Updated: Aug 27, 2020
It’s not enough to have amazing tech if you can’t tell people why they should care.
Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on companies knowing their why is often the go-to for encouraging a raison d’etre. I talk about this as Big Purpose. The challenge is that while innovators understand they should have a purpose, defining it and putting action behind it, is a whole nother ball game.
My clients are creators. They’re innovators. They’re technologists.
Sometimes they get stuck in the details and when trying to apply their cool new tech only find small problems to fix.
Breakout companies, however, tend to work to identify the BIG challenges — something they feel connected to. When the founders, or new leadership, start to understand what makes them personally tick and combine it with the big challenges they want to solve, Big Purpose magic starts to happen.
Drones for Social Good
We don’t always think of drones as being more than military tools, or a hobbyist nuisance, but there is one company working to make drones part of our society in positive ways. Beyond delivering slurpees for 7/11 (which sounds strange, but is really fun), they’ve partnered with Johns Hopkins to deliver medicine to remote mountain regions and recently partnered with a paramedic service to make sure defibrillators can be delivered to cardiac arrest patients by drone while the ambulance makes its way through traffic, increasing the patient’s potential for survival.
Having socially conscious big purpose is what helped them beat out companies like Amazon to make the first US drone delivery. Plus, it landed them (pun intended) in the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum.
AI Solving Big Problems
Another of my clients — an AI company — was challenged coming up with potential use cases that didn’t sound like every other AI company. When I asked why the founder wasn’t enthused, he said, “I don’t want to draw boxes around kittens, (which is what several companies do to demonstrate facial recognition capabilities), I want to solve complex problems in challenging environments. This led us to discuss how edge computing could make a difference during a dire situation like the recent California fires, or in the aftermath of a hurricane.
In reality, we were unlocking what has the potential to become the company’s Big Purpose. And if you’ve ever had to recruit top talent, you’ll know how important this is to potential new hires when they’re being wooed by the likes of Google.
Having a Big Purpose, a committed leader, and innovative technology won’t guarantee a hiring or media homerun. How you support your purpose with action and communications is as they say, the secret sauce. For startups, this can mean piloting ideas and a level of experimentation. And when you need to make money to survive like startups, it can be nearly impossible to tie every single action to your purpose. Where you are in the business lifecycle matters.
Here are some guiding questions for you and your company to use to find your big purpose:
What’s at stake? If it’s just making life easier for people whose lives seem easy already, it’s hard for people to care.
Who inside cares about the purpose? If there’s no energy being put into the big purpose system, and it’s a lofty idea coming from the communications team, it will sound like a lofty idea. Hooking into what’s important personally to the CEO means funding and action will have a fighting chance.
What is the company’s unique differentiation to solve a big problem. Here’s where your innovation plays a leading role.
We don’t all have to be an Elon Musk taking on global energy, transportation, and intergalactic colonization to have a socially conscious, Big Purpose company. Look for something you care deeply about that you are equipped to solve now or in the future, and I promise a purpose will start to surface.