It’s NOT Just Business, It IS Personal

 

MichaelCorleone

“it’s not personal. It’s just business.”
― Michael Corleone, Godfather

The Godfather is one of my favorite movies. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a pilot, astronaut, F1 formula racer and Michael Corleone. He’s such a badass. When he walks in a room, everyone respects him.

But I don’t agree with everything he does or say. One of the things I vehemently disagree with is when he said “It’s not personal. It’s just business.”

What’s wrong with it?

First, it denies reality. The famous marketer, Seth Godin, also said that contrary to popular belief, it’s not just “business,” it’s personal. Think about it. Is there anything more personal than your work or startup? Your money, your blood, sweat and tears? Your time away from those you love?

We are not emotionless robots. Why are we trying to separate humanity from our work, our team, our startup? It simply makes no sense to deny what is real in life to justify our behaviour in the business world.

Second, when all your time is spent building your startup, separating your startup’s identity and your personal identity is impossible. You have to pour all your blood, sweat and tears into it. You give it your all. You think about it when you wake up in the morning and when you go to bed. It becomes your obsession. It consumes you. Your startup becomes your life. Your startup becomes YOU. Unless you’re working on a lame-ass idea you don’t even believe, there is no way for it not to become so.

In fact, I think it’s good for a startup founder to lack this distinction between personal identity and work identity. Investors look for this. Other entrepreneurs respect this. They know when this happens, that person will work his ass of to make sure his startup succeeds  That person will hustle and do whatever it takes. Nothing will stop her. Not the critics. Not the naysayers.

Finally, a lot of people just use this phrase as an easy way out. It’s just like saying “it’s not you, it’s me” when breaking up with someone. What that really means is, “You are the reason why we’re breaking up. I just don’t have the guts to tell you.” That’s exactly how I take “it’s just business nothing personal.” It’s a cowards way to do something you don’t really want to.

When you separate business and personal realms, you encourage a dangerous dissociation between individual morality and corporate behaviour.  Instead of owning up to your actions, you deflect responsibility and accountability to the business. If you asked Jeffrey Skilling why he screwed everyone involved with Enron, he would say “it’s not personal. it’s just business.” If you asked Bernie Madoff why he swindled so much money from his clients, he would say “it’s not personal. It’s just business.” And if you asked Michael Corleone why he’d be willing to kill a cop, he would say “it’s not personal. It’s just business.”

Bullshit. It is personal. It has to be personal. Own up to your actions. Life is too short. Let your passion drive you. As Steve Jobs once said, the only way to do great work is to love what you do.

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Written by

Lean startup advocate, startup generalist, speaker and startup mentor based in Toronto, Canada. Ready to help you at http://sohelpful.com/ramlijohn.

  • Howard Chang

    Excerpt from the novel:
    “Tom, don’t let anybody kid you. It’s all personal, every bit of business. Every piece of shit every man has to eat every day of his life is personal. They call it business. OK. But it’s personal as hell. You know where I learned that from? The Don. My old man. The Godfather. If a bolt of lightning hit a friend of his the old man would take it personal. He took my going into the Marines personal. That’s what makes him great. The Great Don. He takes everything personal Like God. He knows every feather that falls from the tail of a sparrow or however the hell it goes? Right? And you know something? Accidents don’t happen to people who take accidents as a personal insult.” Michael Corleone

    I don’t remember much from the movie, but the novel says otherwise

  • eslater

    I think you’re missing the point. Corleone doesn’t use that line because he doesn’t understand the difference between business and personal. He uses it to give himself emotional distance between himself and his acts (killing others). That line is his corporate shield that allows him to shirk responsibility.