We Need to Redefine Business Purpose

We Need to Redefine Business Purpose

Huffington Post, July 2015


It sounds easy. The dictionary defines something “purposeful” simply as “full of meaning.” Yet, expressing an organization’s purpose, as popular as that seems to be today, is in reality not that simple. There are so many things we see as having meaning that maybe we can’t define the most important one. Or maybe because we have never tried to define it in the hopes that it would just come to us suddenly.

Is purpose about corporate responsibility? Well….yes and no. We want our planet and communities to endure and thrive, but that cannot happen if the economic ecosystem is not thriving.

Is purpose about doing good in the world? Well…yes and no. We may not all share the same definition of what it means to do good, but most of us want to feel that our work makes a difference.

Is purpose about uniformity and consistency? Well…yes and no. We’re most effective as organizations when our values, goals, and strategies align. But, diverse perspectives have proven to help us innovate, excel, and become more creative.

One thing we can be sure about: purpose can be powerful, palatable, and even tangible if we understand its true meaning on a multitude of levels – individual, collective, systemic – and how to activate it in a unified manner. I attended my first Aspen Ideas Festival two weeks ago. The country’s most powerful thinkers descended upon picturesque mountains for nearly a week of deep conversations around our country’s seemingly insurmountable problems–racial inequality, the decline of the American Dream, and our failing education system–and how to apply our personal and professional resources to solve them. Yet, while the chasms only seem to get more pronounced, the undercurrent of the conversation remained optimistic–believing that we could resolve these issues if we shifted the pieces in this massive puzzle. After four days on the mountain, I came away with the following ideas around the meaning of purpose:

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