The Importance of Purpose

We know that purpose and meaning are far more important in the workplace now than in our parents’ working lives’ or perhaps even at the start of our own careers. For engagement and retention, for innovation and productivity, for collaboration and teamwork, purpose drives people’s behavior.

That’s why Simon Sinek’s Start With Why talk is the most watched TED talk of all time. Sasha Dichter, former Chief Innovation Officer of the Acumen Fund, and author Seth Godin articulated it beautifully in this trailer for his book, The Icarus Deception.

How do you operationalize purpose and meaning, especially across diverse populations? How do you articulate meaning and purpose in a way that’s flexible and broad enough to apply in different cultures?  How do you ensure people continue to find meaning in their workdays? These questions apply whether you’re leading a corporate team or in a non-profit, mission-driven organization.

Introducing Streams of Purpose™

The idea of Streams of Purpose™ emerged in 2017 working with a 4-man millennial leadership team in Zürich. They asked:

“Do we have a single purpose? How do we find it?”

They were familiar with Simon Sinek’s Start with Why, Why –> How –> What model, spent significant time thinking it through, and were stuck. They didn’t have one giant, altruistic goal, the elusive Why. They thought they should be able to say it in a phrase or sentence by now. They wanted to do more meaningful work that contributed to the greater good. It was causing them stress.

They wanted both to be able to say: “We use technology to X” and keep the company running with projects and clients devoted to that single statement.

To ease their angst, I suggested:

“Let’s look at your streams of revenue and your streams of purpose to see if they’re balanced…”

Before I finished the thought one of them exclaimed, “Streams of Purpose?! Yes! We never thought about multiple Streams of Purpose!”

“Isn’t it strange that we plan for multiple streams of revenue and not multiple streams of purpose?”

They moved from problem to action fast: “How do other founders do this?”  “Do you have examples?” That’s where the framework for Streams of Purpose™ was born.

6 Models for Streams of Purpose

In our first facilitated working session, I brought 5 examples of people and organizations (most involving tech) with different models for managing streams of both revenue and purpose:

One Central Mission

Esra’a Al Shafei is an acclaimed human rights activist. She sits on the board of the Wikimedia Foundation and has been lauded and honored by Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, Echoing Green, TED, Forbes, CNN, Fast Company, the BBC, Shuttleworth Foundation, the Omidyar Network, the World Economic Forum, and more. I have known Esra’a since she was a student in my University classes. I’ll never forget the moment I learned Esra’a was up to something unique. One day in Journalism class, Esra’a raised her hand and asked, “Professor, may I be excused, the BBC and Al Jazeera want to interview me…” My answer? “Yes, Esra’a, that certainly counts as Journalism credit… and what are you doing in your dormitory room that the BBC and Al Jazeera want to interview you?” Over the years, Esra’a and colleagues have created MidEastYouth.com (now Majal), MidEast Tunes, CrowdVoice.org, and supported and provided hosting for human rights organizations across the Middle East.

Esra’a has always had one clear purpose: to use technology to create space for, honor, and amplify underrepresented voices. Do you have a single foundational mission?

 

Deferred & Driving Purpose

Bill Liao is perhaps most well known for co-founding Xing, then WeForest and more recently Coder Dojo. Talk to Bill, though, and he may tell you the story of where and how he began: in tech support. Bill knew he wanted to earn enough to build an epicenter with The Hunger Project and fund his passion for permaculture. It took Bill years and founding numerous telecom & tech companies, but he was able to fulfill his dream and much, much more.

Bill started using technology to fund his passions for people & planet, then used his knowledge of building teams to scale organizations that directly serve both. How could you use current technology projects to work toward your larger goals?

 

Pillars of Purpose

Some organizations choose a few areas or pillars on which to hang their mission or purpose. This excerpt from PepsiCo’s 2014 Performance with Purpose Report shows how the organization graded itself on its four commitment areas.

Can you identify three or four areas of greatest commitment and related metrics: perhaps community building, delivering tech to underserved communities, or supporting organizations doing good by providing exceptional technology?

 

Process-Based Purpose

Long before talk of the Future of Work, Zoran Todorovic founded TNM coaching as a dispersed, virtual, voluntary, 100% remote network of diverse global professionals joining forces on a project basis to serve clients. TNMers saw 20 years ago that due to technology, globalization, demographics and culture, the world was fundamentally shifting; TNMers believe we hold in our collective hands the power to evolve and create a different world for individuals and organizations, where we recognize that we are all interconnected and here to fulfill our potential. Even more than the work TNM does for clients, the way the organization operates provides rich purpose.

Building this network and working in this way has allowed TNM to be radically flexible and future-focused, to shift and change as clients, industries, and technologies do. The way of working and organization is the highest expression of the organization’s purpose.

 

Purpose through Community

Similarly, Impact Hubs are one of the world’s largest networks of entrepreneurial communities for impact. With co-working spaces, startup support, and programs & events in over 100 hubs in over 50 countries, Impact Hubs believe in the power of community and connection to deliver transformational impact. They have provided physical space to entrepreneurs to build community focused on transformation.

Several Web pioneers have based their careers on building community-building platforms and technologies — to great effect. Caterina Fake & Stewart Butterfield co-founded Flickr, for example, in 2004 to foster community & sharing of photos. It was acquired by Yahoo! in 2005 for around US$30 million. They both have gone on to found or help build numerous community-related technologies, including Etsy and Slack.

Community is the outcome, and in some cases the internal operating system here. It’s primary. To my clients, I asked: You build large-scale apps for public clients, could you leverage the power of community or bake it into your projects and services to provide a stream of purpose? Could this be a Stream of Purpose?

 

Purpose through Platform

A decade ago, I was working with a small group in the Netherlands to plan and host an annual event that drew together some of the world’s finest young social entrepreneurs. We noticed each was working tirelessly with his or her (mostly her) own team to learn and manage fundraising, social media, management & leadership … and many of the lessons they were learning could be shared for greater ease & impact.

One day I was telling an old friend, Antonio, about it. At the time, Antonio had just moved from working in financial services to working full-time in the wine industry. We were walking down the street in Manhattan when he mused that he wasn’t making the kind of difference he wanted in the world… yet. A decade later Antonio has built a business and media platform so extensive that individual charity events raise millions of dollars. He uses that platform to benefit a range of organizations.

That’s another way to generate purpose: using platform or position for purpose. Could you employ your network or role in service of purpose?

 

For more on the insights the Zürcher millennial leadership team gained, see the project description.

For the Future

At APOGEO Group, we feel fortunate we’ve landed on a clear purpose; it was years in the making: We support global leaders to serve the greater good. We amplify, spark, and spread leaders’ work through radically custom strategy, learning, & leadership programming. We partner to actually do some of the communication work associated with leadership to ease your heavy load.

We employ a variety of tools and frameworks to help leaders and organizations clarify their purpose (and multiple Streams of Purpose™), align across whole organizations, and move forward together to serve the greater good.

What are your Streams of Purpose™? We’re committed to helping you find out.

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