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So, who's scratching whose back?

I’ve observed this for years now. ‘Successful’ business owners are never solitary creatures. They are good at socializing, establishing connections that are not apparent, and eventually sharing in the collective goodwill that befalls companies that work in a collaborative space.

What’s the layman’s term for this phenomenon? – Scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours!

So what EXACTLY is this monkey business that we’ve engaged in for centuries, and why are we even wired to operate this way?

Well, definitions first! Quite simple – favours. Business owners usually favour other business owners in a sort of quid pro quo arrangement that benefits both parties mutually.

For instance, Samsung recently formed a strategic partnership with Microsoft, which helps both companies take on Apple as a giant. What do the two companies get in exchange?

Well, Samsung gets a strong software ally to back its devices with Office 365 integration, OneDrive storage alternatives, and XBOX connectivity for gaming. Microsoft, in return, finds a neutral hardware partner who can go toe to toe with Apple’s devices while furthering its services, without any large investments in product R&D!

Now, it’s a different story that Microsoft still continues to pour an equal amount of money into its Surface line of devices, but that only points at another interesting business principle called ‘watching your back’. That’s basically insurance against Samsung so that they don’t turn around one day and say “adios, mofo ” to Microsoft, because that’s exactly what Apple said to Intel in WWDC 2020!

And TBH, the back-scratching which we shall henceforth refer to as BS, no pun intended, is prevalent at an individual level as well! It’s just that we don’t call it that.

Remember the time when you exchanged homework for favours, lunch money, or entry with the cool kids at school? That was the same – quid pro quo.

Or look at the referral policy in your company. It’s the most basic form of BS! Refer a person for a monetary perk, then train that person to crack your company’s interview. The candidate gets an easy job, and you make some easy money!

I can assure you that no such malpractices exist in my office because,A. I am the hiring manager, and I am entitled to no referral bonus B. One specific pure-play decision sciences company based out of Bangalore supplies 95% of our candidates, and they generally need no interview coaching!

But, it doesn’t come as a surprise that quid pro quo is such an integral part of our existence, considering that our concept of business has evolved from a simple barter system years ago! This behaviour is ingrained deep and hence holding onto the hope of businesses transactions becoming purely value-based is nothing but a satirical dream.

Also, the issue is that once you start engaging in this BS, again no pun intended, there is no turning back. It initiates a perpetual chain reaction that only ends with you bowing out of the game or well, dying.

And some companies, well, they have backs that are itchier than sandpaper on cactus! Ever heard of a little company called Reliance, or a large organization called the OPEC? Well, I am not saying who, but quite a few people in those companies have had this serial itch for decades!

And no, I am not singling out one or two companies. Apple has done it, as has Amazon. Lord knows Microsoft has practically rolled around in BS during the early 90s! It’s just that in the end, only one thing differentiates these companies from one another.

What did they do for the collective good of humanity?

And I am not referring to the ‘green’ promise and ‘environmental footprint nullification’ programs that mask the decades of havoc that these companies have waged on the world. That is a fallout of industrialization that we’ve accepted ages ago. The question is whether these companies were able to achieve something worthwhile in the bargain?

Arguably enough, Reliance helped digitize an entire nation of 1.35 billion people, although at the risk of monopolization and encouraging predatory behaviour.

Elon Musk’s group of companies has pushed the boundaries for the way we perceive energy, travel, colonization, and space exploration!

Apple has redefined the way consumers interact with technology on a day to day basis while spawning an entire industry of companies that were virtually absent before 2008.

Well the OPEC nations didn’t do shit, except buying off acres of real estate in other countries as a hedging exercise. They still don’t get it! A legacy of geo-based wealth does not secure generations to follow.

But why is any of this important to know, or think of? Obviously, I am not about to renounce the new iPhone or stop using telecom, or only deal with companies that operate a 100% ethically. You know why? Because there’s no way to know the truth!

The safest assumption that we can live with is that every company engages in some form of BS; only that they’ve managed to keep it a well-guarded secret so far!

So then, what’s the point? The point is to know that not everything that we see is all white, hell it’s not all black either! The world is grey, and we’ve got to work with what we get. So there’s no point in trying to figure out who’s scratching whose back, or whether your favourite company DID engage in some questionable BS, because at one point you may realize that you’ve been complicit all along!

Instead, let’s just set our loyalty towards a company that does make a difference, and whose gifts to mankind definitely outweigh all their BS!

And in that instance, the pun WAS intentional. Because ‘free’ sim-cards were BS, but the share prices are real!

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