What's Your Purpose?

In a 2009 TEDx conference, Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, posed the question, what’s your purpose?

He went on to say that we all know what we do and we all know how we do it but very few can clearly and credibly say why.  The power in this idea is that other people can see when we believe in something and can also see through us when we don’t.  No matter what you have to offer an idea, a point of view, a product or a service - if you don’t believe in it, its hard for anyone else to.  So whether you are a corporation, a small business or an individual, its critical to know your purpose.

Purpose can be described as the thing that we just can’t help doing or the person we can’t help being.  Its the thing that defines us, as people or as organisations our reason for being.  Knowing that brings clarity to all that we do and all that we say.  As Mark Twain put it, the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.

Daniel Pink, in his 2009 book, Drive The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, said that people are motivated by three things autonomy, mastery and purpose.  He noted that Steve Jobs wanted to put a ding in the universe and that Skype wants to be disruptive, in the cause of making the world a better place.

These don’t read like corporate mission statements or strategies they don’t come from the marketing department or a PR consultancy, who would discard such craziness.  They come from the heart and express something fundamental and something that is, for those who get it, genuine and real, no matter how impractical.  Of course, coming from someone who doesn’t believe in it, its just a tagline.  But from someone who does, like Jobs, it has meaning and energy.

It’s one thing to say that purpose is important but quite another to actually state what your purpose is.  We’ve found the following questions help a lot in thinking about purpose, whether as an individual, a team, a department or an organisation:

  • What do you love doing (or have always longed to do)?  What do you have a real passion for?
    Your purpose must have real passion and drive behind it to make it meaningful.  This can sometimes be the hardest question to answer so don’t worry if it takes time.
  • What are you good at?
    Lets be realistic passion alone will only take you so far.  You have to be very good at something to be of value to others.
  • What does your world need? 
    By your world we mean whoever derives value from your purpose.  In Steve Jobs case, this was the universe!  
  • What can you get paid for?
    Unless you’re independently wealthy, we all need to earn a living.  So who’ll pay for what you’re offering?

Answering these questions doesn’t lead inexorably to a purpose, but it helps to narrow it down. 

So, what’s your purpose?

LTA People