The topic of Purpose has become one with increasing salience in the world of business. You can read about it in Forbes, HBR, Inc. and Fast Company. But it appears that the mainstream business press hasn’t really taken on the subject with much depth.
If you know Simon Sinek, you are familiar with his concept from “Start with Why”. He describes simply the role of Purpose in business: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” It’s a useful start to the conversation.
Purpose can be an abstract topic, so it’s important to clarify terms.
Our purpose is our reason for being. The pursuit of one’s purpose is about the desire to make meaning and achieve fulfillment; to live a life that fully realizes our talents and to look back upon our life’s work with satisfaction. It is sometimes described as our vocation, that space that lies at the intersection of the realization of our greatest talents and what the world needs most from us.
Every individual has the potential to discover and pursue their purpose. One of the best people I know and talk to on this topic is Sean Howard . He experienced his own difficult journey to discover his purpose. He dropped out of the marketing agency rat race and now pursues his passion for art photography while helping others seek and find their own purposes. In a recent conversation over drinks (which often feel like sitting with a sage) he asked me important questions, less about my business, more about my self. What feeds my creative soul? I came away realizing that without being clear and centred in my personal purpose, I wasn’t much use to my team and the business we are building. Seekers can check out his book and his podcast, Taking the Leap.
While a clarity of purpose (with luck and hard work) exists within us as individuals, it also can combine and connect us within purpose driven teams and organizations. I’m not only referring to social enterprises or social purpose businesses, not only those who incorporated as B Corps, and not only those that have a specifically social, public or environmental good objective. All organizations should have a purpose.
This is a conversation that The Moment co-founders Greg, Daniel and I have been having ever since we began in 2011. We felt called to change the world while building a business around our passion for collaborative innovation design tools, methods and process.
Today, The Moment’s purpose is to help organizations build the capabilities to design better services, business models and products that positively impact people’s lives.
We believe that the tools of human-centred design, systems thinking and collaborative work will transform organizations and make life better for the people those organizations serve and the people who work within them.
While pursuing this work, we also help leaders and teams connect with their own purpose, their own why, and help them keep that purpose front of mind while they follow their unique and personal journey through the world of innovation.
When we at The Moment think about our organizational and team purposes, we are inspired by another good friend, Mark Raheja and his cofounders at August, formerly of Undercurrent. For August and other organizations at the leading edge of the future of work, models such as Holacracy are employed that use purpose as a central organizing principle of governance at all levels of the organization in a way that is regularly adapted to changing conditions.
Among the things that purpose driven teams need to devote ongoing care and attention to is how they negotiate and articulate purpose for themselves while connecting their team purpose up to the organization level and down to that of the individual players. Crafting purpose statements becomes a core practice, something that demands time and attention, but is rewarded with clarity and motivation from everyone on the team.
At The Moment, purpose connects our talent to our customers and back again. Our customers are intrapreneurs and change agents. Our team is made of the kinds of thoughtful creative people our customers love to work with.
Living and breathing our purpose beyond some words on our website connects to other practices and simple rules we live by, including:
- We welcome the whole person at work
- Nobody works alone
- We don’t have managers, we have coaches
- When we have tensions, we address them directly and work through them
We know that our focus on purpose presents us with decisions that other firms wouldn’t ever worry about. We wouldn’t hire anyone that isn’t aligned with our purpose and our core values. We’ve had to say goodbye to clients when their goals started to diverge from our purpose or go against those values. We approach our growth with careful deliberation as opposed to wild abandon.
In the end, we believe that purpose will win. At the end of our journey together we will look back and feel pride and satisfaction that we created something special, a business that fed the source of our creativity and created unique value in the world.
About the Author
This article was written by Mark Kuznicki, co-founder and Innovation Designer, The Moment. Strategist, advisor and change-maker focused on making the world better for people.