Purpose goes mainstream…

There is a certain interesting buzz in the air.

Maybe it is more than a buzz – maybe it is a fundamental shift..

It started out some years back as just a murmur or a slight rumbling from the initiated. But lately is has slowly risen in volume and my prediction is that before too long it will have gathered further momentum to become an unavoidable roar.

The shift is the call for ‘Purpose’

In a world with limited natural resources, huge inequality, and financial scandals galore, it is no longer comme il faut to do stuff just for money. That applies not just to companies that produce goods and services but is increasingly demanded by individuals as well – a job is no longer just for the money.

A new generation is emerging (see the generation M manifesto). They demand that we do stuff for a reason and it better be a good one – and just in case you are in doubt money is an outcome not a purpose.

The first time this was brought to my attention was 4 years a go sitting on a tree stump in the Rocky Mountains with my friend Lothar Friis. We were having a profound talk about life, business, gigs and all that. And Lothar said “you know in the end it all boils down to one thing: Purpose. If you have a clear purpose you will almost always bee successful in what you do.” That chat stayed with me rumbling around in my subconscious and I started becoming more aware of purpose as a concept.

The next time I noticed purpose was reading Fred Kofmans book Conscious Business.

A conscious business seeks to promote the intelligent pursuit of happiness in all its stakeholders. It produces sustainable, exceptional performance through the solidarity of its community and the dignity of each member.

In the book he says: “People do not consider Business an area to demonstrate their values .. Why not?”. Kofman asks you to think about a person you admire. Why do you admire that person? List the traits on a pice of paper (try it now by the way) What are the values on that list – probably words like integrity, honesty, caring, love, selfishness, you go on… Is that how business and work relations are run – probably not in most cases. Why not ?

He has a point why can’t we run our business with the same set of values that we would like to see in our local community. Well, five year ago you would be told that that is not the best way to maximize profits, but now it seem it just may turnout to be the only way to maximize profits – read on.

Then I read Peter Block’sThe answer to how is Yes” This opened my eyes to the need to ask ‘why’ before we ask ‘how’. The penny dropped. When we ask ‘Why’ we are looking at purpose (If you have not read it please do – it is a very important book.)

“We too often ask “How?” which focuses too closely on the practical way of getting something done and is actually a subconscious expression of society’s emphasis on control of people, time, and cost. Instead, our concentration should be focused on “Why?”. In other words, we need to pay attention to what really matters to us personally, from heart-felt commitments in our private lives to the creation of projects in the workplace. To be able to act on what matters, explains Block, we must reclaim specific qualities, such as intimacy and idealism. Then we can tackle purposeful work as if we were social architects seeking engagement and change.” (Amazon.com)

In 2006 Nikos Mourkogiannis published the book ‘Purpose – the starting point of great companies’ – a book that according to himself influenced John Mackey in his thinking and contributed to the creation of a new ‘movement’ called Conscious Capitalism that now holds thoughtful, exclusive by-invitation-only gatherings (Introduction to Conscious Capitalism).


In 2007 the book Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose is published – a book that was later adopted as the foundation for The Conscious Capitalism Institute (CCI)

Conscious Capitalism is defined to have three elements; that companies should have a purpose transcending profit maximization, are managed for the benefit of all stakeholders and led by evolved, conscious servant leaders.”

By and by purpose has come out of the shadows of idealism and is going mainstream – obviously the financial meltdown of 2007/2008 has help this thinking a lot and contributed to more people have asking the crucial question: Why do we do what we do?

At TED 2010 Simon Sinek presented his ‘Golden Circle’ and showed that the way to the consumers heart starts with ‘why’ and not ‘how’.- Not as new a concept as he would like us to think but he deliveries the message in a very elegant and convincing way. Sinek has also written a great book on this called ‘Start With WHY’ that I can highly recommend.


Then this spring Umair Haque made the case on his Harvard Business Review blog that doing good is not just good per see – it is just better business. The better Business Manifesto and Why Betterness Is Good Business

Clayton M. Christensen,
the Author of The Innovators Dilemma, (also on a HBR blog) then shows us all how important purpose is on a personal level. How Will You Measure Your Life?

Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people. This is my final recommendation: Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success

And finally this summer Dave Ulrich – not exactly a tree hugger – is out with a new book: The why of Work. Arguing in essence that if your employees don’t understand what you greater purpose is and how they can contribute to that they will be less motivated.

This morning in Fast Company we can read : Alex Bogusky Tells All: He Left the World’s Hottest Agency to Find His Soul

“Alex Bogusky, advertising Dadaist, postmodern media manipulator, pop-culture Houdini, daddy of 21st-century advertising, and now a seeker of meaning on the dirt path of life “ .. “ I guess I just don’t aspire to corporate legacy. I’m convinced that the greatness that matters more is the greatness people achieve through helping each other, through collaborating, more than the greatness that’s achieved by grabbing all you can or getting all you can or building all you can”

If you haven’t heard the cry for purpose – you are not listening – and very soon your customers (and your potential employees) are going to be asking you: “What is your purpose by the way?”. And if you don’t have a compelling answer, they will find someone else who does…


  1. […] Vi oplevede hvor sundt det er for et team virkelig at have tid til at n? hele vejen rundt, f?r den fragmenterede hverdag for alvor g?r l?s igen. Vi brugte V-modellen for f?rst at dykke ned i sp?rgsm?let om hvorfor, f?r vi snakker om hvordan. Vi skal have et helt klart form?l med det, vi g?r – og at alle ved, hvordan de kan bidrage til at n? det f?lles m?l. Purpose er vores kick-off til enhver plan, vi iv?rks?tter her fra GROW. L?s mere om princippet om purpose her. […]

  2. […] Vi oplevede hvor sundt det er for et team virkelig at have tid til at nå hele vejen rundt, før den fragmenterede hverdag for alvor går løs igen. Vi brugte V-modellen for først at dykke ned i spørgsmålet om hvorfor, før vi snakker om hvordan. Vi skal have et helt klart formål med det, vi gør – og at alle ved, hvordan de kan bidrage til at nå det fælles mål. Purpose er vores kick-off til enhver plan, vi iværksætter her fra GROW. Læs mere om princippet om purpose her. […]