I was chatting with a client the other day. He was recounting a conversation with his nine-year old son, who asked him what Daddy did at work all day.
The kid replied, you talk with your friends on the phone.
At first I thought, that’s so nine-year-old-cute.
Then I thought, what if doing business was really like that —just chatting with friends.
It made me think of something someone once told me.
They claimed it was a Japanese proverb, although I have my doubts.
Research leads me to conclude, it's more likely they were embellishing to add a little provenance.
Which is disappointing because it deserves to be a Japanese proverb.
Whatever the provenance it says: if you can’t do business on a handshake you shouldn’t do business at all.
Meaning if someone is honest their word is all you need.
And if they’re dishonest a 50 page contract won’t be enough to save you.
There's something to it.
I once had a contract and a lawyer, and still ended up settling for 20 cents on the dollar when the client had financial difficulties.
Another time I managed a challenging year-long project on the strength of a five-line email and every thing ran smoothly.
Then how do you do business like friends, or more like friends?
There are undoubtedly many definitions of friendship although honesty, transparency and kindness are probably prerequisites.
Perhaps not words that immediately spring to mind in a business context.
Which despite the much hyped win/win paradigm, many people still approach like a zero-sum game.
Maybe we need more nine-year-olds in the boardroom.
Or maybe we just need to think more like nine-year-olds.