Time to upgrade your purpose

You might be finding yourself checking the news more often, calling friends and relatives to see if they’re OK. You might have decided to self-isolate or be living in a city on lockdown. You might find yourself working from home and homeschooling your kids. Maybe you’re worried about losing your job or wondering how the current situation is going to affect your business. You’re probably finding it difficult to focus on your work as your thoughts jump from one place to another.

At times like this we all have similar worries. No matter whether you’re a CEO or a freelancer, everybody is thinking about what this outbreak means to our lives and the lives of those who are precious to us. But we know one thing for certain. Things are not going to be the same when we emerge from our confinement.

– We have been forced to think in terms of what it is essential: what is most important and valuable in our life? We used to think that we needed so much to live a good life, and suddenly we’re having  to learn to live with many limitations and restrictions. And the outcome is not necessarily going to be that bad. Do you really need all those products that you thought you couldn’t live without? 

– We’re going to learn about vulnerability. We’ve been used to clicking and buying, to the automatic experience of wanting something and having it instantly, and now for the first time we’re experiencing the frustration of not being able to get hand sanitiser or other basic products at the supermarket.

These two experiences can translate as “Maybe I don’t need all this stuff any more” and “All the things I need: I might not have them when I need them”.  So how can we prepare for this?

We’ve believed that businesses are threatened by the intangible: markets, stocks, shares, prices. We’ve never thought that a virus could paralyse the world. We’ve never thought that companies and markets could collapse because we have a healthcare system that can’t cope with an epidemic.

The world in which we live is as important for business as fluctuation on the stock market. Our healthcare system is as vital as market risk awareness.

There’s a choice for all of us. We can treat the outbreak as a crisis, or we can treat it as a sign. The world is interconnected. We’ve seen this evolution before when businesses started moving from corporate social responsibility schemes to think purpose-driven, but now we’re reaching a new level. 

Purpose is not just a way of showing customers and employees that we’re making a contribution to the world, that we know why we’re in business beyond profit. The next level that purpose is pushing us to go to is accepting that businesses don’t live in a parallel world where floods, pandemics, lack of water or natural disasters don’t affect them badly. We’re facing the real meaning of interconnection. 

People will look at your purpose, people will look at your story. People will wonder if you have understood, if you want to be part of the change, if you see yourself as a contributor, if you understand that you’re running a business in a word that we all share.

This is a big shift. We’re all going to be wondering what we need to put in place for this not to happen again: what mindsets, what skills, what leadership, what technology, what healthcare systems will be required, and this time the answers aren’t going to be “Buy this product”, “Move to this country”, “Get this job” or “Invest in this fund to protect yourself”. 

People would like to know if, the next time we’re all hit by something like this, you will be one of the many who are acting from the belief that businesses operate in a shared and interconnected world. 

This shift is adding another level to purpose: if the question before was “What are you doing to make a positive impact in the world?” now we have another question to add:  What are you doing to protect the world in which we all live? 

No matter what your purpose is, in addition to it you will be asked about your health insurance, about your environmental footprint, about flexible hours, about working from home, about what happens when you need to care for others, about how you behave in times of crisis. Purpose will upgrade to a new story about how businesses operate in a world in which spreadsheets are not the main topic of conversation in the boardroom.  When this is over we are all going to have learnt  how to think and talk purpose to a new level.