This is a personal post inspired by great conversation with a great person who carries the title of CXO. If you do not do personal then I advise you to stop now and carry on with the impersonal. Let me start by giving you a glimpse of what I am going to be dealing with in this post:
People, and relationships, matter more than stuff, whatever the stuff.
What is the game of business about? What is your life about?
What I notice in business is busyness. Just about everybody is busy. Just about everyone is running from one meeting to another, from one deliverable to another, from one sales call to another, from one kill to another, from one problem to another. Busyness everywhere in business. And it occurs to me that the whole Customer thing (insight, analytics, customer focus, NPS, VoC, customer experience, customer-centricity…) is the latest fashion for being busy.
I ask, does anyone actually stop and ask the question: “Why?” I ask you, do you stop long enough with this question? Have you grappled with this with real intention long enough to let the hidden surface?
Why do we expend our lives in the game of business? For what purpose? Does anyone stop to ask “What is it all about? What really matters?” Is enriching shareholders what really matters in life? Is it? I am asking you. Is the reason you exist to enrich shareholders, to maximise their financial return, to drive up their ROI?
Who do I have to thank for being alive today?
I must have been around 7 years of age when I stepped on to the main road and got hit by a white van. I don’t remember much. I don’t know how long I spent in hospital. I do know that my fellow human beings saved my life. One of my fellow human beings ran to the telephone box and called the ambulance. Another of my fellow human beings dispatched the ambulance. The ambulance crew took me to the hospital. Doctors operated on me to save my life. Nurses and later my parents nurtured me back to health.
I was 25 – 26 years old and the future looked promising. I had been admitted into the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. It had taken three years of hard work. I had a good job. My health was good. Actually everything was just great. On a Monday morning I turned up at my doctors surgery. My left arm had ballooned up over the weekend. The doctor took one look at my arm and called the hospital. Then he told me to follow him. He asked me to get into his BMW. He put on the flashing light and drove as fast as he could to the hospital. There a team of doctors were waiting for me. I arrived, I was sedated immediately. While I was out cold the doctors operated on me and saved my life.
Both of these events occurred unexpectedly and when I was young. So nothing interesting showed up for me when they occurred. No deep insight into life and what matters. This changed.
What I learned being face to face with death
The pain in my chest woke me up around 2am. Clearly, my friend Asthma was visiting me once more. Being used to this I was calm and focussed on relaxing assuming he would go away within 60 seconds as that was his custom. This time he did not go away. Instead, he tightened his grip: the pain increased and my breathing became shallower. I walked over, gently, to the windows and opened them to get fresh air. Usually, that helped, this time it didn’t.
Asthma tightened his grip once more. Pain increased and my breathing came shallower. It was then that it hit me: I am going to die! I am going to die, all alone. After 30 seconds or so my fear subsided and absolute calm and clarity was present. What showed up at that moment? Take a guess.
“Who contributed to my life? Who made my life easier? Who was there through the hard times? Who was there through the fun times? Who will I miss? Who will miss me?” There facing death what showed up for me was a question of people, relatedness, and relationship. As my breath was short, I phoned my wife (who was in France with the children) got through to her voicemail. I told her I loved her and thanked her. Then I phoned my brother and got through to his voicemail: I left him the same short message. Then I phoned my sister and left the same short message. After that I had no breath left. And it occurred to me that my time had come.
Is life and business ultimately about contribution?
My encounter with death taught me, that for me, life is about contribution. It is about being of service and making a contribution to my fellow human beings and life itself. For me, business is a realm of life. And as such I am clear that for me business is also about being of source of contribution to my fellow human beings and to life itself. It is about empowering people rather than disempowering them. It is about inclusion rather than exclusion. It is about generating happiness. It occurs to me that Tony Hsieh of Zappos gets this and operates from this context.
Is it possible that the secret of employee engagement and of customer loyalty is this simple? Make a contribution, empower, generate happiness in whoever you touch.
So I ask you, when we leave strategy, process, technology, business models, value propositions etc aside, is the game of business ultimately about being of service, being a source of contribution to our fellow human beings. And playing our part in co-creating a world that works for all, none excluded?
I have one further question for you. Is it possible that this is what real leadership is? Is it possible that real leadership is operating from the context of You AND me, together, co-creating a world that works for all, none excluded? Is it possible that when we operate from this context that co-operation and collaboration show up?
What do you say? What is the game of business for you? What is your life about? I look forward to hearing from you.