Four types of purposeWith uncertainty comes a desire for something to believe in.  Managers are not loyal to a company, or a boss. They put their devotion and allegiance to those values they believe in and find satisfying. ‘Something to believe in’ is immune to fads, and provides hope for a future that has less clarity than most would like.

Simon Sinek bases his work on the desire to believe in something. He popularised the Golden Circle formula, propelling him to leadership guru status almost overnight. His TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” that explains how the Golden Circle works is sitting on 44.6 million views. Find your WHY (what you believe in, the reason you get up in the morning), Sinek urges businesses and leaders, and communicate that first. Then speak to the HOW and the WHAT. Most people start with the HOW or the WHAT and they allow these aspects to dominate. They miss valuable opportunities to reach others in a place that instinctively matters to them.

A reason to get up in the morning matters to humans. We strive to make sense of the world around us, and to attach meaning to it. A sense of purpose purpose anchors our efforts and focuses them, it gives significance to our collections of daily actions and entertainments as the months and years slip past us. In a changeable age, discovery and ‘ventilation’ of a purpose is a way of taking a measure of control over chaotic conditions. We trade the position of ‘disrupted’ for that of intentional ‘designer’ of our lives.

Finding the purpose and ventilating it is equally vital to enduring business success, says Nikos Mourkogiannis. Purpose is valuable in organisations as it makes employees feel that their work is worthwhile. Purpose keeps driving the company forward in times that are taxing and complex, providing a clear reference point to inform, guide and direct decision and action, and justifying the risks associated with innovation and the longer term payoffs. Purpose maintains energy levels. When a company loses energy, its most often down to a lack of purpose. The sum of all these parts combines precisely into competitive advantage. Not all companies have a purpose, assures Mourkogiannis, but the enduringly successful ones do.

In order for purpose to motivate and drive, it must have a moral dimension. Mourkogiannis puts forward four such sets of moral ideas for us to look at in our workplaces. Each is underpinned by a philosopher.

  1. Discovery “The New” I have freely chosen it.

Philosopher: Kierkegaard.

Companies: IBM, Sony, Intel, Virgin.

  1. Excellence “The Good” It constitutes fulfillment.

Philosopher: Aristotle

Companies: Apple, BMW, The Economist, Berkshire Hathaway.

  1. Altruism “The Helpful” It increases happiness.

Philosopher: Hume

Companies: Walmart, HP, Nordstrom.

  1. Heroicism “The Effective” It demonstrates achievement.

Philosopher: Nietzsche

Companies: Microsoft, Ford.

Every company will manifest its purpose differently. And a coherent alignment between purpose and strategy is impossible to copy. It appears that ‘believing in something’ may offer the advantage that organisations crave in uncertain times.

What does your business believe in?

Dive deeper into Purpose by reading “Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies“, by Nikos Mourkogiannis.


The world has never moved this quickly, yet it will never again move this slowly.  Exposure to unknowns will amplify. When situations are unfamiliar it may be best to approach them as curious mysteries, rather than attempt to solve them as puzzles based on a logic that worked before. Think about first principles, encourages Peter Thiel, author of Zero to One, rather than formulas. That’s how we find value in unexpected places. Every time we create something fresh and strange, we go from a ‘Zero’ to a ‘One’. The more we create, the more we thrive. But are we too tempted to copy, in place of invent?

Creativity is by its very nature disturbing, and yet humans are designed for creating and ‘making meaning’. We are the only animals that can invent new things and better ways of making them. The more we compete through ‘match and beat’, the less we gain. In business we call this the race to the bottom, where products become commoditized. Machines already perform most repetitive, monotonous and dangerous tasks much better than humans. They are set to take on a lot more. Machines may well free us humans up for safer, interesting and more purposeful work. It’s likely however that we’ve fallen out of touch – and may need to work quite hard at rediscovering and refining a human contribution. Both at school and at work, we are conditioned into applying logic, solving puzzles, finding the answer. We are less skilled in generating possibilities, ‘seeing’ the possible magic, not easily seen, or seen only by few. A formula-culture has also taken root. We look for the formula that is easy to apply, and sure to bring success.

If you are copying the most successful companies you can think of, you are not learning from them, says Thiel. Shane Parrish, from Farnam Street Blog, reinforces the same message with his statement: “There simply is no formula for success. Giving up that notion might be the most helpful thing you can do today.” It is time to step out of the race to the bottom, as humans, as businesses, to move beyond the relentless clamber for competitive advantage and growth at all costs, suited and glamorized on countless cover pages of business magazines across the globe. We can get better at exploring that magic we bring as humans – hard to define, hard to measure, hard to copy – and set it within a frame that has more meaning for us, one we can call generative rather than extractive.

By creating new technologies, humans can rewrite the plan of the world.

What are you challenging in the world? What do you want to change?

Regular HBR & Forbes contributor Dorie Clark believes that the responsibility of our age is to use the tools now at our at disposal to have a defined impact on the world, no matter how small. In place of learning to gather dust, or to ‘stay up to speed’, we can cultivate a questioning mindset to discover and define a niche, build a professional network, garner a following, get heard. Standing for something larger than ourselves, something greater than the way we feel in this particular moment of life, in this relationship or workspace, makes us rise above the chaos and transience in our midst.

Where to start? Think about what your values are, write them down, interrogate their coherence with your actions and your context. What makes sense for you? What does not? Values are not hereditary, as Alvaro González-Alordanotes tells us.

“The best ideas don’t stay tied to their creators forever, they go out into the world and make a difference because people make them their own.”


It is easier to copy a model than to create something new. But fine tuning old lines leads to dead ends.

The more we compete through ‘match and beat’, the less we gain. The world has never moved this quickly, yet it will never again move this slowly.  Exposure to the unknown will amplify. Machines already perform most repetitive, monotonous and dangerous tasks better than humans. What if, as Peter Thiel asks, we could combine new technologies with the human capacity to innovate? Could humans work miracles?

The more we create, the more we thrive. The moment of creation is singular. Every time we create something fresh and strange, we go from zero to one. The challenge of our time is how we free our human energy for creative work. It is also how we, as humans, bring purpose to that work.

“By creating new technologies, we rewrite the plan of the world.” – Peter Thiel



The WEF has issued a triple investment imperative: invest in reskilling at-risk workers, upskilling the workforce generally and in building learning centres in organisations. This is in preparation for the looming Fourth Industrial Revolution, a revolution that has become terribly fashionable in business parlance of late. One would think that 4IR seems quite distant from the realities of our everyday workplaces. Mine for one is not yet characterised by an interoperability of systems, and I complete most of my own dangerous and difficult tasks, with little assistance from connected machines.

a new mandate for business & leaders

Yet the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Study paints a picture that’s worthy of our attention. A significant level of unease on the part of employees is reported, with two thirds of people concerned about their future job prospects in the face of automation. This striking finding is most acute in developing markets. The new fear stalking the office corridor is the fear of robots. Deep involvement in discussion and in the process of sharing news may signal the desire to regain control and take back power. Engagement with media has jumped from 50 to 72 percentage points year on year.

But something else interesting is happening too. A new mandate is being issued for business and leaders.

Edelman has been measuring trust in the four institutions of government, business, media and NGO’s since 2001. South Africa was added in 2014. In the past, a lack of trust was reported across all four institutions. Trust has shifted from top-down (trusting those in positions of authority), to peer-to-peer (trusting people you perceive to be like you, and not necessarily those in positions of authority), to ‘local’, where individuals believe that they can control the relationship with their employers and that it is within their power to influence what happens within organisations. A new ‘trusted work’ paradigm is emerging. Within this paradigm, the rules are quite different. Employers are expected to re-assume responsibility for the learning and development torch that was ceremoniously handed down to individuals with the demise of the ‘job for life’ in the latter half of the last century. It could be argued that we had just started to get used to the psychological contract dictate that we are the masters of our own learning, growth and career destinies. The psychological contract is the term used to describe the unwritten set of obligations between employer and employee. Your working hours, job role and pay may be set and signed on paper, all that you expect your employer to deliver may not. Often these expectations are not articulated. However, unmet expectations erode trust, with the result that employee engagement declines, as does voluntary and creative effort. Given that creativity is a new currency for organisations, severed contracts are potentially disastrous.

The Edelman study shows that development, in the form of reskilling and retraining for digital futures, is falling at the foot of the employer once again. Employers are expected to engage on and address critical issues such as diversity, empowering with information, and retraining or reskilling so as to alleviate fears associated with digital, Fourth Industrial Revolution futures. In return, employees will advocate for the organization engaging broadly in the community on behalf of the organisation, and they will also be loyal to it.

Preparing for the future is becoming a shared responsibility.

75% of people believe that business can make money and improve society, says the study. The ‘trusted work’ paradigm requires that employers have a big idea for the company, a social aspiration or a purpose that employees can feel strongly about. Leaders, by their actions, are expected to persuade others that trust can be restored. 75% also believe that CEOs must stand up and act on important issues, and not wait for government. This finding is particularly noteworthy for South Africa: as trust falls, business is expected to lead.

Do not aim to build resilience, focus instead on becoming antifragile, says the statistician, scholar, essayist and former risk analyst, Nassim Taleb. Taleb looks at problems of probability, uncertainty and randomness. Whereas the resilient take shocks and stay the same, the antifragile get better. Staying the same is well out of fashion, it seems, and rather risky too. A new mandate is emerging for business and leaders, stand up with purpose and lead.

IQ alone makes for a poor 21st century leader

Whilst we have long prized Analytical Intelligence or IQ, research by developmental psychologists Kegan and Gardner has paved the way for a much richer understanding of human capability.

An addition to IQ, we have the relatively well-known but less well-articulated EQ, or Emotional Intelligence. Alongside EQ are the further Systems Intelligence (appreciating how systems come together and interact) and Spiritual Intelligence (as in the grandscale resurfacing of purpose at work, notably through Sinek, Diamandis and the SU, and many more). Whereas IQ is less fluid over time, all the other types of intelligences can be developed and enhanced throughout life.

Leaders who have high analytical, emotional, spiritual and systems intelligence are described by Mackey and Sisodia as conscious leaders. And the conscious business that they run, as evidenced in “Conscious Capitalism”, continually outstrip the performance of their non-conscious peers, by very large margins. These leaders have high integrity and an orientation towards servant leadership. As it turns out, we can only pioneer at pace in a complex world with a deeply human creative alignment, and that requires many types of intelligences. IQ alone poorly equips any leader for leading through 21st complexity.

Armed with multiple types of intelligences, conscious leaders view themselves as trustees of the business, seeking to nurture and safeguard it for future generations. They tend to be aware of their own deep motivations and convictions. They don’t try to be someone they are not. Because these leaders don’t look like manyleaders we have been exposed to (or are), I’ve taken the liberty of writing a personal blueprint for a conscious leader, based on the excellent work of Raj Sisodia and John Mackey.

As a conscious leader:

·     I accept the fact that traditional analytical intelligence (IQ) alone is a poor tool to lead in a complex world.

·     I appreciate the how Emotional Intelligence, Systems Intelligence and Spiritual Intelligence are fluid and can be developed over time. I deem these worthy of my investment.

·     Knowing myself is important to me. This awareness is the foundation for what I do. It matters because if I do not know this, I cannot align my work with the work of the organisation. I lose the ‘why’.

·     I speak truth to power, and actively value the courage to do so in others.

·     I recognize and work for many stakeholders, because I want all stakeholders to thrive and because I recognise this is good business sense and makes for sustainable success.

·     I consider the impact we have – good and bad – on the people and the environments that we touch through our work.

·     I think about what this business could offer future generations, and I work to nurture it for them. In this way I see my role more as a trustee of business, rather than extractor of profits over a shorter-term.

The quality of our leaders affects the quality of our lives, our communities and our environments. Bringing a richer understanding of human capability into our leadership lexicons can only assist with the leadership needed for the 21st Century.

Technological innovation does not drive social change. Rather, social change is usually driven by decisions we make about how to organise our world. These are the words of economic historian Louis Hyman. They remind us that the nature of work is a matter of social choice, the result of multiple decisions by us – companies and policy makers – and not the unavoidable consequence of technological progress.

Pre Industrial Revolution came what Hyman calls the ‘Industrious Revolution’. Independent workers who previously had worked from where they lived or from a farm or shop gathered under one roof in a supervised arrangement. People no longer controlled how they worked and they received a wage rather than sharing directly in the profits of their efforts. This signaled the first real separation between home and work life, and it set the conditions for the Industrial Revolution. Factory technology only worked because the relationship with work had already changed. Machines swept in and took advantage of and consolidated these changes.

A second industrious revolution has been underway since the 1970’s, when the collapse of a postwar era of secure wage-work began. In the 70’s a more strictly financial view of organisations took hold. Stock and bond prices were prized over production, short-term gain over long-term investment. “Lean” and efficient become fashionable, says Hyman. Workforces became expendable and jobs steadily became more temporary and insecure. This growing independent workforce has paved the way for today’s digital revolution. Online tech is swooping in this time, and there is a workforce ripe to take advantage of it. Without this workforce, apps and freelance sites would never work. New digital economies signal a land of milk and honey to some, offering the autonomy, flexibility and independence that traditional jobs don’t or can’t offer. But for many, this job ‘freedom’ spells a tear in the obligation between worker and employer, it signals insecurity and risk.

Gig-economy work comes in two forms, “web-based” working from anywhere, and “location-based” working in the physical world via apps. The evidence is growing that these jobs do not deliver the financial returns needed to make ends meet. Over the past two years, pay for gig work has dropped. Many workers are barely making a minimum wage toiling for giant tech platforms, according to JPMorgan Chase Institute and ILO research. Should these gig jobs be offered by huge tech companies that provide outsize returns to shareholders even if they don’t turn a profit? Hyman urges us to think about this. Our norms and policies need to make digitization benefit today’s workers, and not ‘work’ them over. Technological progress does not make work insecure, our social choices do.

Work is a matter of social choiceAs we stand upon the precipice of the 2020’s, we are witnessing a ‘purpose’ revolution. Purpose is not a new concept. In the 1940’s, legendary concentration camp survivor and psychiatrist Dr Viktor Frankl shared his learned wisdoms with us: ‘A man who has a why can bear almost any how.’ We have seen a surfacing of purpose as a concept at work in multiple ways over the years, called by many names. I believe it should be disrupting work, and that it will do so over time. For that reason I am marginally encouraged to see purpose play out on our rather drama-heavy conference stages.

Yet, I cannot help but wonder: has ‘purpose’ become the darling of our business chats because it’s another tool in the war for profit, just as “lean corporation” was touted 40 years ago by business gurus? Or is it a genuine response to our deep knowing that purpose drives the person, that it is the human condition to create meaning, and that creativity and purpose may be the real drivers of a future work that works for many more of us, whatever form work takes?

What will the consequences of our social choices be?

This article was first published here: