The rocket fuel of purpose

Recently I wrote about the 3 problems of purpose. It is thus only fair that I also offer a few words on how a deep-felt purpose can serve as rocket fuel for your business.

Lets start by taking a step back:

More often than not you know what and your company does and how to do it will. You might experts, market leaders within your field even. And by focusing on what you do – your core – you’re able to make it incrementally better, more powerful and/or valuable on a consistent basis.

But what happens when you have done everything you can, and your product is perfect (if such a state ever exists, but I am sure you get my point)? What then? What’s next?

This is where a deep felt purpose can come in handy for your business:

If you look at what you’re trying to achieve, the change you’re trying to foster rather than the products and services you deliver per se, then you can define a purpose that could effectively serve as a kickstarter for your ‘next big thing’.

Everybody who has ever had to come up with something new knows that the worst thing is the blank sheet of paper – it can be so daunting to start working and actually get something down, you can start working on.

With a solid deep-felt purpose you don’t have a blank sheet of paper anymore. You have a context; something to set your creative juices flowing. Something to get your ideas started and start thinking in new and/or complimentary products and services.

Because you have a deep-felt sense of what it is you’re trying to affect and the impact you could potentially have, if you succeed. And that is potentially rocket fuel for any venture.

But of course you need to have a legitimate deep-felt purpose. A fake or forlorn one won’t work.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The 3 problems with ‘purpose’

There are three problems with purpose.

The first problem is that a lot of companies really don’t have a big interesting purpose aside from making a profit no matter how hard they might go looking for it (which is absolutely fine in itself).

You can put a lot of standard webshops into this bucket. None mentioned, none forgotten.

If you own or are employed at a standard run-of-the-mill company, by all means don’t spend a lot of time and energy on finding a purpose that is going to be and feel forlorn anyway.

Focus on your core; profit and growth. And be totally fine with that.

If you are in a company which actually do have a purpose, do spend the time getting it right and use it to build your company culture, attract the right talent, delight customers etc.

You and your company will be all the better for it, I’m sure.

If it works.

And this brings me to the second problem with purpose; when things go south.

As big an enabler a clear and strong purpose can be, as big a bummer it can be, if you’re not aligned about it, and if people start breaking ranks focusing instead on other things.

Because just as a great purpose can unite, a forlorn purpose that is not truly shared can drive apart. And ultimate failure can follow.

That basically leaves you with the last reason why purpose can be a problem:

The excuse.

When things go south you can try to seek cloud cover behind your purpose; that at least you tried to make a dent in the universe or whatever lofty purpose you have formulated for yourself.

You use the purpose to convince yourself that everything has not been in vain. That there was a reason for everything, where in reality it is most likely BS.

So all in all: Think about whether purpose is something you should be spending time on. If you decide it is, make sure it’s for all the right reasons, and that you can justify doing so any day of the week to people who are sceptic about it.

That’s usually a pretty good test of the strength of your purpose anyway.

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Theory vs reality

Theory is NOT always reality.

Case in point:

A politician might think that incentivizing public employees through rating and a cash bonus is a great idea and will lead to better outcomes for all; not least those who are at the receiving end of the service and says thanks by providing a top rating.

But a public employee knows from experience that such a system will create a stampede towards the citizens who are nice, no hassle and provide the better ratings leading to the higher rewards, while those in need who may be cross, downright angry, unable to rate or just provides a poor rating will risk being left behind. Because in a rewards driven system no one (or at least very, very few) wants to pay the price of caring without getting the reward.

Right there is the difference between theory – or ideology of any sort – and reality.

For that very same reason it is super important not to be stuck in an ivory tower thinking you can outsmart reality.

You can’t. Your great ideas will most likely fail. It goes for ideology and politics, and it goes for business and startups as well.

But you can navigate reality. But it takes respect for reality. And that is achieved by immersing yourself in it and get your hands dirty, before you try to figure everything out.

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The future of work, postponed

Flextribe, a Danish recruitment startup, wants to connect freelancers with deep subject matter expertise, who doesn’t necessarily want a full time position, with corporations who need said expertise but can struggle in attracting the necessary talent for the before mentioned reason; they don’t want to be employed.

Simple. But the Future of Work?

I am not so sure.

I mean, I like the concept. I really do. I see it very much as a flexible but quite focused low-touch agency; you put up your profile yourself, define your your hourly rates, and then you basically bet that there will either be interesting assignments up for grabs or that some potential client contacts you through the platform, and sweet music arises from the interaction.

If the solution can help the individual consultant sell his or her services, I am all for it. Having been a consultant myself, the constant need to sell your next project and basically make a living from it can be extremely stressful.

But is it the Future of Work?

I still doubt it.

First of all, I don’t think it’s for everybody to be a freelancer. It can sound so nice, easy and flexible, but in reality it is super hard work, and many people are just not cut out from it.

And at the same time I am on the fence about creating a model based on ‘the best of the best’.

Two questions immediately come to mind: One, how do you really vet it, so your promise to your clients holds true. And two – and most importantly – who are going to make the purchase decision?

The last thing is key. Because let’s look at a couple of archetypes that we normally find in corporations, and who are perhaps more skilled than most:

There are the ones who have the skills and experience and wants to achieve things by doing the right things that can really move the organization forward. Those are the ones who start out with huge ambition, gets disillusioned by corporate BS and end up leaving to join something like Flextribe instead.

And then there are the ones who have the skills and experience but more than anything else wants to climb the corporate ladder – fast. These are the ones who will most often be in a middle management position and thus buying the services of Flextribe.

Now it becomes interesting.

Will this latter group be inclined to buy into a value proposition claiming that all the best people are outside your organization? Which camp does this put this career ambitious middle manager in? The next best group, or what?

If that career minded person has already climbed the ladder a bit, he will know that the last thing he wants to do is to look stupid or out of his depth. He can choose to be brave, hire freelancers to help him accomplish the KPIs he himself has promised to deliver to upper management. Or he can choose to try to find some way of wiggling himself out of it using some typical corporate bureaucracy related excuse.

Most often he will chose the latter, as it is the least risky part. And talking himself out of potential trouble by framing the conversation to suit his own agenda is a key skill anyway for really skillful corporate climbers.

So what are we left with if this is the new Future of Work?

First of all an abundance of freelancers where ultimately it will be hard to find the best fit for the projects that will no doubt be there and require assistance. The opportunity for overpromising and underdelivering for these freelancers is huge.

Second, you will have corporations that will potentially be even more void of the required talent and expertise, and where more time will be spent reframing the conversation and casting blame rather than actually ensure that big, important projects gets decided, funded and done.

Of course this is not going to be sustainable and at some point there will be a backlash, and we will find a better way, aka the Future of Work, which is based on our experience of how not to go about organizing these things.

I am just not confident we have reached that point yet.

But I wish Flextribe and all other services like it the best of success in their endeavors.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Passion versus perspective

When you’re passionate about something, it is very easy to let passion get the better of you and lose the grander perspective on things.

That’s the trouble with passion; it has a capacity to leave you blind-sighted during the very times when you need perspective the most. You focus too much on the here and now rather on what could come next.

But on the other hand passion is also a huge source of energy.

Not only when things go well, and you feel like you can just keep on going because you’re on a quest.

But also when things are falling off the rails, because that’s when you use the energy of your passion to grind your teeth, keep on going and figure out what to do next.

But it still takes an ability to keep your eyes and – most especially – your mind open to the perspective.

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A new financial virus?

I am fascinated by the whole Gamestop/Reddit debacle.

Personally, I am no big fan of hedge funds, and I don’t mind if they are taken to the cleaners and have some of their own methods and ways of thinking reversed onto themselves.

What concerns me is the blueprint sitting beneath this.

Because now we seem to have one;

Now we know you can organize the masses stoked on free money from stimulus packages and non-existing interest rates using free software tools and take on big financial institutions and potentially win. Maybe not a complete victory but more than enough to make the big players feel severe pain.

I am thinking about who and/or what is next?

I have this creepy feeling of deja vu back to little over a year ago, when the first reports of an unknown virus caused a new kind of pneumonia in some remote place in China, most of us had never heard about.

This too could spread. And what are we potentially looking at then?

I don’t think the masses are going to stand back. They are on a high right now having just won and looking for the next prize. That’s the mechanics of gambling; keep going – until you have lost it all again.

If regulators are being pushed to increase regulatory oversigt, it shouldn’t be to save big financial institutions.

It should be to protect us from (unintended) ripple effects.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Can you hear the roar?

The anticipation of a repeat of the ‘Roaring 20s’ is growing, as people are starting to see light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel.

However, I think two things are worth noting in this context; who will benefit – and what could follow?

To pick up on the last point first, let’s all remember what happened after the roaring 20s the last time around.

That’s right. Fascism!

Of course there were numerous factors in play not least in Germany with hyperinflation caused by overly massive war reparation payments to the allies. But still. The 20s was not ‘roaring’ for everybody; millions got left behind, and that created a fertile ground for demagogues with terrible ideas.

And that brings me to the second point: Who will it benefit?

I think it’s pretty clear by now that we’re super busy creating a broken society where few have all the money and all the perks, and the vast majority are being left behind through various means. Could be lack of access to education, poor healthcare, poorly paid jobs in ‘the gig economy’; the list seems rather endless.

What that have so far created is a huge ton of friction, which reached a recent climax in the January 6 riots at the US Capitol in Washington DC.

Because let’s be clear: A lot of what was at display that day was rooted in a toxic mix of

  • poor or lacking opportunities in society,
  • incitement amplified by Big Tech and
  • old fashioned demagoguery.

This is also part of the level playing field, we’re looking at when discussing the coming of the new ‘roaring 20s’. It’s a messy thing and by no means all sunshine and opportunity out there.

What does it matter if Peloton is hyped for it’s home fitness portfolio of great products, if few people can afford the investment or ongoing financial commitment in the equipment?

What does yet another streaming service mean, if people are struggling to put food on their tables and thus have no disposable income left for entertainment (other than maxing out yet another credit card – if they can get one).

What does it say when Wolt, a meal delivery service that relies on the working poor as ‘delivery partners’ raises 530M USD to expand their IMHO toxic business model to new geographies and verticals?

If we want the 2020s to roar for real, we need to come up with a better plan.

That could start with figuring out how we can use our skillsets, expertise and our funding to pursue closing the gap between high and low by providing new opportunities that leave people better off and thus fend off the bill to be paid, when the music – or in this case: the roaring – stops.

That is where the real sustainable opportunity is.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Muscle is not enough

Ever since I spent a week at a business modelling bootcamp together with – among others – a couple of quite secretive NSA employees, I have been fascinated by lean innovation within the military.

Why? Because I can’t think of a much bigger – pardon me – clash of philosophies; one is nimble, lean and mean, the other is cumbersome, big, complex and – ok – mean too (albeit in a very different way).

For that reason it is also worth reading Lean Startup guru Steve Blanks reflections on lessons for the new administration on technology, innovation and modern war. It is a fascinating read of two ‘worlds’ colliding but still trying to find a common path forward.

The most jaw dropping nugget for me was the fact that US military has for decades relied on being at the front of tech innovation to an extend that as they developed new technologies, they could also work on countermeasures and thus play both sides at the same time; offence and defence.

That ability has been lost as more and more innovation has moved to the private sector. And it has profound consequences in more aspects than one.

Not only does it say a lot about the US potential to come out of a potential future conflict as the victor. It is no longer guaranteed, although I would still think the US has the upper hand.

It also says a lot about the interconnectivity between government, private enterprise and innovation. That one relies on the other and no chain is stronger than the weakest link. It seems like a lot of new uncertainties have arisen that we now all have to be aware of and deal with.

But the most important point I think is the notion that you can really do more with less. It is no longer the biggest budgets that determines who will prevail. Everybody has a – so to say – fighting – chance, and to some extend it’s more a matter of creativity, skill and ingenuity than brute force.

It can be frightening for sure. But outside the realm of defence it should also serve as a huge inspiration to all those with smaller budgets, less ressources and objectively less muscle:

There is a chance you might come out on top even if the odds and conventional wisdom are stacked against you.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)