Purpose Will Save Your Business, Your Body & Your World
Article contributed by Nick Seneca Jankel, entrepreneur, speaker, author, founder of ethical innovation and leadership consultancy WECREATE Worldwide and Ripe & Ready, whose purpose is to create enlightening and empowering media content that ensures the digital generations, and our world, thrive.
A Passionate Invitation to Heart-Led, Purpose-Driven Entrepreneurship
10 years ago I was flying high. I was about to be thirty years old. I ran one of the most exciting companies in existence – a cross between a Ad Agency and McKinsey that was working with some of the world’s biggest and best companies to drive human insight and creative thinking into the heart of their business strategy through innovation. I was a multi-millionaire on paper; had serious VC chasing us; around 50 staff ready to make awesome creative projects happen; a fabulous hipster office in London, complete with vintage air hockey table shipped in from Texas (to London); had been featured in the FT, Times, Guardian, Marketing Week and more; had three Gold frequent flyer cards in my wallet; was flying off to San Francisco every few weeks to enjoy cocktails at parties laid on by Industry Standard and Red Herring magazine; and had just been invited to No.10 Downing Street to give some of our ideas on innovation in a digital age to the Prime Minster’s team.
Yet something was wrong; something was missing; and it brought me to my knees.
After five years in the fast lane of New Economy entrepreneurship, I was emotionally frazzled and physically exhausted. Although my relentless commitment to excellence was one element of what made us successful, I was a poor leader and our business model was reliant on finding the 1 or 2 big innovation projects a global multi-national has a year. Yet even with all the surface challenges of running fast companies, with much reflection, my experience of burn-out was less about the stress of running a rapidly-growing business and more about the realization, deep within, that I was running a company that was not aligned with my truest aspirations.
My heart was breaking asunder because my career choices were not aligned with the young, optimistic, world-changer who volunteered as a youth leader at 15; taught science in an African school at 18; and studied medicine with a view to being a psychiatrist at 19. As my heart was torn apart, my mind and body starting to break a little too. I was in breakdown. Working with my coach at the time, I grokked, in a moment of inconvenient truth, that I was using the most powerful tools for transformation known to humanity – the majesty of psychology, neurobiology, philosophy, and anthropology – to help rich companies get richer by inventing stuff that most of us don’t need; and then persuading people to buy that stuff with marketing that suggests that they were not sexy/smart/rich/good enough without it.
Eating my own caviar, in the middle of this breakdown experience, I sought out a massive breakthrough, one that I have been unpacking ever since. Once I was prepared to give up all that burgeoning fortune and ascending fame, I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that I had to focus on using those tools and my talents to remind us all that we are already enough as we are, without anything else; and with that sense of abundance, we can harness channel our creativity and passion towards make a difference.
I questioned the foundational assumptions that my business (and most of capitalism) was based on… and found them wanting. Within weeks I exited my company, convinced in the bottom of my heart that I could no longer spend another second creating problems in the world, no matter how much my Finance Director and Accountant pleaded with me to sell up and make my millions. I was done, cooked, over. My heart, thankfully, would not allow me to create any more pain in the world. Just as I did a few years before when I made the equally momentous decision to leave medical school to focus on philosophy as the key to transformation; I left my own career. The breakthrough compelled me to understand what was wonky in my life and business philosophy; and transform it before I ever built a company again.
Every single one of us runs every moment of our existence – and our enterprises – using a life philosophy or worldview. Naturally, many of the features of it are passed down from our parents, acquired from the media, invented by a younger version of us or hard-wired in during our early experience in an industry. Many of these assumptions and habits get us into trouble; drive our enterprises into the ground and us with them. More importantly, when we run ventures without awareness of the assumptions about human nature and the universe we live in that underpin our business model, way of leading and work-life balance, we tend to create suffering for the people and planet around us we rely on for everything – whether the love we relish or the revenues we need.
The great poet William Blake wrote in Jerusalem: I must create a system, or be enslav’d by another man’s; I will not reason and compare: My business is to create.’ We can only become free to create a life, a business, and a world that fits our deepest aspirations when we invent (or discover) a life philosophy that helps us thrive. This is not about smarts. Business is full of MBAs and Icy League grads that are running the show; and our planet into the ground. This is about wisdom – reflection, contemplation and mindful awareness. It is about consciously surfacing the assumptions that drive our business and entrepreneurship… and systematically and courageously challenging them until we are sure we are creating ventures and impact that fit our values, ideals and aspirations.
Conveniently, this same process is what helps disruptive innovators create massive, market-changing breakthroughs. They challenge the status quo, destroying old industry myths as they build their Virgins, AirBnBs and VICE magazines. If we put our purpose at the core of that process, we get to build a disruptive innovation… which empowers more people to thrive… whilst allowing us to flourish because all our energy is coming from passion and love; not need and greed.
Purpose is what we are called to do once we are free of the disappointments and lack of our formative years. Many entrepreneurs are stuck in the past, building their empires to, say, get their parents to love them, to prove they can make it to their school friends or to make sure they never have to suffer without money again. These kinds of motivators – almost always unconscious and hidden away – trap us (and our communities) into suffering, because they are all driven by a hurt and fearful ego. We then construct stories around them that make these myths – that Plato called Noble Lies (noble because they try to protect us) – seems normal, even inevitable. The entire capitalist cultural narrative is designed to make need and greed seem timeless. Conventional entrepreneurs tend to be driven by the desire for fortune and fame (fuelled by a perceived lack of it). Social entrepreneurs tend to be driven by a frustration or rage with the world. All are motivations that cannot help but create problems down the line for us.
To help entrepreneurs I work with (and myself to boot) I have spent the last years studying the core drivers of enterprise creation and acceleration. I have identified 6 powerful motivators – the 6 Fs – that are drive all of us at some point in our careers, often many times a day:
Fear, of being unemployed, having to get a job (after years of entrepreneurship), or of not being successful enough for our spouse or family, causes us to make poor choices, locks us into old assumptions and habits, and drives burnout and stress. Fury, at all the people who refused to believe in, support and help you, can motivate action but also block creativity, insight and empathy, the lifeblood of innovation. The desire for fortune can drive us to work hard but can also trap us in projects that don’t fulfill us, clash with our values, and destroy value in the communities we rely on for sustenance. The desire for fame – or respect and recognition – can rule brilliance; but also leads us to make decision based on whether we will be liked or admired. Frustration, with poverty, suffering, ignorance, wastage or graft, can drive us to build world-changing organizations; but, left unchecked, ends up driving people away and ourselves crazy.
The final motivation is freedom – for ourselves, our team, our customers and our world – can keep on going through thick and thin… without tripping us into stress and trapping us in poor decision-making. Freedom of the human spirit is at the root of all-purpose. In my recent book, Switch On, and in the accompanying DIY Coaching Toolkit that serves to embed the insights from the book into everyday life, I discuss how to find and hone your purpose in detail. For now, it’s important to realize that your purpose has nothing to do with what you should do (or not). It is not about being right or wrong. It has nothing to do with what your parents or mentors would think. It’s nothing to do with being rich, respected, or famous. It’s not even about what you want or desire. Instead, your purpose emanates clearly from you once you are free from the drives of fame, fortune, fury, fear and frustration. It is your truth once you have reached peace within and you have healed the disappointments of your formative years.
Purpose is not a big, hairy, or audacious goal. Instead, it is the way you can be each and every moment, of each and every day, that brings the most of your potential into the world. It is the glue that connects your brilliance with what your community needs most. Purpose is a conversation between your heart and the heartaches of the world. It is a bridge between your unique gifts and what the world wants most from you so both you and it can be freer. It may not be convenient, moneymaking, or safe. Many of your peers may not understand it. Some may resist it. Yet it does not matter who thinks what about it. It is your truth.
Purpose is the core reason for an organization to exist. It is not what it does; or what it wants to sell or make in return. It is why anyone should care about it – invest in it, work for it and buy from it. When a company has a strong, heartfelt purpose – that really lives and breaths in the culture – it galvanizes the full potential of the organization to deliver. People put that extra bit of time or energy in, which shifts them and their products and services from good to great. In a book entitled Venture Capitalists At Work: How VCs Identify and Build Billion Dollar Successes, the author, a Silicon Valley veteran called Tarang Shah, states that: “Entrepreneurs who are committed to a mission beyond profits are more likely to succeed.” Little wonder that in IBM’s 2012 study of hundreds of senior leaders, purpose came out as one of their top 3 most important things to focus on (the other two were ethics and values, which underlie purpose; and building a collaborative environment, which is how purpose is expressed).
However, having a purpose is not like having a mission statement. It has no value when simply plastered around the company lobby or trumpeted in sexy documents. It has to play out in what people say and do, day-to-day, meeting-to-meeting. It has to shape decisions about what, where and how to innovate; and who to recruit and promote. If it doesn’t’t, it is just more piffle and the benefits will never materialize. Purpose lives as much in our guts and hearts as it does our heads. We can feel it, burning away, once we know what it is and have committed to it. Purpose tells us what to prioritize and what to not, even if all the data is not available to make a purely logical decision. Great leaders harness the emotive power of purpose to motivate and guide both themselves and others. Purpose – when lived in the heart as much as the head – is what help us turn our creative brilliance into innovations in products, services and business models that can help the whole world, and not just the 1%, flourish.
Some incredible studies in the last couple of years show that purpose can also stop Alzheimer’s, cancer and a heart attack striking us down in our prime. One study has shown that purpose is more important than money, ambition, or any other factor in predicting how creative we are. Another study has shown that people who score in the top 10% in terms of ‘living with purpose’ are about 250% times less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when compared with those in the bottom 10%. In a third study, those who enjoyed a lot of meaning in their lives had healthier cells than those who did not. When we are purposeful, our immune system is geared away from inflammation. This happens whether we feel ourselves to be ‘happy’ or not. Chronic inflammation is a known driver of killers like heart disease and cancer.
So purpose works wonders on our businesses and our bodies. Yet be warned. Purpose isn’t a career choice, brand vision, or business goal. It is why you are in business in the first place – the contribution you and your enterprise is geared to make, at any time, with anyone. It may involve joining the Fortune 500 or winning a Pulitzer Prize, yet it’s just as likely to involve looking out for the communities we are part of and the staff who give 8 or 10 hours a day to our efforts.
Your purpose is unique to you as an entrepreneur; and your enterprise as a whole. Purpose cannot be right or wrong and it certainly cannot be better or worse than anyone else’s. Purpose is the human spirit free from old and redundant habits, assumptions and disappointments. It is exultant, powerful, and inexhaustible. The only person who can stop you from letting it out is you. Don’t worry if you can’t define your purpose in words. Having the exact words to describe it is not nearly as important as feeling it burn like a flame within your heart and within the organization’s culture. As long as you feel your purpose, you’ll know whether you’re ‘on purpose’ or ‘off purpose.’
Build your business around your purpose and you need never get trapped by feeling inadequate, over-whelmed, over-burdened or impatient again. This is important. As Y-Combinator founder, Paul Graham, says: “The biggest reason founders stop working on their start-ups is that they get demoralized”. Purpose keeps us our morale and our morals intact. It ensures we can keep on going over hump after hump; and able to put our head down on our pillow each night knowing we have done all we need to do that day to be part of the solution to the world’s challenges… not part of the problem. Every time my ego runs amok, complaining that my projects aren’t going quick enough; the Facebook likes are large enough; or people don’t respect my genius enough… I breathe out, remember my purpose, and dedicate all my work as gift from one human heart to others. It is the gift that keeps on giving, to others and ourselves.
Now I have two purpose-driven enterprises that emanate from a clear heart and focused mind, whose every product and service has been carefully designed to contribute to the healing of the world, what the Jewish wisdom tradition calls Tikkun Olam. I am clear that this kind of world-change can only come when we each individually heal our ravaged hearts – Tikkun Hanefesh – and fill the lack within that drives so much purposeless entrepreneurship.
Each week, through my ethical innovation and leadership consultancy WECREATE Worldwide, I have the enormous privilege and pleasure to speak to, train, teach, coach and create tools and toolkits for thousands of innovators and entrepreneurs all over the world – from Indonesia to California – who want to build business models around their purpose (and work out what their purpose is in the first place). I receive emails and tweets from random people across the planet who tell me how much my ideas – whether in books, videos or slide share shows – have inspired them to find a way to contribute to the betterment of our society.
I also am birthing an insanely ambitious wisdom and world-change media company, Ripe & Ready, whose purpose is to create enlightening and empowering media content that ensures the digital generations, and our world, thrive. It’s all about wisdom without the woo woo, making authentic spiritual awakening, heart-led social activism and heart-led living cool, ‘normal’ and totally mainstream. Ripe & Ready, a truly purpose-driven enterprise, is not yet another for the relatively wealthy. There are way enough companies in the personal development, yoga, mindfulness and life-hacking space that cater for the middle (and upper) classes.
The digital generations are the most stressed and depressed in history. 40% say their stress has increased in the past year. 52% say stress has kept them awake at night in the past month. Depression is diagnosed in them more than any other group, double the Baby Boomers. Suicide is between first and third leading cause of death in the West. It kills more than war and murder put together. It is the leading cause of death in the US for 15-24 year olds. According to the World Health Organizations, depression will soon be the No.1 burden on global health. Meanwhile, the digital gene ratios have the smallest percentage in the workforce since records began. Of the 7 or so billion people on the planet, currently many will not get access – because of limits to their finances, education, literacy, mobility and more – to a great yoga class, mindfulness teacher, personal development course or even a wisdom text.
I first attempted to deliver this purpose with a social enterprise business model… providing the coaching, creativity and leadership tools I use with the world’s best organizations at ultra-low cost, from poor areas of the UK’s most depressed city to the streets of Lagos, Nigeria. However, as funds and appetite for mental empowerment dried up in the Great Recession, I realized that I had to build a company that could fund disruptive innovation into new ways of delivering personal transformation at massive scale (without relying on innovation-averse foundations, government functionaries and philanthropists).
My insight is that it is only when we help millions upon millions of people from all walks of life to switch on to their potential to solve their own community’s problems – by first healing their own suffering and breaking through their own habits and limitations – that will we get the tangible better world so many of us yearn for. Neither traditional, guru-led, middle-class models for enhancing empowerment and wisdom; nor focusing on relieving the symptoms of mental and spiritual suffering, like corruption or poverty, will get us there.
Running two purpose-driven businesses as I do, I have no regrets, guilt and shame; nor VCs hounding me to sell out my purpose to create 100x or 1000x ROI. I don’t have 50 consultant’s mouths to feed, forcing me to take any project so I can keep growing. And I get to save the ground-breaking power of Breakthrough Biodynamics (the framework I have wrestled from 20 years research and practice in personal and corporate breakthrough) for people and projects that are look for disruptive innovations in healthcare, education, sustainability, poverty reduction and the like; or to have breakthroughs in their families or relationships and bring more intimacy, empathy and compassion into the world.
To get all this juiciness, I have had to give up a lot up. We can only have a breakthrough we are prepared to release the assumptions and habits that drive us, our business, and our society towards breakdown. As countless wisdom traditions teach, surrender is they key to true and lasting joy, peace and awareness. So, after 10 years of living life as a purpose-driven heart-led entrepreneur, I am neither fabulously wealthy nor a household name. Most people don’t really get what I do; and why I gave up a wildly successful business to run two business that seem less commercial. I don’t get invited to award dinners and parties, by entrepreneurial star-fuckers. I also have no gold airline frequent flyer cards, with most of my clients being government departments, start-ups, social enterprises and non-profits.
However, I do get to sit here, writing this, knowing that I am actively involved in re-calibrating capitalism away from extraction and accumulation and towards networks and community-oriented, driven by a life and business philosophy that fits far better the digital, globalized, interdependent economy we find ourselves in. Far from accelerating our society towards environmental disaster, species degradation, social inequality and poverty with every meeting I attend, campaign I lead and product I innovate, instead, with every entrepreneurial effort I expend (which I no longer have to limit with fear of burn-out) I bring more consciousness, creativity and collaboration into a world sorely in need of it. And there is no Series A investment, IPO or island purchase that can beat that feeling. And there never will be.
Where to start? Switch on. Reconnect Your Heart. Listen. What is your purpose calling you to express? Who is your purpose inviting you to free?
Enjoyed this article? Connect with Nick on Twitter > @nickjankel and you can pick up his new book; “Switch On: Unleash Your Creativity and Thrive with the New Science and Spirit of Breakthrough” here.