Love is all you need

Business and love - chalk and cheese? Or an essential step towards ensuring that businesses truly serve their customers, in turn essential for sustainability?

Since Tim Sanders wrote the best seller "Love is the Killer App" (published in 2002) the word love has crept ever more widely into business usage.

But what is love? And what does it really mean in a business context?

People have been writing about love since ..., well, since writing began, I'm sure. There's even the beginning of a psychological literature on the subject, although perhaps not quite as much as you'd expect for such an important subject.

I don't really know for sure what love is, but I want to offer an opinion and maybe start a discussion.

In my view, we're definitely not talking about "falling in love", that thing that appears at the start of a relationship, but quickly fades. Steve Jobs and John Sculley fell in love - at first they could see no faults in one another; but they quickly fell out of love too, and came to see each other in very different ways.

Yes, we are talking about giving, and caring for others, along the lines of Sanders' book. But critically not in a co-dependent way. Co-dependency is where two people feed each off each other; where they get their own needs met from the other.

Sometimes supplier-client relationships are like that: there's an imbalance of power - often the need for money is exploited by one party. Sometimes it's more subtle than that: maybe the supplier has a lot of knowledge but simply needs to be heard. He or she may end up virtually giving away what they have.

So, for me, true love, "inter-dependent love", is where both parties already have ways to get all their needs met. And where they are aware of their needs and choose for them to be met, at least partially, through a business relationship. Where they commit to the relationship, despite the inevitable short-term ups and downs, because they believe in the long-term mutual value.

Their awareness of their needs means they know how to stop the relationship swinging into co-dependency - in other words they can walk away when they need to, if the relationship becomes abusive.

This all requires "adult" behaviour, straight talking and agreement to work together symbiotically. For the best of both individuals, and as a pair. In the best relationships, both also choose to give a little more than they may take - to put money into the shared "bank" rather than always take it out.

This is all fairly simple to understand. But, boy, is it difficult to do.

Certainly, in my business life, there have been times when I have confused "falling in love" with love. Often with a project, and sometimes with a business partner.

There have also been times when I have not been aware enough of my own needs to be able to sit on them when I needed to. To be able to stop them driving my behaviour. Sometimes it's been as simple as not being able to say "no".

And I haven't always had the skills to confront my business partners when I or the relationship needed it, in a way that protects and enhances the relationship rather than making it worse.

Many professionals, and not just those in the caring professions, do achieve this level of client love, I'm sure. In fact, maybe that's what it really means to be a professional? To be always able to act in the best interest of your customer or client. Even if it hurts.

But wouldn't it be great if more business relationships were built on this basis? Our businesses would have truly amazing customer service. Really fruitful account management. Great client relationships, and more successful, more profitable business partnerships all round.