reading about Purpose for business people

source: Zach Mercurio


“Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn’t ask ourselves what it says but what it means.”

Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose


“Treat all of your secondary characters like they think the book is about them.”

Jocelyn Hughes


Purpose, to me, is an intrinsic energy and the moment someone, a business or a person, makes it an extrinsic objective/vision/”Why” I believe they have stepped on the slippery slope downwards to hollow, or hollowing, of behavior. What I mean by ‘hollow’ is as soon as Purpose becomes an extrinsic goal it encourages some aspect of ‘blindness’. It can be ethical blindness (which may seem weird to say assuming Purpose is good, but as Ann Tenbrunsel, Professor of Business Ethics says in this podcast, Overcoming our Ethical Blindspots , often the most altruistic organization can have the most ethically dubious behavior. It can simply be objective blindness (which all business deals with). It can just be an overall blindness toward a myriad of details under the guise of some laudable ‘purpose.’

That said.

In general, I wish all business people would put down the Purpose crack pipe and take a deep breath.

Purpose is an outcome, not an objective.

Purpose is certainly a higher order undertaking, but tying it specifically to business results is not only misguided but a dubious undertaking (Richard Shotton’s chapter in The Choice Factory is an excellent stripping of the Stengel Purpose argument).

Which leads me to books. Let’s say you are interested in business and Purpose and do not want to pay gobs of your hard earned money on some bullshit. Maybe start here. It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business Is Driven by Purpose by Roy M. Spence Jr. and Haley Rushing.

I have noted several times I don’t particularly like reading business books. And then you run across one like this one and it renews your faith in perusing the business book section seeking something to read. This book is chockfull of interesting anecdotes and sound bites. This book was written in 2009 and even by then the premise of ‘purpose driven’ had been talked about for years (don’t buy into the bs that it is some ‘new found soul of business’), but Roy Spence offers a really nice more pragmatic articulation. Much much better, more pragmatic, than Sinek’s “Why.”

Anyway. While I believe every business owner should read this (I believe it should be mandatory reading for every business class in universities) I hope that readers take to heart the individual message. The message that if you, as a person, can get a grip on the idea of individual purpose that you can truly live an extraordinary life. This is a good book. It communicates some great messages and gives you some excellent behind the scenes stories which are just plain fun to know about.

This next book may seem odd in talking about Purpose, but let me explain. The book is Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young. This book (which was written in 1937 for advertising people) is relevant to anyone’s work. This little book is one of the simplest summaries of commonsense—and articulating common sense is this book’s greatest virtue. The book lays out a five-step process for generating novel and not-so-novel ideas, articulating them so that you can put to them to immediate use. It is a powerful guide for gathering information, stimulating imagination, and recombining old elements into meaningful new ideas. It is so simple you wonder why so many consultants make it so much more difficult. But the real point in bringing this up with regard to Purpose is ‘perspective.’ Purpose is all about having, and understanding, perspective and “we” not ‘me’. “How to Produce Ideas” may sound like its about ideas, but its not. its about social dynamics and understanding where you are in perspective to others and other things. I would argue, as does Zach Mercurio, you don’t ‘find your

source: Zach Mercurio

‘purpose’ it is simply there for you to see it.

 ** note: Zach’s book, The Invisible Leader, is actually one of the books specifically written about Purpose worth reading.


Anyway. “How to Produce Ideas” is about seeing and once you see than you, well, see how you can fit in and assist in the progress of things.

Beyond those books I would much prefer business people hunker down on Vision, Mission, Strategy & Tactics rather than Purpose.

Look. Let me try this as an explanation.

We often talk about IoT (internet of things). Internet of Things is about connectivity and platforms for making things happen and lifting all. Maybe we should be speaking of PoT – Purpose of Things. Look at Purpose as structural lift. If you just go about doing things to lift things, well, you have Purpose. You will have contributed. You will have meaning. This doesn’t have to be complicated or complex, simply try in each one of your 30,000 daily decisions to attempt to provide some ‘lift’. Lift the process, lift the system, lift the task, lift the moment and maybe even lift a person.

In the end.

I often find myself in an uncomfortable position. Uncomfortable in that I do not believe Purpose will ever be found by reading a book, but reading books will help you better understand Purpose. So maybe I end with where I began. Reading, with regard to Purpose, should be viewed as an intrinsic task, not an extrinsic – objective seeking – task. The more you read this way the more likely you will intrinsically embrace purposeful living. So don’t pick up book about Purpose, pick up books and read meaningful stories. I promise you that if you can find a meaningful story, somewhere within that story will be a person who purposefully did something that mattered – and it mattered.

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Written by Bruce