These reflections have dispelled the agitation with which I began my letter, and I feel my heart glow with an enthusiasm which elevates me to heaven; for nothing contributes so much to tranquilize the mind as a steady purpose,—a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye.Robert Walton in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Talk of pivoting is popular. But, most companies don’t have a place to pivot from.1
When a company only chases profits or market share, they only have the whims of the market to anchor their business. And, when those whims change, their anchors get dislodged and they have to scramble for a new spot to give them stability.
Contrary to what a lot of people preach, pivoting shouldn’t involve a radical leap—your anchor shouldn’t get dislodged; you’re still the same company at your core. A pivot doesn’t change the function of an organization, it just changes its form: what you do is the same, but the way you do it becomes different.
To know how you should pivot, you have to start with what anchors you, what never changes in your business: your purpose.
Your purpose is the why behind your business. It’s why you exist beyond profits.
A purpose gives you a certain view of the world. It has a central value: the way you believe the world should be. In creating this central value, it’s important to note that the central value isn’t only the way the world should be; it also takes into account the way the world shouldn’t be. A true value needs an opposite that it stands against: without a possible negative outcome, there is no tension. And, without any tension to be solved, a value has little motivating force.
A purpose is not what you’re excited about: excitement fades. Purpose carries you unwavering and committed through not only the high points but also the difficult times. Your business’s purpose should be what you’re most passionate about—what you’d do in spite of any difficulty.
It doesn’t have to be big, but it has to be bigger than yourself. If it’s only about yourself or a small group of people, it runs the risk of having selfishness creep into decision-making— consciously or unconsciously. When a purpose is selfish, it runs the risk of being only about profit. And, if it’s about profit, it’s no longer a true purpose.
When you create a purpose, you can’t just consider what the purpose is but you also need to consider why everyone working for an organization should be motivated by it. This is because the purpose ultimately leads to the formation of core values and core values guide the everyday behaviors of employees.
A purpose provides you with focus and clarity. What you do today determines the type of organization you can become tomorrow. A purpose helps you act so that the organization you become is the one you want to be.
The strategy of reconnecting with your purpose is especially useful during a crisis or a period of change, where you’re constantly bombarded with new information. For this strategy and four others for dealing with a crisis, check out our slideshow.