically nothing through content marketing, pay-per-click advertising, and hyper-targeted advertising.
  • Protective legislation that used to give incumbent businesses an advantage over new competitors is becoming irrelevant faster than it can be repealed, as an increasingly global economy makes local protective legislation completely pointless.

This is a partial list, but you get the idea.

We’re living in what Thomas Friedman calls the Age of Acceleration, characterized (among other things) by a proliferation of transparency and choice. We can already hear the death knell for bad business.

The Dream of Business Reimagined

Business Reimagined

Many dreams arise as a contrast to the nightmares that came before, and the dream of business reimagined is no different.

It’s a beautiful dream, and it’s already real in small pockets of our world, where businesses…

…grow by creating lasting, positive change in the world…
…make bold promises and consistently over-deliver…
…treat employees so well that they look forward to Monday mornings…
…are respectful, compassionate, and accessible…
…openly admit when they’ve done something wrong, and work to make amends…

…and ultimately, hold themselves to a higher standard of what a business can and should be.

The forces are already at play to make this less and less the exception, and more and more the norm.

And, to be sure, this is already what business looks like in some parts of the world.

But it’s still rare. Still taking flight.

(And yes, that’s what the birds in our logo signify.)

The world will be better for all of us when we work together to Reimagine Business…Click To Tweet

The world will be better for all of us when we work together to Reimagine Business… and we all must work together to make that vision a reality.

Ending the Nightmare and Building the Dream

We must take seriously the responsibility we have as entrepreneurs to make things better—not just for ourselves, but also for generations to come.

When our grandchildren ask us, “Where were you when so many of the people of the world were overworked, underpaid, and unfulfilled?,” I hope we can say that we refused to become cynical and instead acted in service of all those around us, and worked to realize the dream of what business should be.

And most importantly, remember the words famously attributed to Steve Jobs:

'The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.'Click To Tweet

After all, life is short. So let’s do something that matters.
 
 
 

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About Danny Iny

Danny Iny (@DannyIny) is the CEO and founder of Mirasee, host of the Business Reimagined podcast, and best-selling author of multiple books including Engagement from Scratch!, The Audience Revolution, and Teach and Grow Rich.

21 comments

  1. Great job Danny! I love your vision and your approach to how things should be done. These last few posts, with your honesty and transparency have been some of my favorite content of yours that I’ve read.

  2. Excellent article Danny! I have long believed the principle reason each of us go to work each day is to make the world a better place for others, our family and ourselves. To truly achieve that end we are on the best path when we opt for transparency and strive to always offer a better choice – a win/win choice. My mission is to show marketers and entrepreneurs how they can provide quality educational content to their potential and existing customers – building a strong relationship and reputation for integrity. Love your books on Engagement, Audience and Teaching. Thanks for all you offer in those contexts. Their on my e-bookshelf right next to Kathy Sierra’s Badass: Making Users Awesome and Tom Martin’s The Invisible Sale.
    Oh – and say hello to my daughter Laura if you bump in to her in your ramblings around Montreal.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Dave – it sounds like we’re completely aligned and on the same page.

      And I’m honored to know that my books are in such good company on your shelf! 🙂

  3. Wonderful article. Your analysis of transparency and choice really resonate.
    I believe that transparency will ultimately receive a helping hand from our often-derided legal system. People demand transparency and truth – they want to make informed decisions based on adequate disclosure about the products they buy. And if companies fail to provide a basis for informed consent by their consumers, the result will be an increase in product defect and class action law suits, which will eventually help them see the light.

    I recently (yesterday, in fact) recorded my 115th podcast for startups, which coincidentally dealt with this particular subject. If anyone is interested in the 10 minute talk, I’m attaching a link here.
    etcounsel.com/does-your-company-practice-risk-management/

    Thanks again for your insightful and honest blogs.

  4. Hey Danny, great words.
    Love it from France. I’m inspired by your speach and the ones from Simon Sinek as well.
    Change the way we’re doing business today is changing the world and the life of bilions of people.
    It’s so important.
    Keep going 🙂

  5. Hi Danny,
    I read your last post with considerable interest. I spent more than 30 years as a strategic planning consultant working with companies both large and small, mostly entrepreneurs. The critical thing I learned is that it is the systems in which people operate that shape their behavior. Creating a dream company means rethinking the company as a system from the ground up. Otherwise, following the conventions of how to build a company, as it get’s larger, the classic dysfunctions of companies will inevitably show themselves. Again, it’s about the system, not the people.

    I’m not looking for business here as I’m happily helping my wife run her business, but I would be happy to send you a copy of my book, The End of Management, if you would be interested. I think you would find it exciting and a blueprint for how to create the dream company that will scale without crushing the spirits of the people you employ or or isolating you from this baby to which you have given birth. Please let me know and keep up the good work.

  6. Fantastic post and so uplifting. And true. There are negatives to technology (ask any parent after “screen time” is over) but it’s imperative that we remember the positives, too. The fact that sharing information and resources is so easy evens out the playing field.

    And this positive push, this yearning to do better in the world is one of the most motivating pieces of the whole entrepreneurial journey.

    Because entrepreneurs have to be agile…

    Because they must be forward-moving…

    Because they must be *very* responsive…

    They are able to make a difference much faster – and on a broader scale – than many people who work for and in traditional companies.

    I love the optimism that comes from knowing that you can affect change quickly. That is beautiful stuff.

    Great post!

  7. Love it, love it, love it! Yes, this is a vision that I am PASSIONATE about. “everything that makes the business world such a nightmare isn’t really about business at all….” You are right. It is not about making money, it is about HOW we make money. Profits before people = a PROBLEM! However, creating something sustainable that can help us make the impact we want on the world? Priceless. This is a beautiful, intelligent, wonderfully articulated article Danny. Thanks so much for writing it. Inspirational!

  8. Another issue to consider. There are many businesses owned by faith-believing Christians. They do businesses with anyone, but refuse to use THEIR GOD-GIVEN PERSONAL CREATIVE TALENTS to create images or products for those who may be involved in events that God calls sin.

    It’s not just business that can be trashed by the “public” square. It’s also government bureaucrats who fine and essentially put out of business those Christians who live by their beliefs. You may have heard of florists, photographers and bakers whose businesses and livelihoods are threatened because the First Amendment (free expression of speech) in the United States is under assault. Thankfully the case of a tee-shirt maker will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court and will hopefully uphold the U.S. Constitution and overturn free-speech stifling “laws.”

  9. As always, it’s like I can hear you speaking while I’m reading. Firepole and now Mirasee , for me, have been that beacon of what my business could evolve into one day; not because we offer the same services but because we offer them with the same mindset of adding value and true contribution. Great article and insight!

  10. The polarity between selling and buying is losing its side vs. side strength. That’s because in between both of those sides are layers of “story” that need to be communicated and navigated in new ways. Just as there are ‘nightmares’ and ‘daydreams,’ there are problems and solutions. When a ‘match’ happens, it happens because both sides have given dedicated awareness to both sides of the coin. Questions I ask in the process of this navigation is “How much do I really need?” and “How much can I offer to the buyer who knows how much he or she really needs?”

  11. Great article Danny! It captures well what I like most about Mirasee. You’ve hinted at your vision in other places, and I’ve certainly seen it expressed in what you do, but this article is almost like a manifesto. Kudos!

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