MANILA, May 30, 2012 – Being successful in business is something that most people can only aspire to. There are numerous books that give advice and tips on achieving that dream. Walk inside a bookstore and you will see the large section of shelves that contain books devoted to that subject. The popularity of this niche has even reached the Internet, and a quick Google search for blogs and sites about it will fetch you thousands of sites and articles about it: how to make money, where and how to invest your money, even what to do if you are losing money.
The subject of money has always fascinated people since man learned to trade one thing for another.
Today men and women are paying good money to learn the secrets of successful investors and businessmen in order to build their own wealth. Alas, this article is not about that. You will not find a great investing secret here, nor will this piece provide tips that will divulge that secret.
Instead, it is a short commentary on just how elusive success in business can be.
Nature and Nurture
For starters, here is an interesting quote from Warren Buffett in Barack Obama’s book, “The Audacity of Hope.”
Take me as an example. I happen to have a talent for allocating capital. But my ability to use that talent is completely dependent on the society I was born into. If I’d been born into a tribe of hunters, this talent of mine would be pretty worthless. I can’t run very fast. I’m not particularly strong. I’d probably end up as some wild animal’s dinner.
Highly regarded as one of the best investing minds in the past half-century or more, Warren Buffet is a self-made millionaire. His success is not directly related to his family’s background but rather the things he did early on in order to be successful. As he said in the book, he was lucky to be born in a place where his particular set of skills is what is needed in order to be successful at what he does best.
Successful people in a specific field understand how to act in the environment they inhabit. A teacher who has taught English for 20 years before suddenly deciding to use his savings to start a construction company will probably not fare well in his venture. He can read, take up carpentry, and enroll in a class in order to learn the business he proposes to start, but it will not do him any good. The reason is that his skill set or the environment he was situated in does not match the business he is about to start.
This is comparable to a game, tennis for example. Players know the rules; they play in a court where they know the dimensions and the boundaries. A good player knows where to hit the ball, and hopes that his opponent will not hit it back.
On the other hand, a great player is one who usually succeeds in hitting the ball so that it lands in a specific spot at a specific time with the right amount of power to catch his opponent off-guard. This is often due to instinct, something that is hard to teach. But this is also something that you can become good at if you devote enough time to practice. Eventually, if you take the time and effort to learn the game, you will get a “feel” for it. This “feel” for the game is something acquired through habit. And it is easier to develop this habit if you are familiar with the given set of rules and the environment to which you belong.
The Rules of Rules
Business is a lot like a game. There are good and bad players. There are rules that tell you what you can and cannot do. Business also requires certain skills and talents that you need to possess in order to be good at it.
In the game of business, rules, such as they may be, are not put up to restrict individuals in their forward trajectory. They do not suppress creativity or innovation. In fact, having sets of rules encourages creativity and innovation.
Going back to the game analogy: if the only way to score in a tennis match is to hit the ball as hard as you can and hope that your opponent will not hit it back, then tennis players will come to rely merely on strength and physical ability. Players will not learn how to play within the rules of the game, nor will they develop creative ways of hitting the ball.
The same analogy holds true in the game of business. An individual or a company that develops a reputation for being good at “playing the game” will attract attention. This attention, in turn, can lead to additional investors, partnerships and customers and clients.
Look at what Mark Zuckerberg did with Facebook. He was not an investor nor was he in the manufacturing industry like Steve Jobs. But his talent as a software developer led to his founding Facebook from his dorm at Harvard. Facebook was by no means the pioneering website in social networking, but functionally, it has surpassed all its predecessors in adoption and scope.
Mr. Zuckerberg utilized his talents and learned what was required to provide Facebook users with that extra something not present in other social networking sites. Familiar with software coding and networking sites, he deployed that knowledge to enhance other social networking sites’ features as well.
Combining his know-how with the instinctive knowledge of networking possessed by so many college students today, he came up with a business concept that soon proved a resounding success.
On the surface, “gaming” your business—playing it to score and win—may give the impression being unethical. This should never be the case. Games have rules, and success should be measured if business profits are generated without breaking the rules of the business game.
Granted, on some occasions these rules get trampled. We have seen plenty of examples of this since the Great Recession kicked off in 2007-2008. When something like this happens, it seems to be the only time that the ethical aspect of that action is discussed.
The general rule of modern business, however, is that if it is not harmful, then it is not wrong.
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