What little I have accomplished in life is borne out of being completely selfish.
When I went to medical school, strangers would say what a good person I was for choosing such a noble career. Similarly when I picked a specialty, people would go on to say what a good person I was for choosing such a selfless career. When I used to throw rock concerts at my school for charity, I would get awards and local recognition for my work.
In business I often hear the phrases; “don’t do it for money” or “don’t be selfish”.
However this is quite an odd outlook to have if you actually have a business. A business has to focus on sales and get some revenue coming in, or it will inevitably die. Also, If money represents the value that the market is willing to pay you for your work, then it stands to reason that you should focus on money as one of the key metrics. If you can figure out a way to make even more money, then by definition you are making something more valuable for the market.
So why such a disconnect between normal life where you can be selfish and business, where people actively tell you to stop being selfish? Why is it that in your personal life people tell you to “follow your passion” and “do what you love”, but the opposite is true in business and making money?
I think that there are two reasons for this. The first reason is that people confuse money with “value”. People don’t realise that you can’t chase money, because it is merely a representation of “value”. So what people should be chasing is creating more “value”.
The second reason is that some people seem to lose their reasoning skills when trying to make more money. In the same way that alcohol can be quite intoxicating, so too can money blunt people’s judgement if one is not careful.
To expand: In normal life, people generally aren’t actively looking to harm others for their own selfish gains. When I chose medicine as a career, I was being selfish insofar as wanting to learn more about science, the art of medicine and how to help people. But I was also acutely aware that the pay would be very good. With my rock concerts I wanted to play music, get recognition in my community but also help others by raising money. I could have chosen to not raise money for charity and I could have also chosen to do work which was (in my opinion) unethical in the private sector earlier on in my medical career. I think most people in life choose a career and do work for the greater good of society rather than try to make easy money – which often does not result in the best outcomes in the long run.
Business is the same. You can go down the route of an easy pay out in certain circumstances, which will likely be to the detriment of your company in the long run. This may be very tempting. If someone comes and dangles millions of pounds in front of you, your reasoning skills may go out the window. However it is often better to take an alternative approach and consider the greater good.
When it comes to money-making decisions a lot of people think: “If I do X now, then perhaps I can get a few million very soon”, however the logical person would think: “If I do X, then I may get a few easy million now, but in the long run the business will be worse off, also the employees and customers will suffer. It’s actually better to do Y instead of X”.
It surprises me how many people choose to take a course of action which belittles others, causes friction and as a result causes a worse outcome for everyone involved. From what I have experienced and seen in life so far, there is pretty much always an option or opportunity to take a course of action which will make it win-win for all parties concerned. This applies to life in general, but also in business.
My conclusion is that life is not a zero sum game. You can be as selfish as you want because if you win, it doesn’t mean that others have to automatically lose. As long as you take a course of action where everyone involved wins, whether that be your customers, friends, family members, employees etc then it’s OK to focus on making more money.
When people say “don’t do it for money”, what they mean to say is; “don’t let money blind you from the greater good”. A much more apposite phrase in my opinion.