The Purpose Economy // Useful Lens on the Future of Biz and Culture
Quick book review.
With Charityvest, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role that our product will play in helping people find—or live out of—purpose. Charitable giving is an important tool to influence the lives of other human beings. We want to enable giving, and therefore, a greater sense purpose for our users.
Here’s a quote from the book that captures a slice of this:
“Purpose is not a noun, it is a verb. It is about how we work. We experience purpose when we do something that’s greater than ourselves. We experience purpose when we push ourselves and grow. We experience purpose as part of a community.”
How true. We don’t “get” or achieve purpose. We “purpose” ourselves and others. We manifest it. We incarnate it.
Purpose is a choice—a journey—informed by what you believe is true about the ultimate purpose of all humanity.
It’s my hope that people use Charityvest as a key life enabler to “purpose” themselves in the world. We give charitably to declare something is true about our relationship to other people, and we’re going to conduct this activity with other human beings. Giving is a community of purposing. This gets me excited about our work.
As a quick digression, we millennials get purpose wrong a lot. This was pointed out in a recent viral video where Simon Sinek criticized millennials for thinking too cheaply on purpose and impact in their careers. Thinking about purpose as a verb removes the need to feel great impact in order to feel meaningful purpose.
And finally to my main point, the book also provided a powerful lens to think about the future of business. I don’t align with every application and prescription offered in the book, but the lens was, I think, helpful to analyze implications of cultural and economic shifts we’re observing. It’s essentially this:
Over the last few generations, we’ve been shifting up further on Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” as an economy. Two hundred years ago, we were an agrarian-driven economy where our pressing needs were food, shelter, and security. The industrial revolution then shifted motivations to wealth, long-term security, and social status. The information economy accelerated the ability to seek wealth and status even further.
Now, we are observing a generation who grew up as a product of this wealth seeking and have found it insufficient. This generation has reached the top of the hierarchy of needs pyramid, and instead of wealth and status, are more prominently seeking purpose. Deep, meaningful purpose. This is driving decision-making from career to consumer choice.
For millennials, the future economy they will drive will emphasize storytelling opportunities about life and purpose.
As a quick low-level case study using this lens (not in the book, my own rough analysis here), our current generation’s love affair with Apple hasn’t occurred because Apple produces technically superior products. They aren’t technically superior. It’s because Apple has committed to push the boundaries of how technology integrates and fits into our lives. Their longtime brand mantra, “think different,” perfectly captures this. Apple products represent an opportunity to say something about who you are as a person—a boundary-pusher, a non-follower, a cool kid. The irony there can’t be escaped, but this is dripping with self-actualizing-purpose flavor. In the industrial economy these values weren’t central.
So purpose will likely be a central cultural question of my generation. I wonder how many will find frustration here. Or rather, I wonder how many won’t experience great frustration here. Understanding purpose as a verb and a choice is an incredibly helpful framework. But I think this also implies a greater purpose you are “purposing about.” The analogy here is love. Love is certainly a choice (despite what people say about “falling” in love), but it also implies you have someone to love. It would be senseless to love without an object of love.
So with thinking about purpose origins, we find ourselves in the realm of faith, philosophy, and metaphysics. Perhaps my generation is severely underinvesting in these areas. Do you know what you will “purpose” about/from? What drives your purpose?
Our faith leaders and thinkers should take note that they have a likely under-tapped competitive advantage to reach millennials, at least on one key subject. Clarity on purpose will not only sell products, but it may yield a swath of influence.
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A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. -CS Lewis