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Corporate Purpose is rapidly becoming a  Number One survival issue for business.

I'm not talking here about "responsible business", ESG, ticking compliance boxes for the environment, or improving diversity at work, or improving customer service.

All those are important and more, but I'm talking about far beyond such things.

I mean nothing less than a revolution in workplace motivation, customer expectations, and how business works: major impact on vision, mission and strategy.

As a Futurist, I have worked with over 400 of the world's largest corporations, often at board level or with global leadership teams, helping them stay ahead of the future.

I've a proven track record in forecasting major trends across every industry for over 25 years: but the future also depends on decisions we make.

I've delivered over 1000 trends keynotes to audience of up to 800,000 a time (including webinars).

Indeed, I warned of the risks from new viral pandemics for years before COVID struck, and have since been helping global clients adjust through the crisis.

I often say this: 

Take hold of the future or the future will take hold of you.

World deeply shaken by COVID - asking questions about purpose

28 million in the UK want to make radical changes in their lives, as a result of the COVID pandemic, and 40% want to change jobs in 6 months.

90% of 25-35 year olds are looking for higher purpose in their jobs

You will find similar restlessness in many other nations.  COVID made billions of people stop and think.

Nine out of ten 30-40 year olds in the UK want to leave conventional business jobs.  You can hardly imagine a greater force for change at work.

Another survey of 10,000 16-25 year olds across 10 nations shows that 6 out of 10 say humanity is doomed, and a similar proportion are worried or very worried about the climate emergency.

Actually it's just a continuation of a trend I've written about for over 20 years.

World deeply shaken by COVID - asking questions about purpose

28 million in the UK want to make radical changes in their lives, as a result of the COVID pandemic, and 40% want to change jobs in 6 months.

90% of 25-35 year olds are looking for higher purpose in their jobs

You will find similar restlessness in many other nations.  COVID made billions of people stop and think.

Nine out of ten 30-40 year olds in the UK want to leave conventional business jobs.  You can hardly imagine a greater force for change at work.

Another survey of 10,000 16-25 year olds across 10 nations shows that 6 out of 10 say humanity is doomed, and a similar proportion are worried or very worried about the climate emergency.

Actually it's just a continuation of a trend I've written about for over 20 years.

Search for Purpose at Work

It's part of the same radical rethink about life that has also focussed on work-life balance, corporate ethics and social responsibility, and reflects the revolutionary spirit of a new age, a spirit that will drive every successful business in future.  

New Authentics:  70% of them would halve their salaries for “a more meaningful life”.  Many move to the country, or do voluntary work abroad, or retrain for jobs such as teaching or landscape gardening.

Cross-shifters:  (Largest group)  These are successful people looking to branch out on their own – still very ambitious about careers and future, but they want life on their own terms, to work for themselves, to find their own way.

Older Authentics:  My experience is that a high proportion of the most successful cross-shifters later become Older Authentics, looking to put something back, looking for a greater purpose, after running their own business start-ups. 

Job dissatisfaction is strongly linked to long hours – partly because it becomes so hard to pursue other interests.  If purpose is found entirely outside of work, that may be fine if hours are limited.  But the longer those hours become, the more likely it is that someone is going to feel crushed, dissatisfied or even abused.  

60% of 25-35 year olds feel unfulfilled in their careers

Another survey by the leadership charity Common Purpose shows that six out of ten 25-35 year olds feel unfulfilled in their careers.  

83% believe they are suffering from a “quarter-life crisis”

59% say they haven’t found a meaningful purpose in their work. 

75% say their bosses don’t value the skills they gain from volunteer roles in the community 

One in four are worried about the poor ethics of the company they work for

More than half are trying to leave their jobs

Older managers don’t seem to understand

These strong responses are radical, becoming more extreme since the COVID pandemic, and will impact every organisation in some way, from the smallest family business to the largest multinational, from hospitals to contractors, government to civil servants, every university and every business school, every charity and every parent.

Remember that this is the generation that was brought up as children on “worthy” TV campaigns, where schools helped save the world by collecting drink cans, to raise money for rainforests, or loose change to help blind children in Malawi.

They now find themselves in soul-destroying organisations that don’t give them any satisfaction that they are solving any of the world’s problems, or meeting anyone’s real needs.

Purpose has to be at the heart of all effective business strategy

So what does it mean?

Here is one of the greatest challenges to your business future:  

Show me what difference your strategy will make to other people’s lives.  

If you can inspire others with your purpose, you’ll find your strategy delivers faster than you could ever imagine, and better than you dared hope.  

If you can’t, then forget it.  

I’m not interested and nor are most other people who have choices in who they work for – even if you pay them well.  

Life’s too short to waste a single day doing things you don't believe in

At global events I often say:  Life's too short to waste on things you don't believe in.

It's a lesson I learned from my first career, looking after people at home who were dying of cancer with only days or weeks to live.

When I put that phrase up on the screen at large global events, people often wave their hands in agreement, shout, cheer, stamp their feet.

And sometimes people come up to me afterwards or contact me after the event, to tell me they have resign from their jobs as a direct result.

One was the Head of one of the largest banks in the world, who in the moment she saw my slide at her board meeting, realised she didn't believe in what she was selling.

She left the bank a month or two later, to start a new career offering independent financial advice.

Something in the human spirit dies when we lack a sense of purpose in what we do

There are other jobs to do which are more worthwhile and fulfilling. 

You and I know that there’s far more to life than killing ourselves to reach millions of meaningless business targets.

What's the point?  What's the purpose?

Yes, some can find themselves trapped in jobs they hate, doing things they don't believe in, don't enjoy, but without a sense of purpose, work eats away at the soul.  

Something in the human spirit soon dies if we feel we don't make any positive difference to other people's lives in some small way each day.

Four words changed my life

So all this is the background to what has been for me a very significant personal discovery about the roots of purpose, a primary driver of motivation, a key to all business success.

Here is how it happened:  

As a Futurist and consultant to many of the world's largest corporations, I spend a lot of my life trying to look at the world in different ways, through other people’s eyes.

I remember the day it first hit me a few years back: at a conference by the sea in the depths of winter, attended by hundreds of men and women who were all working for nothing, giving time to different causes they passionately believed in.  

I had been thinking about the trends above: restless managers, the urgent desire for purpose at work, the turn-off people feel about profit-making goals.

I was sitting in my room, catching up on e-mails, while also trying to prepare a client lecture for the following week, but distracted by these people with their remarkable, raw energy for change.  If only corporations could tap into just a fraction of that same work-for-nothing commitment…

A four-word phrase began to form and take root in my mind, until I was compelled to think about nothing else.  

With every hour that passed, that same familiar phrase from the past seemed to grow in fresh power and significance. Here perhaps could be a missing factor, a key not only to volunteer passion, but also to business success, to making things happen.  

What is more, this four-word phrase seemed to connect deeply with all the greatest passions people have - for themselves, those they care for, and far beyond… 

Surely, I thought, such a simplistic approach must be full of holes.  

The $20,000 purpose challenge

Not long after, I decided to issue a challenge to anyone who could prove my four word universal principle of human purpose and motivation was flawed.  

I started with thousands of executives over the next few months from more than 40 nations, who attended my seminars, workshops and business school presentations:  chairmen, bankers, brokers, analysts, marketing directors, risk managers, board members, accountants, human resource managers, journalists, business thinkers and academics. 

Their combined decades of collective wisdom and experience was surely bound to expose every false argument in a very short time.  

I began offering anyone in my audience $1000 if they could produce a single argument that would stand against this “absurdly simple” idea.

But here is a very strange thing.

There was no significant challenge of any kind.

Many tried, but quickly saw their proposed exceptions fall apart.  And the more they considered the problem, the harder it seemed to become.

I raised the stakes to $5,000.  Over more than two years, despite many informal discussions over coffee, or over dinner, or e-mail correspondence, no-one came up with any kind of sustainable flaw in the argument.     

At first I was astounded.  I would have been perfectly happy to find quite a number of minor exceptions – which would have been helpful in understanding how to apply the general rule, or define it more clearly, but I was shocked not to be presented with any.  

Sure, many comments, but all the same:  after some reflection, their supposed exceptions to my four word secret of all leadership, management, marketing and motivation melted away into nothing.

In fact the very opposite happened:  many senior business leaders have been similarly struck by their own moment of truth, a point of clarity about their own mission and purpose, by a fundamental fact about all human beings, that they recognise almost immediately is true, and likely to dominate much of their future.

In one gathering I had several of America’s leading business publishers in the audience.  A number immediately wanted to meet. One declared:  “I’ve sat there for the last hour picking your theory to bits.  I thought it was going to be easy but I have to say I’m defeated.  Much to my surprise, I can’t find anything against it.”

That’s when I realised this book had to be written.  And the challenge reward needed to be greater…. $10,000.

How to win the $20,000 purpose challenge

The $20,000 challenge goes something like this:

"At the end of this presentation I’m going to reveal a single four word phrase which is the basis of every successful advertising slogan there has ever been, every promotional campaign, every mission statement, every satisfied customer, every great product, every workplace and home-based motivation and all great leadership. 

"These four words explain every deliberate action we take, every human desire, all effective parenting and are the foundation of every reasonable law or regulation.  Every appeal to a jury hangs or falls upon this same principle, every organisation exists because of it, and every government is elected in the hope of it.

"It sheds light on all past decisions in human history, makes sense of our present and helps predict our future.

"As we will see, this principle is fundamentally different in character from most last-century (or even more ancient) theories about behaviour or motivation.  It will be a dominant factor driving every successful business in the next three decades….

"And if anyone in these audiences can find and e-mail me an exception to this four-word phrase, once revealed, I promise to give you a reward - $20,000 donation to a charitable foundation of your choice."

You already know my phrase 

So here's the very strange thing: you already know my phrase.  

You have heard it many times before.  But take great care:  familiarity may lull you at first into a false sense of comfort, when the reality can be profoundly life-changing.

Here it is again, a well-recognised aim in life:

Building a Better World

Just that….in whatever way you choose.

If you want, you can express the same thought in three words: "Making Life Better" or maybe in a single Chinese character, but the root concept is always with us.

The desire to Build a Better World is a fundamental part of human nature.

We are all programmed to improve things if we can: for ourselves of course but far beyond that.

It is a basic human instinct to seek to make life better: to experiment, explore, evaluate, experience and enjoy.

Each of us is unique and Building a Better World will mean different things for each person, at various stages of their life from cradle to grave, and according to their situation, culture and life-experiences.

But this basic drive is about creating about a better life.  I have described in my book Building a Better Business  the Four Circles of the Heart:

Self at the Cente, then another for family and friends, an even larger one for community, and beyond that, the world.

Everything you have ever done from the day you were born, from taking a sip of water to solving a problem or “saving the world”, is related to this universal human desire for life in all its fullness.

Improvement is the key – even if just your own feeling of satisfaction and fulfilment, or maybe personal comfort right now as you adjust your position slightly while reading this book.  

"Building a Better World" - this purpose is found on 7 million web pages

"Building a Better World" is a familiar phrase, in common use – you will find it on more than 7 million web pages indexed by Google alone - up from 43,000 20 years ago.

"Building a Better World" has become part of our heritage, part of our social “DNA”. As I say, it explains the whole of human history, which is the cumulative result of the collective desires of every person who has ever lived, for a better future:

And the phrase has been around a very long time:

“The supreme purpose of history is to build a better world” Herbert Hoover 1874 - 1964

Take the $20,000 Purpose challenge yourself

Take the $20,000 Purpose Challenge yourself.  Can you recall a single action you have ever taken, or a decision by someone else, that was not driven by this same inescapable expression of human nature, in some small way or another.

However bizarre a consciously directed human action may be, however apparently self-destructive or unproductive, you will find within it an inner prompt, based on a perception or belief that it will in some way improve something, relieve a symptom, feed an addiction, or provide some other reward.

Who cares about profits anyway?

Here is a general life-rule:

Getting people excited about unpaid work is easy

Getting people as excited about paid work is challenging  

Getting people as excited about profits is impossible

Who cares about profits?  I mean, really cares?

I have rarely met a Chairman or CEO of a publicly listed corporation who is truly passionate about shareholder value, bottom-line profit or return on equity – compared to the passions they express about their children, or their leisure interests, or community causes they are involved in, or whatever else they give energy to outside of the business.  

Very different from those who own their own companies who are almost always far more deeply involved emotionally, seeing them almost like children.

Strange then that that board members of public corporations should be deluded into imagining that anyone else will be deeply inspired by a vision that is dominated by making larger numbers on a spreadsheet every quarter.  

In any case, you cannot expect a CEO to have true passion about the future of a shareholder-owned corporation, when the average length of service before being sacked or pushed out can be as short as three and a half years depending on industry and country.  

If you don’t make your numbers for three successive quarters you could be on the way out.  The corporation has zero life-affection for the CEO, so we would be fools to expect an intelligent CEO to lay down his or her life for the corporation.

That's why most CEOs of large companies are personally focussed themselves on purpose.

Impossible to Lead without with Vision and Purpose

So then, leading with purpose is not only important, but it is impossible to lead without it.

You can only lead with vision of a better future.

Building a Better World is the foundation stone of every effective political speech or change management strategy.  People need to be convinced that what you are proposing is right, positive, helpful and appropriate.

Leadership is about convincing people of your vision of a better tomorrow, and winning trust that you know how to get there.

And the more powerful your vision of a better future, the more powerful your leadership will be.

Why most change management programmes and strategies fail 

I have taught at 7 Business Schools and I can tell you that research shows very convincingly that most change management programmes fail. 

The reason is that many people in the company believe the change will mean a WORSE world, not a better one.

They don't buy into the vision, don't trust the leaders to take them on the journey and resist the proposed changes.

I see this all the time.

Building a Better World is fundamental to Change Management

That is why, if you want to change anything in your organisation, focus on a compelling vision of a better future.

Show why your proposals, your strategy, your plans are a no-brainer for a better future.  That's your inspiration and your purpose.

When I was in my early 30s, I learned through leading a non-profit that rapidly became a global people-movement (ACET), a very powerful truth.

"If you have a powerful, compelling vision of a better future, people, will follow you to the ends of the earth. They will buy your products and processes with pride, and promote your work widely.  They will become an unstoppable force for good in the world, and what is more, may also be willing to work for you for nothing."

That's what leading with purpose is all about.

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