Should a business be forever? What is the natural cycle of business? We know that for people death is a certainty, so the only unknown is how long we will live for. What is certain about businesses?
I would say businesses reflect their time, the ideas prevalent at the moment of their creation, the personality and generation of its founders. The blend, gives them an imprint of almost a personality like. Only after a while of a business creation you can assess if its relevant to the community, and actually could be a good representation of it by virtue of its client take-up. In a very definitive way, what is the clientele you have, and whether for that group you are the best comparable option. However, businesses are not only linked to society by their clients, founders and vendors, they are also linked by the problems they solve and the causes they promote for a profit. There is abundance of businesses that don’t really solve anything grandiose, but created a problem and a solution for it, and are quite clever to tell you so, for a profit.
So, if businesses reflect their times, and the people in them, can they evolve indefinitely? or should they have a natural inclination to decay and die like their founders, or the societal picture of time where they were created would?
I guess we can say the issue of continuity, or evolution with the times, or business self preservation has been the primary topic, throughout history, in decision boards (or the equivalent) of the biggest companies around the world.
Some things implicit in the assumption of continuity of business;
Commerce don’t die, individuals do. Therefore a business would have to do everything necessary to survive including sacking its founder (e.g. Steve Jobs and Apple). Commerce don’t have ethics and honor, individuals do. Therefore in business everything allowed under the law, even unethical, must be done for the survival and competitiveness of the business. Commerce influence is unlimited, individuals influence is limited by the political system. Therefore a business must not do politics, but make politicians work for the business. Commerce tax is after expenses, Individuals before expenses. Therefore businesses must transfer most of the financial risks to the organization, rather than to the individual making the risky decisions.
I see something estranged in these assertions from the original intent of commerce.
In the question whether a business should outlast its time, its founders, and the peak where it was providing the best to the community, we may need to go back to commerce foundations. Not long ago businesses only survived their founders via their progeny, a trade was passed on from parent to children, and it only was as big as the effort the individuals families put into it. The collection of small businesses, was a natural extension of the families in the community, closely interconnected and very human.
The need to let a business grow beyond its natural cycle was protected by the concept of property and inheritance (after Locke). So for individuals Kingdoms and Dynasties where thought to be a repression of the natural born free man, and viewed as sub optimal in politics, and eventually replaced by a Republic (largely). But the concept of a growing monopoly and control of an everlasting corporation, passing from generation to generation, was to be encouraged in commerce.
Today’s case is about dilution of the individual, you are not William Carpenter (or William the Carpenter “the trade”) you are William Manager of something at Ebay. Your trade and title finish when your relationship to the business finishes, different that in the old days where your trade was yours at any place to carry over with you, and able to be transferred to your children. The individuality is leased to businesses in the form of employment, not technically a form slavery like in Kingdoms, but not free enough to carry business under your name.
In a way, dilution of the individual allowed corporation more freedom of action, and the question of whether they should outlast their times was not a question to society anymore. Now business is between organizations, where lawyers are more necessary than honor, and where sending a message of growth to the market is more important than what that growth means to the community. The natural extension of a community of families trading their goods and services, spiraled into one or two families acquiring a divine right to rule outside a moral code, individual politics, and disguised in an agency veil. The balance between individual interest that indirectly ends serving the community as a whole (core of good commerce), and organised community efforts that serves everybody but nobody in particular, has been lost. Replaced by a stolen sense of individuality, and where commerce instead of being the means to improvement, becomes a purpose in itself.
Complex problems not necessarily require complex solutions.
I would say one of Technology most promising application is one where we revert to preserve the individual from the dilution in a corporation, and back to a trade based commerce where individuals are the paramount of exchanges of different services, and goods. Not looking to outlast its time, but allowing for a natural business cycle as a whole. A new interconnected network of small business that is global one, where honor, ethics and frugality can come back to the picture. Technology will be required to clean wrong technology. Individuals will be required to clean wrong systems, and be themselves again.