What is business?
Indeed, what is business? Many a time, you hear people talk about their “business”. At Other times, to put you “in your place”, you are told to “mind your business”.
Well, the journey l am on today is to bring into sharp focus why business is very important, not only for the one promoting that enterprise but also for the common good of society. I am sure after reading this piece to the end, you will appreciate, also, why it is always important to mind your business! Your business does matter.
First off, let us begin with the challenge of a definition. In many circles, business is simply described as the most effective process of specialisation and exchange of goods and services. Others see it as the way we interact with each other and our environment as we try to wrest a living from Earth. Not easy, is it?
The standout words here are specialisation and exchange. In the late eighteenth century, Scottish philosopher and economist Adam Smith popularised this understanding of the efficiencies of a specialised market economy. Smith’s exposition was on how specialisation and exchange influenced the market effect.
Taking it a step further and back home, specialisation means you can concentrate on the things you are most efficient at producing, and leave out the rest that others are more efficient in producing. Here, jack of all trades becomes a bit problematic. This whole concept of specialisation also promotes the spirit of interdependence, which has promoted the multilateral trade system and the market economy.
At the practical level, this is what specialisation looks like: We could grow our own garden eggs and corn. We could grow mangoes and pears, and raise chickens, goats, sheep and cattle. We could sew our own clothing. Each of us could declare ourselves independent of all other people and live in isolation on a remote piece of land. The idea that one could concentrate on the production of items that have the best advantage in their production gave rise to barter trade when there was no common medium of exchange like money at the time.
In fact, in the era of a medium of exchange—money—, we have specific “market days” in some areas where people from various communities would bring their goods to a central point to sell. The economics of the market days is that, for example, a trader in onions could bring her onions to the market to sell and use the proceeds to buy fish to sell where she grows or buys the onions for the market. In effect, whereas her community has onions, there is not sufficiently available fish stock to feed the population. So, she takes the opportunity of the situation by selling fish to make money from both ends of the market.
Thus, specialisation allows individuals to throw off the shackles of the subsistence lifestyle, and develop a business sense that can make them profitable. Life is easier and more pleasant when we abandon complete independence for specialisation and exchange.
Like the example above, if Paa Kow grew onions and Paa Kwesi grew corn; if Ama Adoma grew fruit and Abena Mansa grew vegetables; if Aku Sika raised chickens and goats, Naa Dede kept cows; if Aba Yaa turned cotton into the fabric and Ato Kwamina did so with wool, and Akosua Adobea sewed those fabrics into clothing and then Kow, Kwesi, Adoma, Mansa, Sika, Dede, Kwamina and Adobea all met once a week to exchange these goods with one another, all would have more of all these things with far less time. It saves energy too.
The fact is because we have acquired proficiency at our particular task and can apply efficiency by not spreading ourselves thin, each of us could accomplish tasks far more quickly than we could do individually. We each win more of a living with less effort when we specialise and trade. This process is called business. And what is your business in this regard?
You can also start something on your own. At every point in time, there is something that you have, that you can do effortlessly. If you spend a few minutes reflecting on your own circumstances, you will identify that talent. As l have stated repeatedly in this column, many people are making more money from their talent than from what they studied at school or their technical proficiency. There are footballers, journalists, artistes and many more, who are making money from their talent. They studied something different at school. What will drive your business is creativity.
And creativity is not difficult to develop. The US writer Mark Twain famously wrote: "There is no such thing as a new idea. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations." In other words, it is about recombining elements already known to exist but wrongly assumed to be unrelated.
A deep dive into what business is will expose you to how any organisation or individual engaged in commercial, industrial or professional activities could be in business. Organisations involved in the trading of goods or services to consumers or any person or group of people who have customers is also business.
Just identify your talent, skills, etc., and specialise. By specialising in a trade, rather than doing a little of everything, you enjoy better efficiency and more disposable income, instead of spreading yourself thin. This is another catch: One other reason why l introduced the subject of business this week is to also explain the importance of human-economic interaction. The foundation of human economic interaction is specialisation and exchange. When you specialise and people actually buy from you, your customers become valuable human beings to you.
I have had the opportunity of regularly listening to a “business caravan programme” on a local radio station here in Accra. One thing l have noticed over the period is that the business leaders interviewed on the programme are always energised when the subject of customers is mentioned. They love the customer experience and are eager to share their joy when they make the first sale. My impression is that a product becomes a true product when the customer experience is positive- when you create the economic interaction.
Thomas Hobbes, the seventeenth-century British political philosopher and author of Leviathan, once wrote that when we are alone, “the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” The business professional can never be alone because his life is intricately linked to many other people. He has to be concerned with providing goods or services of sufficient quality and at an attractive price to attract and serve his customers. He has to be concerned with his employees and associates because only if they are happy and fulfilled will his enterprise prosper.
In his book The Wealth Choice: Success Secrets of Black Millionaires, author Dennis Kimbro stressed that wealth has little to do with birth, luck or circumstance, but everything to do with choice, commitment to change, discipline, self-improvement and hard work. Yes, hard work pays. Find and define your business—the clue is: that it is inextricably linked with your talent.