VISION – Chapter Four – The Service Motive

Home » October 2015 » VISION – Chapter Four – The Service Motive

by Leonard E. Read

Think success, and you will automatically create the circumstances and the movements leading to success — MICHAL LOMBARDI

As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “an institution is but the lengthening shadow of one man.” The one man, an outstanding exemplar and practitioner of this thesis, was a Japanese – Konosuke Matsushita. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth? Quite the opposite:

Yet all he had to start with in life were, ‘three disadvantages; he was in dire poverty; he was forced to quit school to work as an errand boy at the age of nine; and he was so frail in health that several times he resigned himself to imminent death.’

Did he overcome his disadvantages? He developed the largest and most profitable business in Japan’s history! Instead of being born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he was born with an idea in his head. Here it is:

He began by thinking about abundance and decided that the mission of a manufacturer should be to take scarce resources, convert them into products, making them available at decreasing prices that a better life might be had by all!

Reflect on such an unusual – indeed, exceptional – mission by a manufacturer. While Matsushita insisted on profitability as the true measure of management efficiency, he explicitly forbade the pursuit of profit as the motivation of his business. The motivation must be better and better products and at lower and lower prices. He cast his eye on service – serving the consumer – rather than profitability. By so doing, his customers had more for less and a remarkable profitability was the result; the true measure of management efficiency.

Materially, this man began in abject poverty; physically, he was frail; intellectually, he was graced with a wholesome motivation and the good thoughts that made it workable. For him good thoughts were the wellspring of material success and a life of creative activity. Let us hope that good thoughts may direct our lives as well!

Am I suggesting that the great thought – the service motive – was original with Matsushita? No, but he may have thought it was. Countless persons have had this thought; it popped into their heads, as we say. Wrote Goethe: “All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times.”

This truly wise thought was phrased in resplendent clarity by Arthur R. Sheldon previous to its adoption and practice by Matsushita:

The science of business is the science of service and he profits most who serves best.

Sheldon’s statement was adopted as the motto of Rotary International – members by the hundreds of thousands in this and other countries.

There is no way of telling how many Rotarians are inspired by and heed their adopted motto, or merely give it lip service. Perhaps, as with ever so many others in today’s U.S.A., the service motto is practiced with no reference to or awareness of wise admonitions. When men are free to try, countless thousands are motivated by an ever-improving service to consumers. To those with good minds, casting the eye aright comes naturally!

The success of service! I have friends who are in business all by themselves whose sole motivation is service. They think success, practice the key to success, and automatically create the circumstances and movements leading to success.

Further, I am acquainted with managements of small and large corporations who not only have service as their motivation but instill this same high objective in their associates. The result is the same as in Matsushita’s case; employees work not for but with these managements. A team-work glorious to behold! When and if service is the root, the flower will profit. He profits most who serves best!

All of us should remember and repeat this great truth by Edmund Burke: “Example is the school of mankind; they learn at no other.” Many thousands of businessmen – small and large corporations – are lamenting the very low esteem in which business is held by the public. And, mostly, they are resorting to all sorts of schemes to restore respect and confidence in business. Many of these schemes are doing more harm than good. The only remedy? Exemplary conduct! The millions in the school of mankind will learn only by example.

Let service be the motive, that Golden Idea in the head of entrepreneurs. Such exemplary will curb the tendency to defame the producers of goods and services. There’ll be a turnabout; the beneficiaries will pay homage to those who serve them best.

If those of us in business will adhere to the service motive, then the right—freedom to act creatively as anyone chooses – will prevail.

Comment by R. Nelson Nash – Leonard Read wrote this book in 1978. BANK NOTES will continue to publish a chapter from it each month.