Profit from Purpose Instead of Profit as a Purpose

Do you know what is your company’s purpose? Does it even have a purpose?  I know, it seems like a silly question… But, does it?

A purpose is something inspirational that can drive the work of people. It is something that they can pursue and towards which they will strive to do their best work.

Let’s say you are the in the business of making reading lamps, for example, your stated purpose might be…

“We create beautiful lamps with superb quality.”

It might not be fancy, but it is clear and easy for everyone to understand and relate to. We want to make great looking lamps and we want them to be of very good quality.  This is a purpose that is easy for people to understand and relate to.

Today, regardless of what they state, most companies have a single purpose: profit.  Over time companies have confused their purpose with their financial goals, forgetting that profit should stem from executing well its purpose.

Everywhere you go, be it in the US, Europe, Brazil or elsewhere, you see the same situation and confusion.  Executives tell the same story of strategy planning meetings and retreats where they discuss how to achieve the projected financial results, instead of how they will do a better job towards fulfilling the company’s stated purpose.  In fact, regularly this purpose isn’t even remembered during discussions, except perhaps in so far as they serve to determine specific markets the company operates in.

Does this sound familiar to you?

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Previous Century Thinking

Change is all around us, and happening at breakneck speed. This is a reality that most organizations haven’t yet acknowledged, they are stuck in Previous Century Thinking, and that leads to some very weird situations. Let’s consider a couple of points.

Do you know of a company called Docker? If you work in a company that is involved with an Internet service offering, you’ve probably heard of them.   They’ve developed and shared a technology that makes the distribution of pre-configured, Linux-based, applications, such as web servers and application servers, much easier. In just about 18 months this company went from zero to having its technology being adopted by Microsoft, Amazon and IBM, among others. Now consider that at a typical company, as a manager, you may get asked to plan and budget your projects for the forthcoming year, well in advance of the end of the current year. This is so that the projects may be discussed in committee meetings and perhaps approved. There are companies that actually ask managers to name the people who will be working on each project over a year ahead the project starting.

You don’t even know if you will be alive in a year, how can you accurately estimate who will be the best person for whatever task without knowing what is going to happen between now, and then? What if a new product or product category enters the market which makes your future project irrelevant? Or proves that it is so relevant that you should start it early and devote more resources?

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The Great Specialization Fallacy

We should always have in mind this question: “Are we working on the best solution to meet our needs or goals?” Many times that is not the case. Most people are blissfully unaware of this as they imagine that their colleagues wouldn’t suggest anything but the most adequate solution. That assumption, however, is incorrect more often than not.

Over the past couple of decades, we have seen a curious phenomenon arise: extreme specialization.

Today, tech professionals are dividing themselves up into classes such as .Net developers, Java developers, front-end developers, etc. People working with IT infrastructure are also split into the categories of Microsoft or Linux professionals.

This behavior is incentivized by tech companies which employ every means available to convince professionals that their great products should always be used in conjunction with some of their other products. These companies create what are called Stacks, sets of applications that combine their various products with one another and/or with open source components.

But what’s the matter with that?

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You need true believers

If you are starting a company, or simply running one that is already established, you need people who believe in what the company does. Offering good financial compensation and quirky perks might attract good people, but they will only be able to do their best work if they believe in what the company is doing.

Too frequently, in too many companies, I’ve seen people whose only objective at work was to get to the end of the month and receive their next paycheck or to get to the end of the year and receive some sort of bonus. When the financial compensation (such as bonuses) is big enough, you might attract and retain a certain type of person whose main goal in life is to obtain as much money as possible. Those people are not necessarily bad, and at least they will be trying to get as much business as possible, but they might not really care whether your company’s customers are totally satisfied or not as long as their goals have been met and their bonuses secured.

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A little fiction might help open up your mind

Not too long ago I met a young lady who is very committed to her work, whatever that work might be. She was just starting at a new position and a new company when we had a chance to talk.

She made a very positive impression on me, but there was one thing she told me that was quite disappointing. You see, she told me that she almost never read any fiction because even though she liked it, she thought it was a waste of time.

That’s something that has been on my mind a lot, since I figured that there probably are many out there who think the same way. If you happen to be one of those people, I’ll tell you the same thing I told her: a little fiction might just open your mind to new ideas.

Recent history is full of cases of people who went out and actually created the things they read about in fiction novels. This is especially true of science fiction novels since they seem to inspire the more technically creative people. However, I don’t wish to just point at the mobile phone, which was inspired by the original Star Trek series’ handheld communicators, and other such developments. That is just one example of how fiction can offer a contribution to people’s lives.

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Continuing change…

It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.

-Isaac Asimov

Listen to the people around you…

Recently I’ve had a good friend ask me if I was going to start writing self-help books as some of my more recent writings were about bettering one’s self or work. This got me to thinking about what I write, but from a different perspective.

I’ve written over fifteen technical books over the years. Thirteen were for commercial publication, while the rest was for free distribution. All of these books focused on teaching people how to use something and all of them were created with the base assumption that a person would pick them up in order to teach themselves how to accomplish something. I guess that in a way I’ve always written self-help books.

This odd realisation again got me into thinking about what I do and how I do it. It’s interesting how a simple question, asked in jest in this case, can lead you to profound reflection, if you truly listen to what people say.

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”
– Bryant H. McGill

You don’t exist in a vacuum. You are surrounded by people all the time. When you are at work, when you are on the streets and for most even when at home, there are always people around.

Some of these people may know you well, others have no clue of just who you are. That is okay, sometimes you probably don’t really know who you are either.

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