My grand unifying theory of business.

22 February 2006

There is a place in every subject for complexity. As a graduate student, I’m reminded of this all the time. It might seem a bit silly that someone really smart would spend years and years writing a monograph on, say, a California beef empire, until someone does it brilliantly or until you, as a scholar, need to know more on that particular subject for your own work.

This is as true of business writing as of anything else. There are blockbuster works that redefine the way a whole generation thinks about some aspect of commerce. There are the fountains that gush forth a constant stream of provocative new thinking on different aspects of commerce. And then there’s . . . the rest, much of which doesn’t deserve the paper it’s printed on.

But here, in summary form, is what I’ve learned about business so far, at least in terms of how any enterprise, from a shoe-repair shop to General Electric, interacts with customers:

There are Bad Things in the world. Dragons. Beasties. Hangnails. Missed flights. Whatever in the world it is that your (potential) customers fear. The savvy business will figure out how to keep these Bad Things far away from the customer. Just one example for now: Maybe your customer’s Bad Thing is even a millisecond of server downtime, in which case your customer needs a bunch of weird obsessives who will monitor and ensure server uptime as though the fate of civilization hinged upon it . . . in which case, you are Rackspace. Rackspace offers its customers, more or less, a legion of ninjas sworn by horrible oaths to oppose server downtime at all costs, everywhere, forever.

If you want to succeed in business, figure out who your customers are, what their Bad Things are, and how you’re going to keep those Bad Things beyond their far border. Figure out how you can demonstrate the prowess of your employee/application/product, the gigantic, magical, immortal Paladin with the flaming sword who will guard that border forever, keeping those Bad Things at bay.

And then there are Good Things. Wealth. Health. Peace of mind. Cool stuff that makes people’s lives easier. Smart companies will figure out how to deliver these things, on a plate, at the very moment when a customer wants them, and in exactly the way that the customer wants them. The plate itself may be beautiful, or historically significant, or sentient, or just really, really cool. The Good Thing and its delivery mechanism will, in fact, be so sweet that it becomes easier to use them than not to use them. Your customer might just be able to imagine living without them . . . but why would they want to?

Thus are thunderlizard customers cultivated. The rest is details.

That’s the fruit of my experience, so far.

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