“Make Love, Not War” In Business

Business as war

When Kai-Fu Lee, a key Microsoft employee, decided to leave to go work for one of their competitors he had an… interesting experience:

Prior to joining Google, I set up a meeting on or about November 11, 2004 with Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer to discuss my planned departure… At some point in the conversation Mr. Ballmer said: “Just tell me it’s not Google.” I told him it was Google.

At that point, Mr. Ballmer picked up a chair and threw it across the room hitting a table in his office. Mr. Ballmer then said: “F*cking Eric Schmidt [Google’s CEO] is a f*cking pussy. I’m going to f*cking bury that guy, I have done it before, and I will do it again. I’m going to f*cking kill Google.”

Source: John Batelle’s blog

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting really, really tired of the “business as war” approach. I’m sick of hearing about the market as a battlefield, competitors as enemies who should be killed and employees as foot soldiers.

Executives who buy this kind of thinking can be found looking for business advice in Sun Tzu’s “The art of war”, Clausewitz’s “On War” or even Machiavelli’s “The Prince”. A recent business book called “Hardball” praises companies who are “ruthless”, “mean”, “willing to hurt their rivals” and “enjoy watching their competitors squirm”.

But war is a terrible metaphor for business. It locks a company into an adversarial approach in which almost everyone becomes an enemy. It means spending time looking for ways to defeat your enemies, rather than making your own business great. It leads to zero-sum thinking, in which others have to lose, in order for you to win.

In short, it’s bad for business, a lousy long-term motivator and just plain old silly.

Microsoft’s desire to beat Google is a wonderful example of this tired approach as Kai-Fu Lee’s story above shows. Google, on the other hand, take a different approach to business as this quote from Nipun Mehta’s excellent list of Google factoids says:

CEO of AOL, Jon Miller says, “Google is not anti-anybody. Most companies need a business enemy, and that is how they motivate themselves. Brin and Page, on the other hand, “are motivated by their mission. Clearly, they think differently and are driven by their vision and business goals.”

The healthy approach to business is not about waging war. It’s about creating value for your customers and promoting your vision. I believe that this way of doing business is simply an expression of love. Yes, love.

Is love too flighty or soft a concept to use in business? Absolutely not. We’re not talking romantic love here or the love that exists within families. We’re talking something more akin to brotherly love – what the ancient greeks called agape. The most useful definition I’ve read of this type of love is this:

Love is a total commitment to helping others realize their full potential.

Love in this case means a commitment to other people’s happiness as well as your own. It’s the realization that your happiness is tied to other people’s happiness. It’s a conviction that we can usually trust each other in business, that we work more effectively together than alone and that business goes better when you’re doing something that makes a positive difference in the world. That you can do well by doing good.

This approach to business as love makes total sense – even business sense. It is why clothing company Patagonia devote themselves to improving the environment. It’s why Danish car dealer Kjaer Group are so active improving conditions in Africa. It’s why Southwest Airlines brand themselves as the Luv Airline.

When love (and not war) is your driving force:

  • Your work has meaning and relevance beyond your own personal needs and desires.
  • Your focus is on creating and contributing, not on destroying.
  • Your attention is on your own organization, not on your enemy’s.
  • You focus more on collaborating with customers, suppliers and even competitors to promote your vision.
  • You focus more on opportunities and less on threats.
  • You treat business as a non-zero-sum game, in which many players create values together.
  • You don’t waste time and energy having enemies.

All the happy organizations I’ve studied refuse to wage war. They have competitors, sure, but no enemies. They waste no time on grudges, dirty tricks or wishing harm upon others. In fact, whenever possible, they have constructive, friendly relations with their competitors.

So let’s lose all talk of “digging trenches, fortifying defenses and killing enemies” at work. It’s not going to get us anywhere good. Let’s rethink business and work to the point where it is an expression of the love we feel for others – not an expression of our desire to beat our enemies into submission.

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13 thoughts on ““Make Love, Not War” In Business”

  1. Agreed, oh Chief of Happiness – the lone gunman approach seems to me to be a mindset which, by all accounts, should be obsolete.

    Can you actively obsolete something…?

    Jesper W.

  2. An acquaintance from a major software company in Redmond WA reported to me that to be politically correct these days you don’t mention “googling” anything. (Notice how careful I am about even mentioning the name of this Giant!) You might say you “searched,” but certainly not “googled.” It’s all too easy to believe, well, it’s the new Roman Empire and the death of thinking, but the the control of language is a natural move when you go along with the old rules. Love IS the answer, but it takes a little courage and a lot of care to love a person — or a corporation — out of war-like ways. Way of the future, stuff. Ah, I love how the wheel turns!

  3. Guy: Thanks!

    Jesper: Good question. You can probably only obsolete it by actively replacing it with something else. That’s make love not war!

    Dan: What company is that..? Kidding! I agree, it takes courage to try it.

    Viji: Me neither!

    Bernie: Hah, good one. Especially when you consider how many people practice sports as war :o)

  4. Hey Alex,

    Great post! I’ve always been fascinated by the metaphors that people use consciously or unconsciously to simplify ‘business’ to a level that they can mentally get a grip of it.

    I totally agree with your thoughts about business as ‘war’. In fact I often run a little session with consulting clients that digs out their embedded metaphors so that they have the opportunity to select more interesting alternatives… it’s normally quite enlightening ;o)

    I thought that you might be interested in an blog post I made a couple of years ago that riffs on this kind of thing. http://www.canoworms.info/2005/09/greatest_hits_business_is_just.html



  5. I am a post-grad student doing a dissertation on “Is there any relevance of Military Strategy to Business Strategy and vice versa?” I am trying to locate some business strategists who agree that “buisness is not war”. Can anybody help me locate a few?

  6. I have just come across a CEO with the attitude of business is war. I turned down his offer of employment. Personally I was worried about his integrity and how he treated people. A good captain is followed by trust and respect as that person has good vision, reacts to events, has strategy and organisational skills to motivate and bring everyone as a team.


  7. War is not business.

    We can bring Stategy, motivational, organisational techniques that make an army great. But you will always find the greatest generals are forward thinking and not tayloristic .
    I agree my business love

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