“My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary. Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make great products. But the products, not the profits, were the motivation.”
Steve Jobs in his biography Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
I think this is such a subtle distinction in business philosophy that makes an enormous difference in the type of business you run. Is your motivation to deliver an incredibly valuable experience to your customer? Or is your primary motivation to make a profit?
At most business schools, in most corporate boardrooms, and in most circles of entrepreneurs, the answer is profits first. In fact, the textbook definition of the purpose of a company is to maximize shareholder profits.
The people who have become my business heroes aren’t motivated by profit first and foremost. To me, the most inspiring people in business are motivated by a desire to contribute their talents, to become excellent at their craft, and to deliver value to their customers. Ironically, these same people usually experience at least satisfactory profits and often receive extraordinary profits as a result of their orientation. We consumers recognize and appreciate this orientation, and we give these companies our loyalty and our dollars.
I have heard business profits described another way by comparing it to the human body. Your body must make red blood cells to survive. Similarly, business must make profits to survive. But the purpose of your life isn’t to make red blood cells and the purpose of business isn’t to make a profit. Both red blood cells and profits are critical parts of a balanced whole, which at its best, serves a far greater and more meaningful purpose.
Jobs’ final message to readers in his biography by Walter Isaacson was this:
“I didn’t invent the language or mathematics I use. I make little of my own food, none of my own clothes. Everything I do depends upon other members of our species and the shoulders that we stand on. And a lot of us want to contribute something back to our species and to add something to the flow. It’s about trying to express something in the only way that most of us know how – because we can’t write Bob Dylan songs or Tom Stoppard plays. We try to use the talents we do have to express our deep feelings, to show our appreciation of all the contributions that came before us, and to add something to that flow. That’s what has driven me.”
Inspiring. What’s your motivation? What are you adding to the flow?
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