I feel a sense of sinking dread when I walk into an executive office and see a copy of Atlas Shrugged lurking somewhere in plain sight. Ayn Rand’s father lost the family business in the Bolshevik revolution, and she carried the scars of this loss her entire life. Ayn’s acceptance of this loss is documented in Atlas Shrugged, as her core theory about humans and business.
Her theory: Profit motive is what drives our society
My theory: It’s a bullshit theory.
Profit motive is an excuse for bad behavior.
My sense of dread is the elitism that owners get from reading Atlas Shrugged. Profit for profit’s sake is a poison that creeps into the roots of your business, and kills slowly from the inside out. To believe the cult of Rand is to view every employee as a cost and justify mistreatment of people as part of doing business. Someone can read Atlas Shrugged, become a believer in pure profit, and act on treating employees and vendors as “costs” standing in their way. Pure profit is a seductive way of thinking. Pure profit provides a rationale to the issues and their causes in a business:
- Unhappy employees are ungrateful for having a job
- Vendors want to fleece everyone
- Everyone is lucky I exist
- I deserve more because I own the business
- Customers are to be milked
It’s tempting to feel this way.
These opinions are the effect Atlas Shrugged has on people, and for good reason. These opinions let owners avoid looking in the mirror and answering the hard questions about how they got where they are. These opinions distill the essence of every decision to a cost-benefit ratio to be measured. It lets someone forget everyone who helped them get to their current life status.
It’s a cruel way to live.
Nothing exceptional can be justified by a cost-benefit analysis or the pure profit behind it. Children are a horrible expense, but they are considered a blessing by every culture. The best artists of history never profited from their talent during their lifetime, but they created art. Thirty thousand years ago a man walked into the dark passages of a cave in France, and painted haunting images of animals before the idea of money was ever invented. Profit is good. Humans require more than profit to be human.
Humans are emotions.
Art is the portrayal of emotion, marketing is playing to the emotions, passion is the love of doing without profit motive. I cannot create an environment where people work for a common goal knowing I view them as a cost. People excel and achieve greatness when they have passion for their work.To create a masterpiece business, I must create passion.
Profit is a byproduct.
This is why I fear Ayn Rand. Great businesses are built around passionate ideas and people, not transactions. As a leader, if I can find and focus passionate people around my business objectives, I can create a great company. Profit can be a cold transactional approach to human interaction, or profit is the byproduct of people following their passions. Passion creates masterpieces, transactions fill ledgers. People talk about masterpieces, not transaction ledgers.
Follow your passions.
Hire people into positions they are passionate about, and treat them like human beings. Share profits when times are good, and the truth when times are hard. If you are unhappy about the relationship you have with vendors or clients, look in a mirror first. If you’re unhappy with the people around you, change them.
Profit is good.
I like profit. I like profit as a byproduct better than a philosophy. When times are hard, passion helps a person, team, and company survive when a transaction tells them to quit. Build your passion, build passion in your team, and success will follow every time.