The Chamber Column is devoted to exploring the intriguing world of business and commerce, a subject with more permutations than a twelve-sided Rubik's Cube. As I was feverishly pondering what rabbit hole to dive into, it occurred to me that the division between "business" and "life" is tenuous and somewhat arbitrary. It's natural for humans to organize the world in neat little boxes, and business isn't spared from our need to classify, and so we define it as having a trade, or making a living through commerce. But we also love our metaphors, and there is no shortage of metaphors available for people to associate with business.

One of the most common comparisons is with war. Companies are compared to armies, workers to soldiers on a battlefield of sales and revenue, CEOs are generals. I suppose there is some value in the comparison; a quick search of Amazon brought up dozens of titles based on Sun Tzu's Art of War. There's "The Art of War for the Business Warrior," the "Art of War for Small Business" and the "Art of War for Managers," among several others. There are lessons to be learned by reading Sun Tzu, the value of patience, self-knowledge, and gathering information before making a decision are all present in the text. But I think it's a stretch to make any deep comparisons between business and war, because the goal of war is destruction, while the goal of business is building and creating. Even if your profession is demolition, you're still in the business of creating. Demolishing an old structure creates an opportunity for a new one. Still, the "business is war" analogy is popular enough to warrant a large number of books based on that theme.

There are books that compare management to ancient Japanese sword duels, books that compare business to gigantic experimental mazes where some shadowy sadist is moving the cheese around, books that explain business as a psychological model, and books that explain business using the conceit of fatherly advice.

What if it's much simpler than all that? What if business is just people working with other people to get things done? We can complicate, analyze, pontificate and categorize every detail and permutation of running a business, but in doing that we often lose sight of the reason behind it all.

The people.

What's important in business really is the people. When we go to a restaurant, we don't remember the bill. We remember the delicious food and the server who was right on top of things, but not too obtrusive, serving with a smile. When we go to the hardware store, we don't remember the unit price of wood screws. We remember the helpful associate who steered us to the right product and saved us hours of labor in the process.

Business isn't separate from life any more than "nature" is separate from humanity. Business is life in action, the result of people with mutual interests working together to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome. Cooperation, service and integrity, not swords and armies, are what make businesses successful.

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