One of the developing themes of business early in this 21st Century is being purpose-driven – aligning thoughts, leadership, product design, personnel, and internal processes to a single, straightforward purpose (beyond the scope of commerce) is nothing short of incredible.
Though the idea is not necessarily new; it has finally begun to build significant momentum in the global business community as social enterprises garner more spotlight and funding/revenue. While the purpose should be larger in scope than a single business or group of people, keeping things simple is always a good idea.
TOMS shoes was started on the premise of putting shoes on the feet of needy people around the world. Their “One for one” ™ tagline promises that every purchased pair will be matched by a donated pair. This resonated with so many people that sales went from $0.00 to $100M in less than 6 years.
In 2009 while hiking in Arizona with a cheap metal water bottle that got hot in the sun, Sarah Kauss set out to find a water bottle that she liked, kept drinks cold, and could help her save the planet from millions of plastic bottles thrown away every day. She didn’t find one she liked, so she made one. S’well Bottles has sold 4 million units in just over 5 years and is just catching stride.
Both attribute their growth to having a simple purpose that connects with people’s passions and turns customers into very loud advocates.
As powerful as purpose is (I assure you it is), it is amazingly simple and resistant to shortcuts. Purpose cannot be manufactured, manipulated, or coerced into place. It must be discovered, uncovered, and carefully exposed in order to preserve its authenticity.
Think of it like an archaeological dig. The only way to find the remnants and artifacts is by methodically using delicate tools by hand. It is a slow process, but it is the only way to preserve clues as to how ancient civilizations lived and thrived.
The journey to uncover purpose is mostly internal and reflective. While it might represent a long span of time, a great deal can be done with as little as 15-30 minutes daily. The most crucial step is getting started; the rest is simply about being dedicated to exploring and refining to reach ever-increasing clarity.
One of the easiest ways to uncover your purpose is through writing. Dedicate a notebook (I prefer composition style books) to capturing ideas and thoughts on a daily basis. I find writing uses multiple parts of our brains and has a not-so-subtle power of bringing something from our thoughts into the physical world.
Here are a handful of questions to serve as starters for journey. Find a quiet spot where you won’t be distracted (again only 15-30 min), and simply write what comes to mind. It doesn’t have to be profound. It actually wont be profound (not right away). Practice finding and selecting the ‘mute’ button on the voice of your inner critic. I find early in morning or late at night to be ideal times.
Start closest to home, with yourself.
- What excites, inspires, or energizes you?
- When do you feel most connected to something, or ‘in the zone’?
- What activities to I feel most comfortable or at my best?
- What do you value and/or appreciate?
- What sort of reputation do you want (how do you want to be known)?
As you get used to this sort of thinking, shift perspective into that of an organization or business.
- Why should we exist? (ONLY wrong answer is related to; ‘to make money’)
- What unique value can we deliver consistently (better than already exists)?
- What might attract/unify 1000, 100,000, 1Million people?
Then start thinking like a customer or from their perspective.
- What do I really want to purchase? What do I wish existed?
- What disappoints me about existing opportunities?
- How would it make me feel to purchase it (think through the process of discovering and buying)?
Your initial answers will be mostly superficial. If you ask yourself each question for 3 days in a row, you will start to see and feel a change in answers by the time you get to the end. Uncovering your purpose is an iterative process – where each time you work through the process, you uncover more of it and gain better understanding from the new perspective.
You’ll quickly notice yourself thinking about this while doing other mindless tasks (folding laundry, yard work, driving to work). Always keep your notebook close at hand in order to capture moments of genius that come to you! The truly remarkable answers seem to come about the 4th or 5th time you work through the questions. Here, you will build confidence in your purpose while simultaneously discovering deeper nuances.
Your purpose, and that of the communities you create, will be profound only in its simplicity. It is this sense of purpose that serves as a conduit for connections to others. The more clarity you have in it, the easier it is to connect and for people to connect to you.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have discovered my purpose over 20 years ago. It was as clumsy as my words were back then, but I knew I wanted to help people and businesses excel. Today my purpose reads …
Engaging people. Building value. Growing business.