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Thoughts on business and life

Well, I need to get a few thoughts down 'on paper,' so I guess this is where I'll start.

Seeing a business as a fixed entity, like a rock, is obviously incorrect. A business is alive. But is it alive like a tree? Is it like a person, with its own personality and dreams? I am thinking about a river or stream metaphor. There may be water on the brain, as it is really raining outside today.

What is a stream?

The stream bed - a static (over the short term) arrangement of dirt, rocks, and plant life, around which the stream arranges itself.

The water - a constantly renewed, but fairly consistent in terms of composition, amount of H20 and other dissolved material, travelling through a location on the way to wherever the stream goes.

The current - a set of forces combining gravity with the mass and characteristics of water, interacting with the stream bed.

A snapshot of a stream shows the water interacting with the stream bed according to the forces of the current, leading to a pattern of waves, ripples, waterfalls, eddies, areas of strong and weak flow, that together make up what we think of as a 'stream.' But as the proverb says, 'you never step into the same river twice,' even though the stream bed is recognizable (changing over a long time scale) and the water is following a similar pattern as it did the day before.

So is business like a stream? There are multiple time scales at work, and lots of different forces interacting, leading to an 'entity' that is only similar to itself over time. Customers, the marketplace, the competition, ownership, and staff can all change, but generally all of those things change over a longer time scale than hours or days, leading to the ability to approximate a business as a static entity, even though it is changing.

I was trying to understand time scales in chemistry class in university, and the professor made a good point. Monkeys swinging from tree to tree do not take into account the fact that the tree is growing. The difference in time scales allow the monkey to ignore the growth in the tree.

So a business is a changing collection of materials, forces, and people, that only maintains its identity because most of the factors that influence it are changing on a timescale much longer than the human scale of tasks, projects, hours and days. So a business as an entity is an artificial construct, but it is a useful approximation, since we can act in relation to that construct and it will react somewhat predictably. Understanding the business at any time will allow one to interact with the business (as an employee, an owner, a customer or client, a competitor) until the slow changes occuring within the business make ones understanding obsolete.

I am in the business of business process management, which is akin to redirecting a stream bed so that the water flows in some useful way. My son was just outside in the rain, digging channels so that the puddles developing in our gravel and mud driveway would drain into the surrounding trees. Businesses need to be aware of the forces within themselves. Rearranging some forces or environmental factors may lead to increased productivity, or may lead to a whole new identity for the business.

This post may need some editing, but it is good to at least get these ideas down so that I can develop them based on something concrete.

Categories: Business