I asked this question to a seasoned businessperson the other day, "How do you define business?"
His answer wasn't exactly what I had expected.
For him, business is defined as "cashing the cheque" that was given as payment for an activity that had been agreed upon with someone(s). Business in his mind was not defined by what was being done or how, but by the actual transfer of money from one person to another. It was that simple in his mind.
Some clarification was needed on his part because it just didn't sit well with me that there seemed to be little consideration given to what and how something was being done for that "cheque".
It was then pointed out that there was up front consideration to what he would (and wouldn't) do based on legal, moral, ethical or personal reasons, but in theory it could be wide open as to what activities were part of this definition, and that was an individual decision. In his mind it wasn't about what you did that defined business but it was about the transfer of money. We didn't discuss the definition of money but I suspect that if "chickens" were the agreed upon currency, his definition would be satisfied.
Putting aside the opportunity for endless discussions on ethics, morality, legality, good or bad, there is something simple, clean, and direct about his definition. The more I thought about it, the more I began to believe he was spot on, and I did like the elegance of its simplicity. If we agree the goal in business is to make money, then everything else is just activity — If your activity results in a cheque that you can cash then it's business; if it doesn't, then it's just activity (or an expensive hobby).
In the end the goal of business is to make money, make more money, and make it faster. Underlying this I suppose is all that sales, marketing, finance, operations, human resources, regulatory interpretation, et cetera that goes on each and every day. Cashing that cheque is a reminder to do it better, faster and more innovatively because that's how you stay in business.
Coincidently, a couple of days later I ran into another seasoned businessperson who defined business as "an enterprise or endeavour designed to create value for stake holders, or something like that".
If anything, I was reminded that people look at things differently so you need to stay sharp!