I came across this little meme recently, reflecting the school of thought that says, in effect, that happiness cannot be achieved as an objective in and of itself. This may challenge the American Declaration of Independence, by implying that the pursuit of happiness might be counterproductive but it does provide a simple explanation as to why, having been persuaded by advertisers that we should by the latest gadget/game/car/trinket in order that we are happy, we then find that we’re disappointed.
I was then struck that when we talk about not being happy, we often refer to a reason “I wasn’t happy about X”, but when we talk about actually being happy, we’re less likely to say that we’re happy because of something – rather we’d say that we’re happy with a certain result: “I worked really hard to get this right, and I’m really happy with it”. So if we set an objective and achieve it, that’s where the happiness part comes in – but we don’t talk about setting out with happiness as the objective in the first place.
The reason that this daydream made it all the way to wordpress, was because of the parallels with John Kay’s very interesting “Obliquity” which I read recently. He proposes that, like happiness, profit isn’t an objective you can seek directly, but rather one which happens as a by-product of seeking another objective – one centred around creating value for customers – and doing that really well. There are indeed some great examples in that book of companies whose corporate objectives are re-aligned from one style to another and who can see a clear result in their fortunes directly following such a move. This actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it – companies who focus on extracting profit might have the best sales people, the best lawyers, and the best accountants, but that doesn’t actually generate value for those companies’ customers. On the other hand companies who set out to do important work, and who achieve it-especially if it’s difficult, are actually generating genuine value, capturing that into profit is then much more straightforward than trying to generate profit where there’s no intrinsic value.
So the takeaway from this for a small business? It feels good to know that whilst lawyers and accountants have their place, a business shouldn’t be driven by them, but instead by achieving important work that generates value for others.
What’s more, it might even make you happy.