People go into business for all sorts of reasons. Maybe it’s to make more money, sometimes it’s because they didn’t have a lot of job options. Other times it’s because they’re good at what they do and want to do it their way. Or it might be that they are a social misfit who can’t fit in to a traditional organisation (me?).
I’ve noticed that the reason for going into business usually isn’t the same as the reason for staying in business. Once you’ve established yourself, become reasonably successful, and proved your worth to yourself and to the world, the focus changes and develops.
I don’t know whether the late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, went into business to change the world, but watching and listening to him on one of many youtube clips recently, it was clear that that became his mission. Watch Steve, with a quiet, authoritative confidence, set out why Apple did what it did, and you can’t fail to be impressed by his sense of purpose and direction. It’s what made the difference in the rebirth of Apple when he rejoined the company after being booted out as it achieved global success.
And what a mission it was! Steve’s passion and sense of purpose shines out from every frame of those clips, many of them over 20 years old, despite often poor quality recording. No wonder he was, and remains, a huge icon of his age.
I find myself drawn to watch Jobs in action because so much of what he said resonates with me. Our business is, on the face of it, about topics that most people find dry and uninteresting. Money, accounts, wills, trusts, investments, figures and paperwork. Yawn.
But that’s to utterly fail to understand the impact we have on the lives of the people we serve. I’ve seen for myself the transformations that affect people’s lives when they suddenly get clear about their goals, know that they have a plan to achieve them, and understand the link between the actions they take and the results that they get.
This all sounds obvious, in the same way that taking regular exercise to get fit is obvious. The problem for many of us humans is that knowing what to do isn’t the same as getting it done. Most people aren’t really interested in the finer points of personal taxation, they don’t know how to choose the right investments, they haven’t got a grip on how to work out their taxes, and they never get around to planning their legacy and doing the required paperwork.
It’s not that they don’t see the value in these things. It just all seems to be something that can wait for another day. Just like the exercise plan.
So finding a service that offers to deal with all of these things, based on a real and thorough investigation of what’s most important to you and a complete understanding of what you’re aiming for, can be life-changing. Knowing that you have a long term partner working with you on this journey is inspiring, reassuring and satisfying in equal measure. It’s why great financial planners will never be replaced by robots.
As our business continues to grow, I’m aware that there’s a danger that what happened to Apple in its ‘wilderness years’ happens to us. Corporatisation, structures, management, and processes can drown the mission and kill the spirit that made the business successful in the first place.
Unless, of course, those processes are themselves designed to foster free thinking, creativity, playfulness and fun (things I value) alongside the serious work of helping people through the ups and downs of life, from planning for a new family to dealing with the aftermath of the death of a loved one. Key performance indicators, spreadsheets and financial performance measures are important to every successful business, but are they the most important things? Absolutely not.
Let’s measure what we do best; help people to live better, more productive lives. Turn vague dreams and notions into action plans and achievements. Build security, wealth and enterprise. Care more. Experience more. Love more.
Because, believe it or not, those things happen when we do our job well. It’s a brilliant reason to be in business. Long may it continue.
Chairman of Chesterton House