by Robert Winter
SYNOPSIS: We need to learn to differentiate between real businesses and idealized Metabusiness.
Ask a typical American what characterizes business, and youll most likely hear attributes like no-nonsense, clear-eyed, and efficient, even to the point of ruthlessness. But if you ask most people to describe the company they work for, theyre more likely to point to the clueless workplace in the comic strip, Dilbert.
Have we all gone into some sort of dissociative mode?
Actually, were just dealing with different concepts. The companies that employ us, that make and sell recognizable productsthose are real businesses. The abstract entity that most politicians and even most journalists prefer to speak ofthat's Metabusiness. Business and Metabusiness are fundamentally quite different.
Metabusiness thrives on competition, and is even said to languish in its absence. Real businesses hate competition, and spend endless hours fondly plotting to eliminate theirs. And while Metabusiness owes its existence to meeting a market need, real businesses often find it more advantageous to concoct a demand for something for which nobody has ever had a need (cigarettes, Pet Rocks, and a host of other things in between).
Additionally, where Metabusiness is motivated primarily by profit, real businesses are, like any other organizations, motivated primarily by their own survival (or at least that of their leaders).
Disturbingly, in our discussions about current affairs and the economy these days, we tend to talk a good deal more about Metabusiness than about real businesses.
For example, when a corporation slashes its workforce in what is euphemistically termed a "restructuring," we may question the humanity or social responsibility of the decision, but we tend to take it as a given that this is a carefully reasoned-out action that will result in substantial gains in profitability. This is essentially a Metabusiness interpretation. Hardly anyone thinks to ask if the move might be merely a grandstanding CEOs gimmick to tweak up short-term stock priceswhich, according to no less an eminence than management guru Peter Drucker, occurs in real businesses quite frequently.
(c) COPYRIGHT 1998 ROBERT WINTER. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Today's giant corporate enterprises are far from the paragons of efficiency they make themselves out to be.
The current proclivity to discuss abstract Metabusiness instead of real businesses has its origins in our schools, media, and politics.
about Metabusiness tend to distract us from more disturbing developments on the economic
Americans to regain control of our social destiny, we need a clearer understanding of our