I’ve been thinking recently about whether good business is based on the learnings of science and data, where we observe, test, and alter, to get good results, or whether it’s closer to art, where creativity, expression, and beautiful ideas stand out.
Good business could perhaps live anywhere on that spectrum, however, after a long and careful think, I believe that I lean more towards the idea that good business is a science. In this article, I’m going to explain why.
Forget the ‘what’
Think of a business. Now, forget what it is that they do. Think about who they are. How are they contributing to the world? What is their place in 2019? Why do they do what they do?
I’m going to use Amazon as an example for a moment. I’m going to forget that they make a fortune selling things online. Who is Amazon? Amazon is a major company that offers lots of services and products to customers, businesses, and private shop owners. They contribute to the world through advanced availability to goods, a huge logistics network, developing international markets, offering digital services to sellers, and charitable initiatives like Amazon Smile. In 2019, Amazon looks to progress their efforts in Artificial Intelligence, robotic garments, health care, voice-activated software, drone technology, and clocks.
Amazon wants to shape the planet in its own image. That’s a big ‘why’, a lot bigger than most companies dare to dream. The truth is, whether you’re a sole trader or a multi-national, you can follow the science of good business.
The science of good business
Is the science of good business just another way of talking about sustainable business decision-making? It could be. In fact, it could all come down to the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit. A truly ‘good’ business will be successful economically, socially, and environmentally, and many professionals argue that a business can only be defined as sustainable once it achieves all three.
If you lean on the idea that good business is an art form, it’s at this point where your argument begins to weaken, as it takes something of a fluke to create a business that is good for people and the planet and makes a profit, without that being the original core intention. If those three things were the initial intention, then the business has been based on science and knowing what things fall into those categories.
For a greater explanation of this concept, I recommend watching Sustainability Illustrated’s video on the triple bottom line.
This extract from Business Ethics also helps to explain the balance:
“Think of laws on the highway. There are good reasons for following the speed limit. It keeps us from getting speeding tickets (economic), shows respect for the law and the common rules we all share (legal), and it helps to prevent traffic accidents through safe driving (ethical). I might be allowed to break the law (and thereby risk a ticket), however, if there are really strong ethical reasons to drive quickly. Perhaps there is someone in the car that requires medical help. In such a case, the strength of that #3 responsibility might force me to override the other two above it.”
What’s a ‘good’ example?
Have you heard of Patagonia? This US clothing company is regularly described as one of the most sustainable businesses in the world, and that’s because they’re put the planet first, whilst also having great products and social initiatives.
Patagonia does not use any chemicals in their production processes, and many of their products are made from organic, recycled, or sustainable materials. They also donate to and advocate for many environmental initiatives, such as sustainable farming and water conservation.
Another example is DHL. Now, DHL is different because they already have an economically successful model and a great social initiative scheme (UN disaster management support and investments in 3rd world education for example). The difference with DHL is that naturally, a large logistics company is a major polluter. So, with billions of shipments per year, they’ve had to ‘science’ their environmental efforts in order to become a ‘good’ business.
Starting with a huge target of zero emissions by 2050, they then set out to improve environmental data capture and transparency, introduce climate neutral shipping services, welcome bicycle delivery fleets to city centres, offset much of their emissions, as well as optimise warehouses, recycling, packaging, and transport. Science has brought forward these methods.
The argument for art
Although I believe that good business is a science, there are elements of art that must be recognised and used in order to drive good business forward. Namely, creativity, inspiration, and innovation.
Without creativity, a business becomes stagnant, gets left behind, and cannot be deemed sustainable. Without inspiration, a business does not see opportunities and produce ideas that can drive it forward. Without innovation, a business cannot understand the science that is put in front of it and becomes unwilling to change (which never works out well).
In conclusion, I think good business, and by good, I mean sustainable, is mostly scientific, but without art, it would not function. The two work in tandem. We need to use science and data to implement improvements, but without art and artists, finding those ideas might not be so easy.