If you think business is a bad word, I want you do to business

Published on 2020-11-11 by Connor

Creators of all stripes — artists, writers, musicians, hackers, you name it — have often maligned business and many of the things associated with it such as marketing and sales.

This is out of some belief that business corrupts everything that it touches, and it's a justified fear. You are right to be defensive, but I think we are capable of so much more. I think instead of shunning business, people with strong beliefs and concerns should attempt to learn from their enemy.

In fact I think it is important that you, my reader, learn how to make the world a better place through business.

Business is as inevitable as life

Many people malign business but I think if you managed to seriously get what their unspoken definition of business is out of their head you'd be left with something factually incorrect. It'd go something like this:

Business means doing something just for money.

This is a completely fair definition given most people's lived experience. But this is just a very common pattern; it is not the definition of a business.

I think a more englightening definition would go something as follows:

A business is any human activity that has reached a self-sustaining cycle.

If you have some action that you can perform, that fulfills all the needs for you to perform that action again — including sustaining your life — then that is a business. This definition is not entirely in line with how people most use this word; specifically most of the time we mean that money is involved. But by ommitting this feature we highlight a deeper truth: the point is the cycle, not the money.

And once you understand this it allows you to see all other elements of business in a different light. Everything in typical business wisdom is all knowledge about how to create a self-sustaining cycle.

Now yes, much of people's reasoning for creating one of these self-sustaining cycles is to skim value out of it and use that on other things that they find rewarding. But this does not preclude the possibility of creating a cycle simply because you enjoy the cycle. In fact, from what I can tell of entrepreneurs: you have to enjoy the cycle itself. Starting a business is too hard to be overcome simply for money.

The challenge of finding fulfillment in the cycle itself is perfectly analogous to the challenge of finding life fulfilling for its own sake. Life itself is just another self-sustaining cycle, and as such I think life and business are an inevitable pair. In fact, since life requires a self-sustaining cycle, by the definition I have presented human life requires business.

For those of us with some creative desire — regardless discipline — if we want to be able to explore that desire to its fullest then we require it to become a self-sustaining cycle. If we don't it simply means dedicating part of our time to some different cycle that we care for less.

Marketing is sharing

I have participated for a number of years in the independant game development community in various different forms, and one of the most hated things in the entire culture is the concept of marketing.

It seems that many devs believe that it is a great injustice that in order to achieve success that they must spend some of their time on marketing instead of working more on the game. Just as before we could extract some false defintion from their mind:

Marketing is attention-seeking, vanity, intrusion.

This is again a fair definition to have given a consumer's typical lived experience, but it is wrong. If you shared this definition to anyone actually good at marketing they'd scoff and say "Perhaps, if you suck."

Again I argue that there exists a more enlightening definition:

Marketing is about how to identify who wants what you've made, and how you can find them.

And I argue that this is an innately noble act. If someone wants a thing and you provide them with it, have you not done them a favour? There are a few exceptions related to addiction and the like, but they are few and far between.

If you are attention-seeking, you've missed the point. You've made it about yourself and not them, and their wants. Any marketing containing such vanity or intrusion is ineffective. They will snub you for your self-absorption.

For creators the thing to learn from marketing is how to make the world a better place by sharing your creation with people who would actually be interested.

Marketability means caring about more than just yourself

A closely related concept is marketability. We can imagine a similarly pessimisstic defintion:

Marketability means chasing trends, in order to do what is already popular.

Again a much more informative definition exists:

Marketability means making things that have a premise that speaks to other people

Now, this is totally optional. If you want to make things for yourself, do so. But do not fool yourself into thinking that it is the noble path. It is a path of self-isolation. If you desire to make your creation a self-sustaining cycle however, you must do this. It is simply a requirement of society: you must provide things that others actually want. It is a selfish stance to demand that society support you in order that you do a thing that only you care about.

Sales is helping

This is a complaint that might be more foreign to other creators reading this, but is common to software developers and other creators of functional products. The definition goes something like this:

Sales is the practice of rudely trying to pressure people into getting things they don't want.

As with marketing, a good sales person will tell you: "Only if you're bad at it". No one likes a pushy sales person, and that ire makes them highly ineffective.

A more enlightening definition:

Sales is the practice of finding people who you could potentially help, and asking them what they need help with.

I trust the nobility of such a practice is apparent to you, my reader.

We need noble people persuing these acts

Since business is simply a way of sustaining human activity, marketing merely sharing, marketability is making things that people want, and sales is helping. We don't want the people who worry about the corruption of business choosing to not do those things.

If every good person on the planet shunned these things then the people who it would be left to would cause incredible harm to our society. Since life requires self-sustaining cycles, it'd leave choosing those cycles that we all form our lives around to the people who don't care about the conditions of those involved in the cycle.

If all sharing was done by people who did not care about the impact of what they shared, then our culture would become filled with messages promoting things that are toxic or shallow.

If all sales was done by people who did not want to genuinely help, then we'd squander so many great opportunities to make each others lives better.

If we want business to stop being a source of corruption, we need the people opposed to that corruption to learn business.