how exceptional doing can drive progress (and Purpose)



“The bravest sight in the world is to see a great man struggling against adversity.”



“When you want to arrive at your goal more than you want to be doing what you’re doing, you become stressed.”

Eckhart Tolle



With all the discussion on “purpose driven business” and “purpose over profit” I thought I would offer my cent and a half.

Don’t focus on purpose, focus on productivity.

Uh oh (yes, I just said that).

I am absolutely an unequivocal strategy person.

I am absolutely an unequivocal “hope drives business culture” person.

I am absolutely an unequivocal “without good vision & purpose a business has no soul” person.

I am absolutely an unequivocal believer that a business without a good strategy framework <think 5 lane highway, not one lane with guardrails> is a bad business.



I am absolutely an unequivocal believer that business people overlook the power of focusing on exceptional doing and how it can actually drive progress and, uhm, even strategy.

I am absolutely an unequivocal believer that business people overlook the fact much of their vision & purpose platitudes are seen as bullshit and the key is the individuals as units of substantive productivity.

Sure. We talk about how strategy & vision is necessary to insure a business can be successful. I will not argue that. But what about doing. Okay. What about Exceptional doing.

Let me define ‘exceptional’ here because all businesses ‘do’ and their competitors also ‘do.’ And most ‘do’ with some overall purpose, most likely the purpose being “doing what we are supposed to do for my responsibility.”

Exceptional, to me, comes down to two terms I always use:

  • Enlightened individuality
  • Substantive productivity.


Enlightened individuality.

Some people call this ‘finding purpose’ I do not. Some people call this “self management.” I do not. This is simply enabling a worker to know as much as they can in order to produce the best possible work (and outcomes). In other words, enlighten the individual to maximize their effectiveness.


“All you can really ask is for someone to do the best they possibly can.”

Anonymous (and me)


Enlighten is important to how I think because we ask a shitload of our working people without really empowering them to do the BEST shitload.

I have said this a zillion times. And I have no clue who I stole it from. But if I could beat this into the head of every leader in the world I would be willing to staple the piece of paper with the quote on it to my forehead. Sometimes we ask so much of our people it is amazing. And, yes, many people do not know what they are truly capable of until they are pushed to aim for something seemingly impossible.

I know I am a pretty demanding leader. I set an incredibly high bar for my team. But in the end all I ask is that they do their best. And if it isn’t enough they we can say we didn’t succeed for lack of trying. And sometimes that’s as good as it gets. And sometimes that is when I have been proudest of people I have led. Ask the best of people and I believe most people will surprise you by doing a little better. Enlighten the people and their best doing becomes better. That is a fairly simple concept in my eyes.

That said.

In all the hype over purpose I wish leaders would maybe think of doing as actually about creating to destroy. Let’s maybe call this “iterative doing.” And that phrase may actually encapsulate what I call exceptional doing.

In this case ‘doing’ is not a stagnant state.

Or a way of being.  It is a form or method of economic & organizational change and never can be stationary.

Maybe better said is that ‘doing’ is an evolutionary change agent. I say this because so many people talk about ‘doing’ as a ‘state’ yet that ‘state’ is ever changing in a blink of an eye. Far too often we describe an organization simply to describe it in a point of time <or viewing it in some past state>. If you accept that thought, and you accept that incorporating real substance into each doing action, well, that would imply every moment of doing not only feeds into an individual belief they are providing value but the organization itself will gain value thru each action.

Enlighten the individual and the organization progresses.


Side note. A moment on ‘doing.’ We are doing people. Our ethos inherently makes us doing people.

Business, in general, have abused this attitude by simply suggesting we should mindlessly do more (and check things off of lists and meet milestones and all that ‘here is some fake finish line and go do shit to make it to that finish line” stuff … just so I can show you a new finish line). This bad business attitude ignores we want to discover things and learn how to do things our own way.

There really is a substantive side to “doing.” Huh? If you want to see something done, just tell Americans it can`t be done. Just say it`s impossible to fly to the moon, or no one can hit more than 61 home runs in a season, or run a mile in less than 4 minutes or create a handheld computer or even stuff 20 people into a phone booth. Dangle the undoable in front of us and you may as well consider it done.

We are doers.

We are workers.

We are thinkers (with regard to how to do).

Clotaire Rapaille would say: the American Culture Code for work is WHO YOU ARE.

To me that is substantive productivity. What that means is our work ethic is so strong because at the unconscious level, we equate work with who we are and we believe that if we work hard and improve our professional standing, we become better people. Jobs, and working, are a significant part of our lives and even with any “work/life” balance discussion it would be silly to not admit we seek so much meaning in our jobs. If our job feels meaningless, then “who we are” is meaningless as well.  If we feel inspired by our job, if we believe that we are doing something worthwhile in our work, that belief bolsters our sense of identity (as a person and ultimately as a country). We are a doing people so when we get asked to do things stripped of any substance after some time we feel stripped. Maybe not meaningless but for sure “less than.”

Our soul resides in doing things and doing things that matters to us. We are always inspired when we say “let’s go to work” on something big, something, well, impossible.

Because in the end we are doers & dreamers: doer dreamers. We do because we dream. Clotaire Rapaille also suggested this. He said that the American Culture Code for America is DREAM.

It seems to me that if we aren’t incorporating dreams into productivity we are missing an opportunity for an enlightened individual productivity.


Substantive productivity.

Maybe surprisingly I am leaning on Gilbreth’s “scientific management” concept in terms of maximizing individual productivity, but I am turning it 180degree and instead of efficiency I speak in terms of effectiveness.

For decades we have continuously stripped productivity of any meaning or meaningfulness. We stripped work down to something that became, well, work — and nothing else. Therefore workers never felt fulfilled and often even felt empty despite doing so much daily.

Instead of stripping things to make an individual productivity as lean as possible I seek to inject substance in terms of ‘maximizing individual capabilities.” But I do so without speaking of some intangible ‘purpose’ but rather empowering individuals to believe what they do matters, how they do it matters and that they make substantive contributions to the greater organization & greater good.

I say this noting that the fundamental impulse, that sets and keeps the capitalist engine in motion, comes from the new consumers, goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organization that capitalist enterprise creates.

Substantive productivity contributes, or is the fuel, to this progress.

Here is where I struggle a little with the whole Purpose focus <despite its good intentions>.

The future is a result of the decisions you make in the present and Purpose tends to work like a strategist <starts with a vision of the future and works backwards to the present – outside in>. Theoretically that is good but substantive productivity should actually work inside out.

Strategy works out the step-by-step moves to accomplish the ultimate aims. This means productivity matters as part of “start by putting seeing & doing ahead of thinking.” Too often we look backwards for solution/formula to future problems and we would be much better off envisioning the solution within its context, different than past context, & ‘do’ a solution built for tomorrow versus the past. This demands a different type of strategic thinking called “scenario development” which envisions a future state for which substance productive actually fulfills in the present <creates a self fulfilling future in one sense>.

From a labor productivity standpoint this means ‘substantive’ is found more in encouraging a fulfilled present, maximize the present, so that purpose is self fulfilling and not fulfilling some objective.

In the end.

Maximizing the present and substantive productivity versus using past thinking and stripped productivity. When I type it as simply as that it appears obvious the former offers more forward looking progress & fulfillment for those enabling that future state than the later.  Maybe it is as simple as that.

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Written by Bruce