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Every month, I write an editorial. (Yes, I really write it myself, our small Group cannot afford a “ghost writer”). I do not do this because I particularly like to, or because I wish to become famous. Not that I would be, as the number of readers is about stable and runs into the hundreds, not into the thousands as should be.
No, I write these editorials because my Marketing Manager tells me to do so as “it is good for the image of the company”. He insists.
Not only does he tell me to write them in the first place – he even tells me what subject, or what sort of subject I should write about. So much for my freedom as Managing Director. This month, he told me to write “something nice”. Last month it was about terror, which is not so nice, so this month, with the change of the year it should be about something nice”.
Now writing about something nice is not so easy. This is for two reasons. First, I have got to think about something nice. Secondly, nice things are boring. Ask someone about his/her new car. If the answer is “it is perfect”, I promise you the conversation will be over. If, on the other hand, the answer runs like: “well, it is a nightmare. You cannot believe what happened.” Your answer will be: “no, really, tell me all about it” and you’ll both be quite happy for the next half hour or so.
The human being is curious in general, and obsessed about accidents in particular. Look at traffic jams on the OTHER side of the motorway as just one example. Is this because we’re obsessed by seeing blood? And is this natural?
Natural for sure it is not. If you visit the Masai Mara Natural Park in Kenya, you can readily observe that any Thomson Gazelle will run like hell with the slightest sign of danger, and that the very last thing that seems to be on their minds is to stop and look at their fellow Gazelle being eaten by a lion. You do not need to travel that far: cows are very curious animals, but they’ll also stamp of en masse if danger looms or seemingly looms.
I believe the human being is not obsessed by blood, but by survival. We wish to see “what happened” – in order to prevent it from the same thing happening to us. This is why we wish to see accidents, not to see the results, but to assess if we can establish the cause.
There is another aspect to the human nature, and one which is nice, and probably unique in nature: our ability to create bonds with other human beings. Some people think that these bonds are limited to our private lives, and that these are absent – or should be absent – in business. I do not believe this. There must necessarily be objective reasons for companies to do business together. However, this does not, I believe, obviate the need for good human relations. Nor do I believe that such relations are harmful, obviously provided business ethics are respected. Which, in my experience, they largely are.
In many ways the human relation in business is like the lubrication of the motor – things run smoothly and effortlessly with, and grindingly without. In my view, we cannot say that companies do business with companies. Nor can we say that people do business with people. It is both: companies do business with companies AND, simultaneously and at a higher level, people do business with people. I do not think that computers will change or replace this in the foreseeable future.
Maarten van Leeuwen
Group Managing Director
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