What questions are we asking?

Posted on April 11, 2013

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The drive to develop, explore new possibilities and improve the world around us, comes from people and their ambitions, curiosity and passion. That is where it all starts. To enable any development, project or exploration to happen, on a bigger scale than in your living room, you have to find investors, sponsors or a business partner that can give you the money and/or the resources to do it. Some times it happens that a person or company sponsor your project for the genuine purpose of giving to a good cause. Some times you can get money from the government because that money was meant specifically to be used for your type of project. There’s also scholarships you can apply for. These types of sources for money give you the most amount of freedom of exploration. Your project can go in any direction really (if the money givers don’t have specific conditions), you can let any question drive your work and the end result can be something the world has never seen before, something that would change the way we do things fundamentally. Your result can then be used in what ever way you want it to, as a foundation for other inventors, explorers or scientists, as a creative common so that others can use it and build on it for free etc.

Then there’s the type of money that comes from investors, banks and partners that come with this one given condition. What ever you are planing to make, it has to have a commercial focus because they have a commercial interest. They only give money if they know they can get it back and then some. What you’re doing now is starting a business and when you develop an idea within the business context there are a few key questions that are in the center of attention, because their answers point to what needs to be done in order to make money, to create revenue streams for the company. Money is the food equivalent for a company. If it doesn’t get money, it dies, and no company want to die, so the thing that is of highest importance is to figure out the money machine aspects of it all. The actually idea you have, the product or service that you will be offering to people by selling it to them, is a separate part from the business. The business is the actual machine that enables you to offer this product or service to people and get money for your own survival in the process. So the development of the product or service is a separate process than the development of the business, even though they are closely linked.

So the key questions for business development are:

  1. Is there a market for what you’re selling and if so who is the customer?
  2. How can we capitalize on this?
  3. How can we protect our solution from competitors on the market?
  4. How can our product/service become more desirable and competitive on the market?
  5. How can we market what we’re selling (meaning – making its existence known and convincing people they should/want to buy it)?
  6. How can we increase revenues?
  7. How can we grow the market?
  8. How can we cut costs?
  9. How can we optimize production (meaning – higher production to lower costs)?
  10. What is the strategic plan to grow the business over time?

There are of course more questions within specific areas but these are very important questions for any business. There’s nothing strange with them at all. Perfectly sound and reasonable questions if you want to build a business. But notice how none of them touch on the topics of sustainability, morals, social impact, health effects, appropriate use of resources etc. Of course there’s companies that have based their whole business model on producing sustainable products with positive social impact, no doubt about that, but those decisions are not by default demanded by the business machine. They are rather a consequence of peoples inner moral codes and wish to do something good for the world and everybody in it. It is not required to run a business. In fact there’s a lot of companies that do the exact opposite and make billions of dollars on it. The part that every business have to think of are those questions at the top there. No matter how good or bad your product or service is for the life on this planet.

Here’s a good video describing the different parts you have to think of when you’re starting a business. And I’m not saying that as soon as you start a business you become evil and have a harmful agenda. I’m just saying that a lot of actually really valuable things for peoples lives and our environment easily disappears in the discussion.

All companies don’t have the intention of being greedy and create harm to life on this planet. Every big corporation isn’t the Antichrist. What decides if a company becomes harmful to our ecosystem and the wellbeing of humanity is what choices the people who run the businesses make. In the end it’s people who drive the development forward, but within the rules and limitations of the business machine. People make the decisions, but even if their intentions are good to begin with, it is so easy to get swooped away in the quest to keep the money poring in that they loose track of  those good values that were there in the beginning. Every business have to make hard choices now and then to stay alive and those choices sometimes lead to bad outcomes for humanity and the ecosystem. When it comes down to it, a business will do what is good for business, but try and balance it so that it is also good for people and the environment. Some times the options go completely against each other. If it is great for people or the ecosystem, it is really bad for business. Then that option will not be further developed. No question about it. But there are cases when an option has proved to be very bad for humans and the ecosystem but extremely good for business. Then it’s really down to the question of the decision makers level of morals and level of empathy. I would argue that the more time you spend on focusing on money making, the less your practicing empathy and exploration of moral behavior. This is of course an assumption made by me and I acknowledge it. Let’s say that the decision is made by a group of people, then it’s a question of peer pressure. Will you be the one speaking up for what’s right and go against what is great for business?

When we are forced to work within the business machines rules and limitations, it shifts our focus. Because money making is of such great importance for a business, there’s not that much time left to focus on other, to me, more important questions. I would like to suggest other types of questions that should be in focus for any development within our society. The questions that to me actually drive the REAL development of the product, service or idea that is suppose to enrich our lives. That is where the focus should be.

My questions for any development process (the business equivalent) in a utopian society:

  1. What does this product/service give us that is of value to the life on this planet and it’s wellbeing?
  2. What could be improved with it so that it would be of even more use to us and for longer time?
  3. Which resources are most appropriate for producing and distributing it? (on the basis of quality in relation to purpose, life span, least or no strain on the ecosystem and possible to use in a cradle to cradle life cycle)
  4. How do we make sure it is not causing any harm to the user, our ecosystem and all life in it?
  5. How can we create a cradle to cradle life cycle for it (including development team, extracting the resources, production, distribution, users getting access, maintenance, waste management, retrieving old broken products and disassembling them and reusing them)?
  6. Does it have to be of physical matter, could it be digital or service based?
  7. How will we make sure to not over produce if over production is proven to be harmful?
  8. How will people be informed of this product/service existence and be able to try it out?
  9. Is there someone else out there making the same thing and how can we then collaborate?
  10. How will it be accessible for others to later improve on it and share thoughts, feedback and ideas?
  11. How do we make it accessible for anyone who needs or want it?
  12. How can we make sure the whole life cycle system is easy to dismantle if something completely different and better comes along, which renders this product/service obsolete?

I think these are very important questions. Lets say that we wanted to create a solution for the problem of  dirty cloths and our first idea would be a washing machine. If that solution was put through these two different sets of questions, you would for sure end up in two very different products in the end. The only reason we need the business machine questions is because we have created a system for ourself where we have to use currency to obtain anything in this world. So much effort is being made just to sustain the system, instead of sustaining the actual physical world we live in and the actual lives we are living, the real needs we have. I find it sad that we are so stuck in thinking we can’t live without it, that it is some kind of natural law, a natural system that people need to obey by or else there would be chaos. People don’t get mad, violent, evil, greedy and hateful from out of the blue. It is always a reaction to something else and our current society is creating a lot of the causes that creates these reactions.

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