This is the third in a series of blogs on purpose. In the first two blogs we talked about how to bring purpose into your business by first thinking about what you’re for, and being able to consistently state what you’re for in any given circumstance or conversation. The second conversation about purpose is about how to add purpose to all your meetings by literally declaring purposes for them. In this post we’re going to explore a third-- and possibly the most powerful-- purpose you can add to your organization: creating a purpose larger than oneself, a purpose larger than one’s business organization.
When an individual or an organization has a purpose larger than themselves, this causes a dramatic shift in view in regards to what’s important and why we do what we do.
First of all, let’s take a look at what we mean by a purpose larger than oneself or one’s organization. These are purposes that often have to do with tackling worldwide systemic problems that don’t seem to have solutions. For example, we might declare that our purpose as an organization, beyond the work that we do in the marketplace, is to end world hunger. Ending world hunger is a challenge that requires strategies, plans, capacities, and commitments that are well beyond an easy understanding of how to get it done. A purpose like this that requires more than you currently are has the impact of calling you or your organization to be more than you currently are.
How does this work? Let’s take TOMS Shoes as an example. Blake Mycoskie was a serial entrepreneur who tried his hand at all kinds of businesses-- computer businesses, IT, software companies. He was looking for way to make a company that could be built and could leverage opportunities in the marketplace. Along the way, Blake took a vacation in South America. While on this vacation, he met two women who were on a mission to give shoes, which had been donated, to children in rural and impoverished communities of that South American country. The women asked Blake if he’d like to go with them to give the shoes away. He did, and it forever changed his life.
When he was giving away the shoes, he saw children with a need that could be easily fulfilled. The children needed shoes, without which they couldn’t go to school. So by simply supplying a child with a pair of shoes, they could go to school, get educated, and better themselves.
Blake came home from that trip, and all he could think about was how to get more shoes and go back down there to give the shoes to children. Being an entrepreneur, Blake determined that the best way to get a lot of shoes was to create a business that would get him in the action making shoes. He wanted to solve the problem-- wanted to give shoes to children so that they could get an education and better themselves. So he invented a business to do that.
He invented a business of making simple shoes, with the idea in mind that if he could sell a pair and make enough money to make another pair of shoes for a child in South America, then he could create an engine by which he could generate a lot of shoes to give away. It took six months for Blake to start his business and have 90,000 pairs of shoes sold and 90,000 pairs of shoes to give away in South America.
Blake had to solve a lot of problems to do that. He had never made a pair of shoes before. He didn’t know where to make shoes, what materials to make them from, or how to create cost effective shoes that could be easily given away or transported or shipped. He didn’t know how to solve any of those problems when he started TOMS Shoes. And yet, because he had a purpose greater than himself-- seeking to give children shoes, one of the tools needed to receive an education and a better life-- Blake enabled himself to rise to the challenge and figure out what he needed to do to leverage the company in the marketplace and strive for his purpose.
The funny thing is that Blake had made gotten those shoes together and still had to figure out how to give them away. He didn’t have a big staff or team. He wasn’t building a business that was built to give away shoes. In fact what he realized was that he kind of built a business to make shoes and then he had to build philanthropic effort to go out and give away shoes. So Blake went out to everybody he knew-- all his friends, his mom, his dad, his brother, sister, everybody that was in his inner circle. He invited them to come to South America and give away shoes.
Back in South America, Blake saw the impact that giving the shoes away had upon his family, his few team members, and his friends. He saw the impact of them giving away the shoes and how much it changed them, made them feel like their life was of value and worth. That was when he decided to make TOMS into a fully organized business. In that moment he saw that he wasn’t just solving this large problem of how to get these children access to education. He actually saw and understood that the mission to give away the shoes was giving the people closest to him a purpose in life, a reason to get up everyday, a reason to go out and solve big problems, because they felt fulfilled by the purpose of doing good in the world.
Today Blake Mycoskie runs a shoe company called TOMS, and it’s worth somewhere in the neighborhood of eight hundred million dollars. They make shoes, and they give away shoes. They now do eyeglasses, too, and have created a give back of using the funds to provide eye exams, surgeries, prescription glasses, and medical treatment to people in need. It’s all built upon this premise of going out and solving a problem.
The giving has also evolved over the years from simple gifting to generating shoe based business in the developing economies it is serving and partnering with community development focused non-profits. Essentially Toms is now in the role of teaching people to fish.
TOMS has a great company culture, too. They have very, very low company turnover. People do not leave TOMS Shoes unless the opportunity they’re leaving for is something that they have a burning passion to do. They don’t have turnover for the normal conflicts and problems and issues that most companies do. In fact, if you read the book Firms of Endearment you’ll see that companies who have these larger missions have 70% less employee turnover than those that don’t.
Retention isn’t the only benefit of having a purpose greater than oneself or organization. Having a purpose changes the way we view what is important. A lot has been said about double bottom line or triple bottom line companies-- double bottom line being profit and mission or people, and triple bottom line being profit, people and environment. Much has been written about having multiple bottom lines, and there has been some effort by various companies to try to figure out how to pursue multiple bottom lines, but without a purpose that’s larger than oneself it’s really hard to figure out what’s important about that.
Is it that we need a better retirement plan? Better opportunities for people to move up in the company? Is it that we need to switch from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy? All of these things are great challenges to tackle, and something every company should be looking at, but inside the context of a mission or purposes larger than oneself or one’s organization those kinds of questions have an immediate answer. Having a purpose encourages an immediate get-out-and-do-something-about-it quality.
When Elon Musk and SpaceX look at the next twenty years of their work, their impossible promises, and their goals, it tells us a lot about their purpose. Their purpose is larger than their organization or any individual in it. They want to take people out into space, to allow them to colonize Mars and explore the beyond.
Recently, SpaceX announced their Mars Moonshot, so to speak. In this statement, they announced how they are going to get to Mars. Let’s take a minute and look at the audaciousness of what they are claiming they’re going to do to get people on Mars. They’re claiming that they’re gonna build a rocket bigger than any ever been built before. They plan to get people to sign up to go on a very long, agonizing, one-way trip to Mars and live on the surface of a planet. This plan includes building and inventing dozens of technologies that do not exist today, and doing so in a rapid manner.
Now you might say this is great, it’s fantastic, it sounds amazing. But from a traditional business point of view that’s probably not what SpaceX should be doing. SpaceX is currently in the business of making money by lifting satellites into space. They’re the first company to actually build their own rockets in 40 years, so they’ve got a competitive advantage in the marketplace. They can do this well, too. With their reusable rockets, they could be content (and profitable) to only send satellites into orbit.
From there, you can see the next logical step would be to get in the business of launching human beings into space, such as shuttling human beings to and from the international space station. Instead of focusing on these near term business goals, however, SpaceX’s larger purpose keeps them focused on making leaps in their capacity, their imagination and their ability to bring things into existence. They are literally going to leapfrog their own business that they have today in order to achieve this greater purpose. I think that’s thrilling. Businesses like that are solving unsolvable problems. That gets the human spirit engaged in ways that are infallible.
Now this could work in your personal life as well. You can declare a purpose that’s greater than yourself. You can do it around what you do in your business, or you can do it around what you do with your home life or with your children, with your children’s school, with some charity or non-profit that you’re engaged in, and you can make your whole life about that. Peter Diamandis calls this taking an impact pledge. He advises making a pledge to use your life to solve some problem in the world. When you do this, what’s important changes for you. Your minor aches and pains, your stresses and worries about your own career or money seem to get a lot smaller when you’re dealing with topics like starving children or sex trade or slavery. When you’re tackling these big problems or the suffering of the human beings involved, you become a part of something much bigger. It eclipses your own life, your own small worries. And when your own small worries diminish, fulfillment goes up, especially if you’re making progress and making an impact toward that thing that you established as your mission.
I said earlier that we’re going to take a look at how purpose causes a shift for you or your organization in determining what is important, but also how it shift’s a company’s culture. When purpose is clear, the company’s culture shifts because people know what the company does in the world; it produces positivity to know that your company is out there solving a problem, alleviating suffering, or overall creating god in the world. Like I was saying about purpose causing personal problems to disappear, some business problems disappear within it as well.
I talked earlier about how retention rates are high at TOMS. Really, what’s most noticeable, most palpable is the feeling inside that culture. When I was interviewing Blake Mycoskie at TOMS in Los Angeles, you could feel the buzz in that place. Everybody was charged up about the work they were doing. They were on a mission. And being on a mission fulfills the human heart like nothing else. You might say that it also fulfills the heart of a company.
When a company has a purpose that’s larger than any one person or larger than the organization, then the heart of that company is filled up and lit on fire. That’s the kind of company that Storyworks is championing. That’s the kind of life and culture that we believe is at the heart of what are going to be the biggest powerhouses and most competitive businesses in the world. I’m not talking about some kind of do good, feel good, hippy-dippy stuff here. I’m talking about companies that crush it financially-- that out-compete their competitors. I’m talking about companies like Zappos and Google and TOMS-- companies that go out and outpace the competition because they know that their culture and that their mission is stronger than anybody else’s.
Again, in Firms of Endearment and in the follow-up book Conscious Capitalism (both written by Raj Sisodia, with John Mackey of Whole Foods as the co-author of Conscious Capitalism), the authors talk about the financial impact of having a greater purpose. Make no mistake about it. This is a competitive advantage in the marketplace. If you want to grow your business, especially if your business is stuck in some kind of plateau; especially if you want to have exponential growth rather than incremental growth; especially if you’re in a crowded and competitive marketplace, and you’re looking for some way to differentiate yourself, you can achieve that by having a mission that is greater than your organization.
A true and authentic mission is something that you as leaders of the company care about deeply, and is something that lights your organization on fire. That’s a competitive advantage that nobody can match unless they too decide to have a purpose greater than themselves. Looking out into the future-- let’s say ten or fifteen years down the road from now-- it may be that not taking on the problems in the world or not having a purpose means that you can’t compete in the marketplace. It’s pretty clear that millennials want to know that the businesses that they buy products and services from have something at the core of their values that transcends whether or not the product or service is good. They want to vote with their dollars for companies that have good values, and soon enough, those conscientious dollars will be the driving force in the market.
Having a purpose that is larger than any individual or one’s organization is how you become a purpose driven company. In the first two posts about this topic, we talked about how to bring purpose into the business-- how to wake up this sense of the life of the business being for something, including an idea of having purpose in everything we do. But, this post is really the one where you shift gears from being a normal or traditional company and becoming a purpose driven company. When you’re approaching the gap between between just beginning to figure out what you’re for and figuring out what things excite you and your business as far as taking on challenges in the world that are outside the scope of the business, the content of those first two posts are necessary first steps.
That gap between bringing purpose into the business and becoming purpose driven (i.e. having that purpose that’s greater than any one person or one’s organization) can feel and look insurmountable. Maybe you have an idea of what kind of purpose you would like to add to your business, but you have no idea how you’re going do it. How is that going to work organizationally? Is it something where the organizations will be willing to follow along? Is it something that will really make a difference?
You have to leap over that gap. There’s no way to reduce the gap or incrementally cross it. You have to leap over it, but you don’t have to leap blindly. We’ve helped dozens of corporations make this leap either from being a company not driven by purpose to being a purpose driven company; or from being a company that has purpose but wants to scale exponentially; or from being a nonprofit, that obviously has a purpose in the world, that desires to leap to having a for profit part of their business so that they too can grow in scale and not be limited by the old structures of for-profit and nonprofit.
In closing, we’ve given you three solid steps that you can take as an individual inside of an organization or as an organization to becoming a purpose driven company.