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.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Blind purpose

Purpose is a great thing.

Until it kills you and/or your business.

I was reminded of this on LinkedIn when I read a holiday greeting from a former colleague in my feed. He works in a very troubled industry, have had a super challenging year but was none the less grateful to be working on something with great purpose.

It’s all very well. But the trend line is still pointing one way. Down.

If you are working to serve a higher purpose, your biggest obligation as an executive or any sort of employee with just a minimum of clout should be to ensure that you can keep doing what you’re doing – fulfilling your purpose.

If that takes a change in business model, fine. It that takes change(s) to the product(s), fine. If that changes working hard on developing your mental model and understanding what it is that enables you to ultimately do, what you are out to do, fine.

But, for the love of God, don’t just lean back and reflect on your purpose, while the house is on fire.

If you do, it will end up killing you.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Circle kind of complete

One of the things, others can never take away from you is your past experience(s).

They are completely yours. Yours to cherish. Yours to curse. Yours to learn from. Yours to channel into something new.

I have often wondered why things happen. Why do you meet the people, you do? Why do you get the job offers you do? Why do you end up with the career, you do? Is it all part of a plan or does it just happen.

I am mostly in the latter camp. There is no connection between what I imagined myself doing 25 years ago and what I ended up doing and the places I went to work.

Until now.

Because as I am working hard to build a strong set of foundations for our new medtech startup, some of my past experiences are coming back into play. Experiences I didn’t know what I could use for back then, but where it has become blatantly obvious, how I can bring them to bear now.

I am not a big believer in anything except what I can see, hear, feel, taste and smell. But to the extend there is something more out there, I am enclined to say that right about now it is starting to dawn on me, why I did the things I did during my career;

Why I spent time working for the Danish Diabetes Foundation as my very first job fresh out of journalism school.

Why I spent time doing licensing and R&D deals for Microsoft Business Solutions.

Why I spent time in business management at Microsoft.

Why I spent a lot of time doing recruiting and getting both the team, roles and culture right at Berlingske Digital.

And so on. And so on.

The only thing I knew 25 years back – and before – was that one day I wanted to try to create something new that could benefit a lot of people.

Fast forward to today, and I am trying to follow up on that passion using the wealth of experiences, I gained over the years. I wouldn’t say the circle is being completed, but it sort of feels like that.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

A happy note

Yesterday, a long time acquintance sent me a direct Twitter-message that made me really happy.

In it he basically stated that it was great to observe from the sidelines the new things, I am involved in, and that to him it looked like, I had found a much better place for myself than was the case, when I was in the media industry.

Apart from agreeing 100 percent with his observation, what made me happy about it?

Basically that I am now doing what I love doing (and was perhaps meant to do all along?) in a way that is transparent and authentic to such an extend that it’s noticeable to the outside world. Not just from me telling about it but from the reflections of people-

It’s not that that is a goal in itself for me. It just reinforces my belief that I am on the right track and adds to my determination to carry on and keep pushing.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Come on, lean in!

Yesterday I went for a summer get-together in my VL network group. Over a super nice summer meal, the discussion was flowing and we got talking about some of the things that you don’t normally find yourself talking about.

One of the discussions I was a part of was a discussion about what defines the opportunities we get in our professional lives. How did we become and do the things that we have become.

After some going back and forth, we agreed that what pretty much defined us had been the ability (and to some extend also luck, I guess) to invite ourselves to the party in crucial, defining moments:

Picking up on a sudden job opportunity presented by a promotion of a boss. Writing that unsolicited application. Sending the CEO an email after a meeting asking “Do you want more of this? I can offer you it”, etc.

Had we not done that our careers had not panned out the way they did (so far). It would have been vastly different. A lot of opportunities would never have been had, including opportunities to help create something meaningful and – in retrospect – perhaps even awesome.

It got me thinking.

How many of those I meet today are inviting themselves, taking charge of the conversation, having the ability and the guts to say “This is mine. I got this!”

Preciously few. Even with the opportunity presented right there in front of them, where it’s basically up for grabs.

Why is this important?

Because it is the people who are inviting themselves – who are leaning in across the table – that you really need on the team. It is those where you have got the feeling that if they continue to do that, chances are they will be awesome in the role. They will take ownership, take charge.

Because they care and really, really want it.

You want to be around people who really, really want it. It brings out not only the best in them but also the best in you.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)