What's Love Got To Do With You And Your Small Business?

Jim Blasingame

In her second-most-popular song, Tina Turner sang, “What’s love got to do with it?” Out here in the Main Street marketplace, the answer is a lot. 

Indeed, love is the reason people start businesses. We love to make and sell things: shoes, tires, hamburgers, cars, soap, computers, bread, air conditioners – you get the picture. You love your business; I love my business. Starting and running a business is a love story. 

Yes, I know. Sometimes our businesses are not easy to love. In fact, our business is often like our teenagers: You may not always like it, but you always love it. Which is a good thing, because if you didn’t love your business you wouldn’t come back the day after it gave you the worst day of your life. 

But love can also be a problem. Is it possible to love your business too much? As business owners, we know how to fall in love with our businesses, but we usually don’t know how and when to fall out of love with it. Here’s a great American love story that went wrong:

In the early 20th century, 19th-century legacy railroads thought they were in the railroad business when they were actually in the transportation business. When shipping and travel alternatives came along, many railroad companies failed because they loved what they did more than how they did it. Now consider these two happy love stories:

In 1993, IBM’s octogenarian business model was in trouble. Top leadership saved the company by realizing they weren’t in the computer business, but rather the information business. So they shifted from being hardware/software-centric to focusing more on information management services. IBM had to fall out of love with making machines and fall in love with delivering digital information solutions. 

Founded in 1916, Boeing had deep roots in Seattle. But in 2001, the leadership realized their future was increasingly in aerospace, not just airplanes, and to punctuate that very dramatic decision, the headquarters was moved to Chicago. They loved what they did, not where they did it.

Both IBM and Boeing saved themselves by following Blasingame’s Law of Business Love: “It’s okay to fall in love with what you do, but it’s not okay to fall in love with how you do it.”

What do you love about your business? I’m serious; make a list. Then go back over the list and identify anything that might be holding you back. It’s unlikely that you can do this by yourself, so get your team involved. As you go through this process, listen for and beware of romantic notions that sound like: “It’s how we’ve always done it.” Those aren’t love song lyrics, they’re an epitaph waiting to be chiseled into a failed business’s tombstone. 

In the 21st century, more than any other time, the choice is yours: reinvention or extinction.

By the way, Tina’s #1 song was her cover of “Proud Mary.” Everybody knows that.

Write this on a rock … It’s okay to be in love with your business, but not with how you do business. 

Jim Blasingame is the author of The 3rd Ingredient, the Journey of Analog Ethics into the World of Digital Fear and Greed.

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