Here’s a little thought experiment, teed up by an extract from Aaron Hurst’s excellent book, The Purpose Economy:
Purpose is a verb
Like so many people, I always thought that gaining purpose in life was about finding my cause. When coaching or mentoring over the years, purpose always seemed to find expression through a noun — immigration, civil rights, education and so on. And yet this never accurately described the many people I knew who worked in jobs that had no ’cause’ but still felt a strong sense of purpose in their work, or who had found purpose working across many causes. What started to become clear to me was that defining personal purpose wasn’t about finding a noun, but instead about finding a verb — an action. It’s not only what you are doing, but how you do it and thereby relate to the world. For example, when we assemble a group of leaders in education, we think they share a purpose, but in fact, they only share a cause. Until they can understand the diversity of purpose in the room, the cause has little hope of moving forward or creating meaningful change.
The distinction between cause and purpose is a valuable one, IMHO, and one that bears closer consideration by all of us. Whether you’re an individual seeking to crystallise how and where you might find greater meaning and fulfilment in your work, or an organisation looking to better articulate your place in the world — why you do what you do, and how the world is a better place for it — it all begins with understanding that purpose is deeply personal.
In other words, purpose activation starts from within. If you want to ignite a passion for purpose among the people around you, be it colleagues or clients — if you want them to feel part of something bigger than themselves — then you sure as hell better be clear about what drives you to get out of bed in the morning and how you try to live that purpose every day through what you do and how you do it.
So to the thought experiment…
If you had to write a personal purpose statement, what would it look like? Taking a cue from Simon Sinek’s ‘golden circle’, how would you go about articulating the why, the how and the what (in that order, remember) of your purpose?
In the spirit of sharing — and deficient though it undoubtedly is, as a first stab at this — here’s how I think mine might read:
My purpose is to make it simple and desirable for business leaders to understand and act upon the power of purpose in their organizations.
Why? Because I’d like my daughter to inherit a better, more sustainable world than my generation has, and I believe that the corporation is the only institution pervasive and powerful enough to make that happen.
How? By persuading leaders with a story of hope and aspiration, not doom and gloom; by demonstrating that shared value – the reconnection of strategy and innovation to serving a higher social purpose – is actually a better way to bigger, more legitimate profit; and by illuminating that, while strategies and business models may come and go, it’s that higher purpose that endures.
What’s my contribution? Insightful, easy-to-digest thought leadership that makes the power of purpose impossible to ignore; and practical support to help organizations uncover and articulate their own enduring sense of purpose – one that grants the potential to survive and thrive over generations.