It’s never just business

How many times have you heard the phrase “it’s just business”?  It’s always intended to mean that emotions aren’t involved, and the person saying it is simply following pure logic and what makes the most sense.  When was the last time you heard it?  When was the last time it was used in a way that didn’t  hurt someone?

Here’s the thing:  It’s never just business.  Humans are physically incapable of extracting their emotions and feelings from anything they do[1].  So, why do people keep insisting on using this phrase?

In every case I’ve heard it used, the person using it has been trying to justify doing something they knew was wrong, knew was going to hurt others while benefiting themselves, but they wanted it to go forward anyway.  The benefit they were expecting was more important to them than the harm that they would be causing.

How did this come to become a lauded phrase in business?  Where did it originate?  Otto Berman, a 1930 mob accountant.  It was something of his signature phrase, for every time he was about to dish out punishment (burning down a business, breaking someone’s arm, shooting a child, etc, the whole, “I don’t want to have to do this, but you’re giving me no choice,” lie) to some poor schmuck for not paying their protection racket money.  Over the years, it started getting picked up by other unsavory people who considered themselves “businessmen”.  Eventually, some of those got wealthy enough that they wanted to make their businesses start looking respectable.  They continued using the phrase, and eventually, it started getting picked up by other actual businessmen, copying them because they appeared to be successful.

It’s just business.


So the next time you hear the phrase, “It’s just business,” think about Otto, and understand that the reason it makes you instinctively squik inside is because it’s very, very wrong.

Allow me to present a simple rule:  Are there humans involved?  If yes, it’s never “just business”.

  1. [1] Neuroscience: Decisions are emotional, not logical. 

Leave a Reply