On the surface, one may answer yes to that question and proceed to iterate the steps involved: “You melt some wax in a double boiler, mix in some fragrance, adhere the wick to the container, and pour the wax. After a period to allow the cooling of the wax, you have a candle ready for enjoyment”. The whole effort may cost you around $0.50 in raw material per candle. After doing so, bursting with pride of self-reliance, you celebrate your success. Indeed, there is great satisfaction in producing a usable product with your own hands… or did you?

If we explore the candle making process a bit deeper, we realize that our sourcing of the raw materials needed to make a candle extended only as far as aisle seven at the local craft store. The readily available, high convenience, and low-cost raw materials were brought to us by the magic of the division of labor that we all take for granted in our modern age.

The paraffin wax that we used is a byproduct of the petroleum refinement process. If we opted for the more environmentally friendly options of beeswax or soy wax, both require methods to provide it to us a usable form. Wicks don’t grow on trees – or at least not in their ready-to-use state. Turning raw plants (which also need to be sowed, raised, and reaped) into fragrant oils is an art and science in itself.

The effectiveness and efficiency through which we would create a single candle would be very poor, not to mention cost-prohibitive if we opted to go all Ralph Waldo Emerson on it and take on the full breadth of activities which modify the rawest of materials into a useful product. The illusion of self-reliance, whether it is in candle-making or developing a robust business model, soon gives way to the reality we are designed for collaboration – we need each other.

Yet, as business owners, we are tempted to expand our services or product line. If your business’ strength is in project management, you may be tempted to bring application development in-house if you discover that most of your projects involve that service. The justification is often the desire for control or gaining a more significant portion of the profit for your own business. However, the reality is that expansion into the area of less-strength incurs a lower quality product with a higher degree of overhead.

At the end of the day, a business which embraces the benefits of the division of labor is self-aware and focused on developing business relationships. A project becomes much more than a transactional or competitive engagement with the client and vendors. It becomes a collaborative experience in which everyone involved benefits well beyond the project at hand.

If a candlemaking business were required to invest entirely in the breadth of necessary processes to manufacture candles from scratch, they soon would go out of business due to inefficiency and with a great deal of initial investment debt. However, because there are those who individually excel at wax making, wick making, and fragrance making (and let us not forget those who procure the rawest of materials such as farmers), we can walk into our neighborhood craft shop, melt some wax, and claim we did it ourselves.