Try to leave the Earth a better place than when you arrived.
– Sidney Sheldon
Are you a leader in a company? As a CEO, department/team leader or something else? If so, how do you plan to make your industry create a better world for people? If you can’t articulate this, where are you leading people and why? I mean, don’t you think this is the most important part of your job? If no, what is? If yes, what’s the plan? These are very important questions that too few leaders ask themselves too seldom.
Many leaders in business, politics and other parts of society come together over the summer to discuss important questions. I struggle to find a more important question than how to make the world a better place. It may sound too big and perhaps a bit too lofty, but it’s really not.
As Simon Sinek says in his famous TED-talk: Very few people or organizations know why they do what they do, and he encourages all leaders to start with clarifying this before clarifying what or how to do it.
There are many reasons why it’s important to clarify how you plan to make your industry create a better world for people, i.e. the true purpose of your business. First of all, if you don’t clarify this, chances are you won’t contribute to a better world, worst case the opposite which we’ve seen in a number of cases. Secondly, data suggests that clarity around your purpose is a very important tool to attract, retain and motivate top-talent, which should be interesting for all companies. Thirdly, clarity around your purpose helps guide the direction of development and innovation, which in a rapidly changing world is the only true long-term sustainable competitive advantage. If you talk about digital transformation, which most people seems to be doing, knowing your purpose is fundamental to make the transformation successful.
So, if this is so important, how come so many corporate leaders fail to articulate how they will make their industry create a better world? There are probably many reasons, but here are three big ones:
We want to be like everyone else and therefore fuel the current direction of our industry rather than staking out a new one – Solomon Asch demonstrated in a famous experiment that 75% of people at some point chose what they know is the wrong answer to a question, just so they could be like everyone else. There are more similar studies that shows similar phenomenons, i.e. that our thoughts and actions are severely influenced by what other people around us think and do. This also happens in business, which is why most companies in an industry looks very much the same and makes it harder to break also with negative industry norms.
We don’t take time to define our purpose – To think about how you will influence and change your industry so it creates a better world for people require you to step out of the quarterly hamsterwheel and work as hard on your purpose as on any other project in your company. Most company leaders don’t take this time. This is judgmentally mainly because it’s a less tangible project even though the data now exists showing the clear benefits of clarity of purpose. It’s much easier to do something concrete such as a cost-cutting project, and human beings tend to procrastinate what is less concrete and prioritize what is more concrete.
We are satisfied with what we have – Many company leaders are quite well off. You have a good salary, your family is doing good. What is the sense of urgency that would make you even consider to make the world a better place when it’s already great for you? This is pure subconscious selfishness I’m afraid. Time to wake up. If you are not making at least your industry better for people, what are you doing? Really? Implementing the obvious? Passin the baton? Saving up for another house? Are you satisfied with that if you’re honest with yourself?
So what can you do about this? The most important thing to do with things that we find hard is to start working on them. So please write down on a blank sheet of paper how you plan to make your industry create a better world for people. That’s it. That’s your start. At the end of this post I’ve brainstormed really quickly for different industries what you could be pursuing as a purpose. It’s for sure not as great as it can be, but it’s perhaps a start. To keep your focus after you’ve defined your purpose schedule a meeting with yourself every Sunday evening for 15 min when you sit down and check if you are happy with what you accomplished last week, and plan for next week to ensure you really drive towards making your industry create a better world.
Now I’ll let you in on a well kept secret. To actually form a vision of how to make the world a better place is also much more fun than trying to do what everyone else is already doing. For real. Reality is that contrary to popular belief, doing something different, big and good is actually easier than doing what everyone else is doing. Big dreams and visions for how to make the world a better place attracts resources such as top-talent and capital as people want to be part of what you are doing.
With leadership comes responsibility. If you are a corporate leader of today you should be able to very clearly articulate in what way you aim to make the world, your industry, your company, your team and yourself better. If you don’t know, do you honestly think that’s okay?
I’ve deliberately written about company leaders as I think they have a disproportionate responsibility to do good and can take these direct questions. That said, we are all leaders, if not of others than at least of ourselves. At our job, in our home, with our friends. What do we do to make things better in all of these situations? It wouldn’t harm if you formulated that for yourself.
Now, take a moment to listen to this song and make a decision what to do next. Just remember that not doing anything is also a choice. Get that weekly meeting with yourself into the calendar, you won’t regret it.
Can’t wait to see every leader taking their responsibility to actually make things better. What a great society we could create. Thank you in advance!
Examples of potential purposes for different industries as food for thought:
Leader in: Toy industry
Potential purpose: To make playing sustainable
Insight: The average child in the developed world owns 500 toys, where each is used a fraction of a fraction of the time. Clearly there is massive work to be done here to make playing sustainable.
Leader in: Advertising sales industry
Potential purpose: To genuinely make advertising relevant to people
Insight: The vast majority of the advertising we are exposed to isn’t relevant to us, and therefore just creates irrelevant noise, causing many people to for example install adblockers, a self-inflicted problem by the industry
Leader in: Grocery retailing
Potential purpose: To step-change national health
Insight: More than 90% of the bread and yoghurt includes added sugar, candy is placed at the cashier lines, and a lot of the food is processed. No grocery retailer is currently taking a lead in fighting for national health.
Leader in: Finance
Potential purpose: To help people realize their dreams by making sound financial choices
Insight: A lot of the profitability in the finance industry is based on lack of knowledge, regulations and oligopolies – not customer value. Regular people should understand the cost structures and true probabilities of bonds if to save in bonds. You should have your money on the savings account with the highest interest rate etc. A bank could do much more as an educational effort in this area.
Leader in: Travel
Potential purpose: To reduce fear in the world
Insight: Many people fear the unknown. Travel helps increase the understanding of other cultures. Also, many people seem a bit tired of the same tourist facade everywhere they go, looking to get more under the skin of the true society and culture they visit.
Leader in: Healthcare
Potential purpose: To make health an asset, not liability, for everyone
Insight: The healthcare industry is designed doctor-first, not patient-first. It’s also disempowering and stupefying the patient, clearly not trusting them with their own health. Finally, healthcare is light-years behind the digital revolution, with patients suffering every day as a consequence.
Leader in: Fast food
Potential purpose: To have good food adapt to people’s schedule
Insight: There are healthy food that tastes amazing and is cheap and fast to produce. Despite this many fastfood chains fail to make a change, but continue to fuel a society of unhealthiness. There is ample room for any leader that wants to make the world a better place to take this on.
Leader in: Corporate education
Potential purpose: Enable people at companies to learn new things at the same pace as the world changes around them
Insight: With a world changing at an increasing pace, learning new things all the time and translating that learning into innovation is per definition the only long-term sustainable competitive advantage. As such, the area of personal learning & development needs to be rebooted. Instead of first going to university to then work, you should have an education program that follows and adapts to your specific needs throughout your professional life.
One thought on “Do you as a company leader know how your industry will make the world better? If not, why not?”
These are some really interesting and profound thoughts. One of the things I am really grateful for in my work is to work for an organisation that has a clear purpose beyond generating profits.
Furthermore, I think that you are really on to something when referring to everyone as leaders, at least of their own situation.
This is something that I try hard to achieve in my own leadership. To empower the people around me to take on the responsibility for their own fate and to think in terms of value creation towards both clients and colleagues is a very worthwhile endeavor. I cannot say that I am 100% successful all the time, but when it works the synergies become clear as in the end they will be both more productive and feel better about their contribution. Hopefully, by working with attitudes we can allow the people around us to be able to spread this mode of thinking.