Building Your Purpose Statement
We brought along a little game.
A little game (chuckling) a little game to help people both get closer to understanding your definition, or the ubiquitous definition of purpose. So we're gonna play this little game, you ready? Here we go. The first question is, my work makes an impact that matters to me, I am growing personally and professionally at work I have meaningful relationships at work. Now, what you're supposed to do is score yourself on a scale of one to 10, one it sucks, it's terrible, I have no sense of impact, I'm not growing at all. 10 is, I've arrived.
Yes, growth mindset, just amazing.
Joyous, so, just for a second, we'll chat for a second, but in your head, think about how you would score yourself on these dimensions. My question to you is, why does impact matter? The first question here in your little quiz is impact, why is that important?
So it's interesting, it actually goes back to neurology and understand...
ing how our brains are wired. So if you think about ourselves as people out in the Serengeti millions of years ago, can you picture that? You're out there, your outfit's a little different probably not wearing glasses.
Right, so what is it that enables you to survive in that kind of a harsh environment, right? The number one thing you can do to increase your life expectancy, is to find a tribe, because on your own, your odds of survival are pretty minuscule. When you're in a posse, life gets much better. But the problem is, right, when there's only like one antelope to eat, and you have people who need three antelopes, who gets fed and who doesn't get fed? The people who get fed are the ones who are seen as valuable, and those that don't get fed are the ones that are not seen as valuable. So we have a biological evolutionary need to make an impact and be valued because it's what we know is what's gonna enable us to have the leg of an antelope. So it's actually wired into our neurology, the need for, to make an impact. And it actually creates oxytocin release in our brain when we do that because our brain is trying to reward us to say yeah, make an impact, you're gonna get the antelope, you're gonna get the antelope. That's the way we're designed biologically.
And too, if you're leading, this is about leading innovation, right? If you're a leader to value someone's impact, what are some of the triggers or some of the things that you can do to make sure somebody knows, yeah, that was really valuable, that thing you did, that contribution, that idea you gave us, that spark, like, how do you model that valuation of impact, of somebody else's impact?
(sniff) Absolutely, somebody said to me last week, everyone wants to be a valued member of a winning team.
I think that's at the end of the day like what we want to hear, right? So the biggest thing, and they've seen it in science over and over again is just saying "thank you." They said the number one indicator whether or not someone's engaged, fulfilled at work, is when did they last hear an authentic thank you?
That acknowledgement, thank you.
That acknowledgement of an authentic thank you, nothing else, like, that's a damned good start. The second piece is understanding that what you value may not be what they value. So trying to really understand what they value so at Taproot for example, we had graphic designers go out and build beautiful websites for nonprofits, right? And the nonprofit would be like, 'Oh my god,' 'this is so beautiful, thank you,' and the volunteer would be like, 'that's nice.' And I was like, why aren't you like, that they said thank you, they said they love it? What's the big deal? And they're like, I want to hear it from like a creative director of like a top firm, that my work is actually world-class. They didn't want to hear the just like impact thank you, they wanted to know that their craft from someone that they valued, so, as a leader if you can think about, who does that person want validation from? And help them get validation from the person who they admire based on their craft, makes a big difference.
So it's almost like the higher degree of specificity that you can give to the thank you and the acknowledgment, the better.
Like high specificity, and if it comes from a high expertise source, somebody who's, like, has domain expertise, all the better, okay, next question. I'm growing personally and professionally. Why does growth matter? Why do I care, why can't I just do my job, find purpose in my job and keep doing that job and then get the gold watch and retire and I'm good?
Because back to the brain again, so, if you want to continue to make an impact, so you continue to get fed, you've gotta be able to adapt to continue to make an impact. And the only way you can do that is if you're continuously finding ways to change your approach, figuring out what the group really needs, so that you can continue to actually add value. So growth is actually part of the process to ensuring that you continue to make an impact, because if you don't, you may have a nice antelope leg now, but later on, eh, not so much, right? So it's actually tied into that same need and this is why there's a lot of talk about millennials being very entitled and wanting like constantly to be growing, but it's actually because they're in touch with this biological need to constantly move forward. It's like a shark, if they stop moving forward, they die, right? We as human beings need to constantly move forward and to be challenged, and the second that we're not challenged, we look like that ghost town that you shared. We get into that state, so we've gotta constantly do things that scare us, otherwise we don't grow.
Yeah, now I believe that, in fact, the riskiest thing you could do is not take risks. Right, stagnant, complacency, okay. The last piece is meaningful relationships. Why can't I make an impact, grow, and move on? I don't care about these people. Why should I care about my tribe?
Well, first of all, if one of them is slower than you, the lion's gonna eat them first, right, on the Serengeti, so that's a key piece. So a lot of it does come back to, again, biologically survival, we need relationships. Imagine, like, when you're sick. What's gonna happen if you're by yourself in nature, you're sick, you're done.
It's not good.
Whereas if you're part of a small tribe, like, you have the ability to take care of each other, right? And that radically increases your sense of safety. And that's what a lot of this is about, and again, we're wired, some animals aren't wired this way. We're wired to want to be around other people because it increases our likelihood of survival and these baby things, creating babies, right? So it's a biological need, we need that, and that's why the workplace is so broken right now is we figured out how to create professionals, not human beings at work.
Be professional, you're like, what the hell does that mean, right? It's all about looking the same, doing the same thing, being part of an assembly line. What we really want are human beings, right? And to be a human being, we have to allow people to actually have relationships. We need to let it be a little gray and dirty at times, right? And it's scary because the lawyers don't like that, right? But my take on it as a CEO has always been like, let them sue us, like, let's do the right thing and if ...
That means we're doing something interesting.
We're being ... provoking.
And I think it's critical to be, to be human, to have real relationships at work. When someone gets laid off, they're like, don't worry about it, there's another FTE, we're gonna replace that. You're like, but that was my friend, not an FTE. We don't appreciate the fact that people have real relationships at work.
Amen, all right, anecdotal evidence in the room? Did you score yourself? And what did you come up with, anyone, anyone? Steve, Matt? Carolyn?
Number one, four.
Yeah, eight on the second one.
Eight on number two.
And the third one, a seven.
A third one, a seven. The scoring chart says, one to three, uh oh, you might be lost. Four to six, better, nice, good job. Seven to ten, awesome. Mentor someone, that was my little tweak.
I like it, bring it on, bring it on.
That if you're there, mentor. I'm hacking his work. Anyone else? Yes, Evangeline.
Yeah, I did an eight, because my work was impact-
Could you stand, please?
I got an eight for number one.
Eight on number one.
Yes, and I got a five for number two because I'm not really growing. And five for number three because I don't have many people ...
A five for number two, growing professionally and a five for number three, thank you. All right, so let's tweak this. What are some tips, tricks, for self-actualizing personal growth and a growth mindset and then bonus points, if you can be the leader, and prioritize that and the people around you at work, go.
(laughing) The number one thing is to not make that score someone else's fault, or situational, take personal ownership over that score and what you're gonna do about fixing it because no one else is gonna fix that for you. You've gotta decide every day, what am I doing to invest in relationships, what impact actually matters to me? Think about the last time you felt an impact or felt like you grew or had a relationship that mattered and figure out how to do more of that. Because a lot of people wait around for it to happen to them and they end up waiting an awful long time. So one of the most important lessons out of this is you're the one who defines your score. You should be measuring this all the time and when your score goes up or down, be self-aware about it. It's like your weight, if you're doing exercise. You've gotta, like, take ownership of that, right? From a leadership standpoint, the best thing that I heard was a CEO out of New York who said, every day she asked people on our team "How was your day?" And I do that too, but it's generally just like, hey, how was your day, I don't really, like I'm not really asking them, right? I'm just, it's a thing you say.
Yeah, it's noise. But she actually asked them, and if someone says, 'oh, I had a great day,' she doesn't just be like, 'great, later.' She says, 'Shawn, what was it today' 'that made it a great day?'
Uh-oh, I didn't expect you to care! I have to think of ... (laughs)
Right, exactly. So you may have been, I got to have this great session talking about purpose, right? I've gotta see and make a note of that and start looking for patterns over time of what is it that seems to turn Shawn on? What are the opportunities and how can I point those out and look for opportunities to say, hey, Shawn, you should go check that out, go check this out, and have them also be appreciative of those moments instead of having a deficit mindset, it's much more of an abundance mindset. So authentically just saying, how is your day? And looking for patterns is one of the most powerful things you can do as a leader. It's not anymore complicated than that basic human question.
That's an affirmation that relationships are one to one. They are personal, they're idiosyncratic, reacting to who that person is, and the more that you can fine-tune it, this is what I'm hearing, fine-tune, and dial in that relationship and those needs to that individual that you work with, all the better.
Exactly, and it's just like, for a long time we developed software. It was the waterfall model, I don't know if you remember this, but, sort of these big projects and then they'd release and then a big project and release, and that's how we think about our careers with these like giant steps between jobs or promotions. The reality is it's, agile software is about how do you measure things and constantly tweak them to find the right fit, right? And that's how we should be thinking about our careers. How do we measure it regularly, using these three questions, and how do we just try little things once a week? And constantly refine it until we find what works, and for a while then it'll work, and then you'll find it's not working anymore. Refine, refine.
Adjust, adjust. Like a flywheel.
Right. And that's the way this needs to work, not these sort of ideas of just, you're riding along and maybe someday something will happen to you.
Right, okay, so, so if we start to understand impact, meaningful relationships, constant growth, we get closer and closer to a sense of a purpose statement. One of the goals is in realizing a sense of purpose both for yourself and those around you, is to kind of own it through a very individual, personal statement, like, this is ...
... who I am, and why I'm doing this! So I have another little game, we have another little game. I need you for context. So, here are some people who have personal purpose statements. Let's try this one out. Here is Amanda Steinberg, here's my purpose statement. "To use my gifts of intelligence, charisma," "and serial optimism to cultivate the self-worth" "and net-worth of women around the world." Why is that a good purpose statement, if it is?
I think first of all, you said earlier on about this 80%, like the sense that we're, think we're better than we are, but I think that reality is we need some of that hubris to move forward. So I love, first of all, like, she's identifying what her gifts are, and we all need to identify what those gifts are that we were gonna give to the world. And the more we believe in them, the more they actually grow and they become truth. So I'm a believer in like, put it out there, and it could be somewhat aspirational, but think about what it is that separates you from other people doing similar work, right? I think the second one is she's got a clear verb, right? She's cultivating, she is a cultivator, that is at the end of the day what she is. It sort of defines her role in the world. And then for her she started to frame it around a specific, in this case it's a little bit more of a cause, but it's around women, which is where she has a passionate area around. I'm generally not a fan of that narrow a definition because it makes you think for your whole life, that's what you need to be.
That's all you care about.
But in reality, in my experience with Taproot, et cetera, we're much more malleable than that and it's more about cultivating like value in people, and you may find at one point it's this population or that population, but it's actually a fixed mindset if you start to define that too narrowly and it might be for ten years that's what is her thing. It may be for the rest of her life, but maybe it's antelopes. I mean, who knows where she's gonna wanna go.
Okay, okay, I'll send your feedback to Amanda. Here we go, let's try Oprah Winfrey.
You're not digging it? (laughs) "To be a teacher." "And to be known for inspiring my students" "to be more than they thought they could be." Oprah Winfrey.
So I love this because students, you could think of a student as a kid but she means it in a broad sense like we're all students. So this is a very growth mindset, purpose statement, right? And she also defines her role. She's a teacher. Within that it creates an idea in your mind of what value create and how you create value, right? And for her it's all about building courage in people, right?
And that's what that's talking about. It's very similar actually to my purpose, it's around that. So, it's around empowering courage in these students, which is anyone, a student is anyone who wants to grow. Because part of what I love about the word student is it implies someone wants to grow, versus, she's not trying to convert someone who doesn't want to be a student. She's meeting someone where they are, which is, I want to learn.
So I think it's a very wise, whether it's intentional or not, it's a very wise insight and since it's Oprah, I'm gonna give her benefit of a doubt.
The big O!
Well, well done, Oprah, and here's one just for fun. No less valid, here we go, with Dolf van den Brink, the CEO of Heineken. He says, "To be the wuxia master who saves the kingdom."
I think that's really meaningful to him.
Correct! (laughing) Because Dolf, Dolf van den Brink, is a big fan of Chinese kung fu movies and the wuxia master is the one who saves the kingdom, so that's how he identifies who he is.
But I think it's the way in which that person does it by like, again, that's again an empowerment and he does it through the process of awakening the kingdom. So at first it comes across a little bit, any time I see the word savior, I get nervous, right? Because anytime you think you're a savior, that means someone needs saving, which sets up a dynamic that you're kind of screwed from the get go. But I think the impulse here, I think is more around playing that role of awakening, and I think that's one of the most common purpose types is around this idea of awakening people because we see so much potential in people and we see the sort of sadness when we don't see that realized.
Right, and you have your own personal purpose statement.
What is that?
So mine, so we have, I have two different ones. There's sort of the one that makes sense to other people and the one that makes sense to me. (audience laughter) So the one that makes sense to other people is: To empower leaders to act courageously. Because I fundamentally believe that we need leaders who are willing to actually be courageous out there, to put their values out there, to be able to do the right thing. And to me, that's the greatest gift I can give, is to empower that kind of courage, because the world needs leaders who are acting out of courage, not out of fear. And so many leaders right now are acting out of fear and to me that's when I get the greatest sense of meaning is when I see someone who's scared, break through that and actually act courageously as a leader and bring that to their people. My personal version of that, because I was, we like to work in metaphor because it helps you remember it and make it much more visceral, is: To awaken lions so that they can care for their pride.
Which is the same idea, right? A lion is a leader. Their courage, right? So awaken lions, and care for their pride is about the idea of, you know, leaders have people that support them and around a community, so, how can we enable leaders to actually care for their people and not just try to control people.
So you're okay with the wuxia master as long as he's not claiming, like, I'm gonna save everything, I'm the savior, I'm instead going to come and help embolden and grow and build meaning within my kingdom and I feel a responsibility to help contribute to growing my kingdom.
Yeah, as you get to avoid anything that comes across as patronizing. It has to meet people at some level as an equal or you have something to give versus, you're like some kind of messiah.
Right, okay, so we have one little tool, trick, that you can take back with you to construct your own purpose statement, so what we did was we deconstructed your work a little bit into again the who, so in your purpose statements, you have who, I made up some who's, the who could be your neighbors, the elementary students, healthcare leaders, people who like to hike, dog lovers, even dogs, sure. Yoga teachers, so in the context of who, you want to identify who you're serving, right?
Yeah, but you wanna keep it pretty broad so again remember how Oprah did students, that's a metaphor for people who want to learn. The more narrow you make it, again, it starts to build a fixed mindset towards something, right? The biggest thing with who you want to think about is the elevation at which you get the most meaning out of making that impact. So some people really do make and feel the most sense of meaning helping an individual person. Right, like, the doctor who helps somebody. I would find that tedious and annoying. But for a doctor, like, that's really rewarding, to actually see someone helped and, that makes sense. Other people are more like myself, they want to be the hospital administrator. I want to help build amazing organizations that can help care for thousands of people, right?
Orchestration of a system. And then there's people at a higher elevation who say, that's lovely, but healthcare costs are too high. We don't have a cure for cancer. I want to figure out how to make an impact at a societal level. And all three are really critical, and they're all needed and they're not hierarchical. But we have to be in touch with, where do we get goosebumps? Is it helping that person? Is it orchestrating an amazing organization? Or is it feeling like your work is part of something bigger, and knowing what that is is really important because if you're playing someone else's game where, why don't I care about helping all these people who are sick? I feel like I'm a jerk, right? But the reality is that's not my psychological makeup that I enjoy helping individual people. I'm a conductor, not the individual musician.
Right, let go of trying to fulfill someone else's, you know, expectations or their purpose. Okay, moving on to the how, the how, so, if you're gonna serve an audience, somehow you have to do this. I made up some how's, here we go, we're gonna do it. Through love, through empathy, through structure, through knowledge, through community, through joy, through patience, these are just some examples. How did I do with the examples?
Not too bad, I like love, man. I saw you have diagrams of that, too, which will be interesting, let's see later.
So, the key thing here is to figure out, this is sort of like if you were a superhero, what's your special power, right? And the best way to identify that in yourself is to think about the hardest times you've had in your life. Times where you were just at rock bottom, and how was it you pulled yourself out of that sort of valley of despair? And you'll see that your special superpower is what has enabled you to get out of problems over and over again, so it's less about your peaks, and it's more about how do you dig out when times get really hard? That's when your superpower tends to come out. So the best reflection is really thinking about those, those moments when you just were at rock bottom. Maybe you got let go from a job.
Yeah, crucible moments. And what was it that enabled you to emerge to your next scene, your next peak?
Triumphant, it's, I mean everyone may have some, some iteration of some powers on any of these dimensions. But what is the one that's really tight to who your identity is? Okay, finally the why, it's the big one, the why. Here's some why's. Oh, I said, to share laughter, to give hope, to inspire action, to deliver insight, to grow leaders to enable healthy lives, by way of example, are these okay why's?
Yeah, they generally fall into two categories when you look at why and it's based on your morals and what you think is the definition of what is fair. That's really what comes down to your why because what you think is fair may not be the same as other people and it drives your sense of how you're trying to repair the world. What is your theory of change for how to repair the world? And they're generally on a continuum between two core ideas. One is, the best thing to do to repair the world is to better care for people, to help build interdependence and connect with the community. The other side is much more about individual responsibility and challenging people to climb the mountain, to do the hard thing that, no one is gonna ever achieve anything great if they're not challenged and have to earn it for themselves.
I absolutely believe this, an expectation of excellence, of someone else, to be demanding and expecting excellence, is a compliment.
Absolutely, and those are the, but those are two different value sets, right? And we all exist on a continuum, but that drives your definition of why. So if you're much more about interdependence, your question of why is gonna be much more about you know, to connect people to build more of a sustainable community. It's gonna be care for people who are left behind. It's gonna be much more on that side. But to the other side, it's gonna be challenge people, make sure everyone has a fair opportunity to equally compete. Those are gonna be the things that you think make the world better, and those are why as a society we're constantly in conflict, but it's fascinating that somehow in nature we're almost exactly 50/50 spit between those two mindsets, so there's something in nature that's causing a yin and yang activity to happen to enable us to survive because I think if we had all of one or the other, we wouldn't exist, like, there needs to be that balance.
(chuckling) Okay, so, my last question is, your organization is imperative.
Yes, it is.
It's growing, you've hit a nerve, organizations are deeply in need of a sense of purpose that is pervasive throughout their organization. What is your goal, what is your aspiration, what is your wildest dreams of success for this goal? What does it look like?
So statistically we measured how many people in the workforce are fulfilled, 33%.
So our goal at the end of the day is we want to double that. We want to make it at least 66% so that the majority of people in the workforce are fulfilled and it changes the overall narrative about work from sort of a Simpsons type model of work into one where we actually think about work as the core source of fulfillment in our lives. So it's that switch.
What strikes me about your answer is the specificity of the goal, you didn't say to give purpose to everyone.
Well, world peace is good.
Yeah, but, but you've put some specificity around the goals that you're trying to accomplish and how you can measure them and get to them and quantify them.
Yeah, I think it's critical, and that's part of what I learned at Taproot in terms of studying how major social changes happened. It's always been around some shared specific goal and around a series of different strategies. So we're actually now meeting once a year with all of our clients and we're measuring fulfillment in the U.S. workforce, and we're meeting for a full day just to talk about what are the experiments we want to make this year to move it? Next year we're gonna measure it again and again, so just like that agile software development model, we're basically trying to apply that to the whole workforce. So instead of a conference where just a bunch of people get up in suits and (yammering), we're like, we have one goal: change that number. Bring your best thinking, and we expect over the 12 months between sessions for you to go back and figure out what makes a difference. Maybe it's on a team, an organizational level, in a school, bringing that back to all of us, so we can actually make sure that our kids, once they enter the workforce, have a radically different mindset and experience than we did.
You're preparing for the next generation in the future and making the world a better place. Aaron Hurst!
It's a pleasure.
I'm seriously grateful. Ladies and gentlemen ... (applause)
Dude, thanks for coming.
Oh, any time.
Keep on keeping on.
I'm gonna track you down so you can sign my book.
Thank you, Aaron.
To sum up this little conversation with Aaron, take with you these critical questions to help you understand and articulate your purpose statement. When are you at your best? What are those crucible moments, that when you dig deep, you can emerge on the other side with what superpowers that you're using to get there? What are the best stories you tell? Like, when you tell stories, they are a reflection of your values, of your belief systems, of who, of your core identity. So think about the kinds of stories that are really close to your heart and what do they mean? What do other people say you should do professionally? This is a common one, I mean, people take, do photography on the side or tell jokes on the side, or do volunteer nursing or whatever it is, and people say, 'you're so good at that.' And then you'll say, 'aw, no, I'm not a professional.' 'I'm not really good at that.' And the problem is, that you love it. You love it, you play guitar or you play drums or you sing, or you do volunteer work, and you love it so much that you know excellence when you see it. Like, if you play piano, and you think you're terrible, but you love piano because you listen to Chick Corea and Erroll Garner, right? And you know what beauty sounds like and then you go to try it yourself, and you think you suck, you think you're terrible because in comparison to your idols, you think you're terrible. And that's what building in that growth mindset and that aspiration, you may be getting closer to what you really want to accomplish. And then of course, what makes you feel alive? You know, what are those moments when you feel alive, and this is all in service of constructing your own sense of purpose. Now, we're actually gonna dig into a little bit of what Aaron and I were just chatting about around motivation. So let's play another little game first. Let me ask you a question. When you think of what motivates the people around you, because again we wanna keep in context, we're leaders, right, we're trying to accomplish something bigger than ourselves and we need to enlist other people to get it done. What motivational factor do you believe is the most powerful for you and those around you? Is it praise and recognition? Incentives, that's like the pay, the money, the gold watch, the trip to Cancun, interpersonal support, a sense that someone has your back, right, progress in meaningful work, clear vision and goals. Anyone care to venture what you believe is the most powerful motivational factor to you? Sure.
For me, it's praise and recognition.
Praise and recognition. Now, I see the hesitation on a lot of your faces because at first blush, you will recognize that they're all important. And Aaron talked about the importance of recognition and saying thank you with a level of specificity, and saying it coming from someone who is deep expertise. But of these, all these motivational factors, these are extrinsic. You know, the praise, the incentives, the support, the clear vision, they come from someone else. It's the boss or the organization or someone who is going to provide that for you. But only progress in meaningful work, of these, is an intrinsic motivation. It comes from within, you recognizing your sense of making progress in work that is meaningful to you. So here to back this up, is a woman named Teresa Amabile, and she's at Harvard University and her and her colleague, Steven Kramer, they studied hundreds of individuals over several years at different kinds of organizations, to ask them highly qualitative information like, now you're working with your boss, how do you feel? Now you're trying to decode that engineering project, now you're developing a new marketing initiative, how do you feel, how's it going, how's it going? Overwhelmingly, their sense of making progress, incremental progress, in work that is, what had meaning to them, was the most powerful motivator. It's almost as if, you know you want to run a marathon and you sign up for the marathon, that's the clear vision and goals. But it's every day marching to that, how do you feel? How's my knee now, how's the weather? How did, you know, who was I with? It's that step by step kind of small acts that get you there that truly motivates people in the long term.