The Best Things in Life

 The best things in life are free?

The one thing I remember from my high school Economics class is that nothing is free. It is either “at no additional cost” or “at no cost to you.”

Which led to some very high-school-wisecracky commentary including “sugar-at-no-additional-cost gum” and “at-no-cost-to-you-dom of speech.”

Adam Smith. Wealth of Nations. Every product represents labor.

Look around you. Right now. Every product represents labor.

Let’s extend this to services. Even if no money or materials are involved, what is being given up because the service provider is engaging in this activity? This is the essence of the term “opportunity cost” used in finance.

What am I not engaged in because I am engaged in my current activity? What are you not doing because you are spending your time on x? Is it worth it?

How does that context change your thinking?

Here’s how it changed ours.

We get that we aren’t doing business in a vacuum. We are part of a business ecosystem. When our customers flourish, we flourish. When we flourish, our vendors and employees flourish. And in a strong ecosystem, our employees and vendors are customers of companies who are in turn customers of our company, or customers of our customers. It’s a marvelous circle with a momentum all its own. There are economic leakages that can weaken an ecosystem and economic injections that can strengthen one.

If you remember that every product and service represents labor, you have in mind the fluidity between energy and dollars, the E=mc2 of business. You can ride this fluidity by turning credit into dollars with a bank loan, turning persuasiveness into an equity investment in your company, or outbound referrals into inbound referrals.

Nothing is “free.” everything is going to take some combination of time, talent, or treasure. Our ability to cultivate a business ecosystem that directs its energy inward will turn into a financial impact for the health of our company.

Who are the members of your business ecosystem? Are your vendors also your customers? Where are the opportunities to turn intangibles into dollars?

Special thanks to those whose ideas formed the foundation of this post:
Marion Reinson, To The Point
Cheryl Pliskin, Jest Notes and Baskets
University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business
Mr. Bass from Nova High School