Notwithstanding Black Friday, where Americans showcase their ugly consumerist tendencies, the long Thanksgiving weekend is an important time for me to disconnect from the grid and assess the future.
Putting aside personal concerns about the economy, I believe we’re entering an important period of business cleansing and rebalancing. There’s too much clutter, waste and distrust. Now, more than ever, it’s important to focus on fundamentals, especially deeper purpose. What is your business existence really all about? Value and meaning are not only longed for — they’re now necessary to compete and win in the marketplace.
In a recent blog post at Harvard Business Review, Umair Haque, a strategist at the Havas Media Lab, underscored this mandate for businesses in the 21st century. Appropriately citing lessons from Barack Obama‘s presidential campaign, Haque began by noting the need to minimize strategy: “Obama’s campaign dispensed almost entirely with strategy in its most naÃ¯ve sense: strategy as gamesmanship or positioning. They didn’t waste resources trying to dominate the news cycle, game the system, strong-arm the party, or out-triangulate competitors’ positions. Rather, Obama’s campaign took a scalpel to strategy – because they realized that strategy, too often, kills a deeply-lived sense of purpose, destroys credibility, and corrupts meaning.”
Then Haque’s emphasis on maximizing purpose: “Change the game? That’s 20th century thinking at its finest – and narrowest. The 21st century is about changing the world. What does ‘yes we can’ really mean? Obama’s goal wasn’t simply to win an election, garner votes, or run a great campaign. It was larger and more urgent: to change the world…And to do that, you must strive to change the world radically for the better – and always believe that yes, you can. You must maximize, stretch, and utterly explode your sense of purpose.”
I don’t believe we’re entering a post-strategic era, or that strategy is the opposite of purpose. However, far too many business leaders have lost sense of what their purpose is. They’re ships without a compass that points anywhere beyond profit. Their crewmembers typically can’t articulate what they’re doing, nor why others should join. It’s especially evident amidst the largest companies, many of which have become giant, self-absorbed and calculating machines. Think about the U.S. auto, finance and airline industries. Consider the advertising industry!
The good news is that purpose increasingly represents fundamental opportunity and advantage. Having purpose means knowing one’s self, as well as solving real customer problems. Maximizing purpose makes it easier for relevant customers to affiliate with you and develop preference. Purpose is what makes success possible.
What’s your purpose?
(The above also was my latest MediaPost column.)