When the child was a child, it didn’t know that it was a child, everything was soulful, and all souls were one — Peter Handke, Song of Childhood
Historians believe the first long range trade began in 3,000 BCE between ancient Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) and the Indus Valley (modern day Pakistan). However, the concept of value is older than trade itself. Modern day business is the provision of value for value. An economy functions well when businesses offer value for money. Money is a standard store of value that everyone agrees on. However, the other side of the equation i.e. whether a good or service provided is enough value for money is a very general and yet a very subjective question. This article explains why value can only be created by taking a lifetime view of a product or service to a client not just the lifetime value of a client to a business. Also, conscientious conduct is key to creating lifetime value.
Every product or service is a journey. The way the product or service engages a human not just when that human is using it but also when it breaks down or it’s useful life ends is a journey. A business has to decide how best to craft that journey. Often, a business only considers the journey until the point of an actual sale. However, the after sales service is equally important. Memories are very powerful impressions that are hard to break. Thus, every product or service provides a promise of somewhere. Often, that destination may fall short of what was advertised. That’s just bad business. The really good businesses deliver on their promise of a better tomorrow. The principles of good business, that I have learnt over time, are at once trite and time tested.
Design For The Future
A close friend once asked me ‘what is responsible business?’ I didn’t think twice and answered his question with another one : can you create a product or service that you can foresee your children enjoying?
When it comes to family, all bets are off. There is no debate. Why, then, do we debate more in business? That’s because short term objectives often over rule long term ones. In the long term, our parasitic behavior can result in depletion of the planets resources and destruction of the environment. Nature is fantastic at creating closed looped systems i.e. self sustaining systems. When man creates products and services, we often forget to close the loop harming the future in the process.
It is very hard to create a magnanimous company that is profitable in year one. Amazon bled money for years but it’s investors continued to believe. Then, there is Apple which has been through its share of ups and downs. Tesla released its electric Cybertruck this week. The truck is a product that looks straight out of the pages of a science fiction novel. Tesla, the company itself, makes products that combine the future with beautiful aesthetics to make the future commercially viable and the delight clients along the way with a keen eye on environmental impact. The company still faces a rocky road financially.
The most longest lasting businesses design to delight the future generations in a responsible way. Millions have loved Apple, Amazon and Tesla’s products both aesthetically and feature wise. That doesn’t mean businesses don’t take bad decisions in between but their end goals are always conscientious. At the end, businesses are for profit organizations. They also make decisions that generate network effects and superior profits.
The Journey Is The Destination
The most successful businesses are also the most transparent. A client gets what he signs up for. The unfortunate thing about my examples is that I rely on Apple (the company) a lot. I have always been delighted by the after sales service (of course I pay for it through Apple Care).
First, brands are built on their consistent promise of making the journey as pleasurable as possible. The complete experience of inviting you to a website or a retail store, the people serving you and the after sales process are all part of a journey that a client embarks on with a brand. Understanding clients and attention to detail is key. Where conscientious conduct comes in is extending understanding to empathy.
Second, design thinking is a great tool to turning empathy into real life products and solutions. What Steve Jobs possessed was uncanny design thinking — he could anticipate the things that would delight customers. The Walkman already existed but if you combine the features of a Walkman into an easy to carry device with nothing but a click wheel to drive the music-that device suddenly becomes empathetic to the user on many levels — convenience, form factor and simplicity.
Third, conscience must extend beyond ‘target market’ to include the wider society. If businesses can give back by creating closed looped systems ie recycle waste or build bio-degradable products, they contribute to a stable environment. Of course, that means businesses have to invest in research to come up with cost effective and environmentally friendly solutions. However, products or services that are environmentally friendly reinforce the bond with consumers. Once again, the life time value a brand delivers extends beyond after sales service to being a responsible citizen of the society it operates in.
Give The World A Chance
Businesses operate within the confines of the planet. They survive and thrive when they need the meets of the society. If they become virtual monopolies and their goals end up harming the interests of society, regulators have to step in. For environmental impact and depletion of resources, the first line of defense is the business itself. That first line of defense is called a conscience. As is often the case, integrity is what you do when no one is watching. The decisions taken in a board room which are away from the eyes and ears of the general public have to be made in good faith. Otherwise, the journey for the clients may be a very happy one but not so for the planet. Forget about climate change or the plethora of words that have been abused and over abused, use a common sense approach. If we live within the confines of a host planet, we can either have a symbiotic relationship with it or become viruses that deplete the host until we turn on ourselves — a rather bleak outlook but nonetheless one that all businesses need to keep in mind.
As I write this, many people may think I am negative, an environmentalist or a naysayer. All I am is as human being as fallible as any one else. I don’t profess to be an expert. I am just a curious observer trying to make sense of this world in the same way as you — my reader.
If we, as humans and the businesses we run, need to leave a happy and a healthy world for the future generations, we need to be conscientious and give the world a chance. We hold the promise of somewhere for our children. Let us make that somewhere a happy place. Planet Earth has natural survival instincts. It has and will survive the onslaught of consecutive viruses. We, as a species, on the other hand have to do a lot more to ensure our survival and prosperity. The only way to do it is to be part of the home team.