Let’s be Purpose Driven

One thing I’ve struggled with as a developer is working on projects I believe in, with people I believe in, who share a mission I believe in.

It hasn’t happened often enough.

I worked in companies where I liked the people, or thought the work was technically challenging, but the company didn’t fulfill me.  I felt empty.

These business all had something in common: They were chasing the bottom line instead of a higher purpose.  It wasn’t until I joined the Fool that I was able to put words to those feelings.

When I worked at the Fool, Tom Gardner (the CEO) would always remind us what our purpose was: To Help the World Invest. Better. This wasn’t to make money (although that does keep business afloat), it was to show and help people raise their standard of living. Of all the ways to raise your standard of living, saving and investing are probably the best (playing the lottery: Worst). The Fool advocates a ‘Buy and Hold’ philosophy, but more than that, they advocate investing in companies you believe in. He talks about his views more in this interview with the Elephant Journal.

John Mackey calls the approach companies like the Fool are following Conscious Capitalism, and has even dedicated his company, Whole Foods, to that purpose (he also sits on the board of The Motley Fool).

Conscious Capitalism has four principles:

  • Higher Purpose: Don’t exist just to make money, but to further the world in some way. This may mean making decisions that cause you to lose money just because they don’t meet with your purpose.
  • Stakeholder Orientation: Your business should be orientated to your stakeholders: The people that work with you, for you, give you money to run this business, and the people who you’ve asked to help shape your business. This means that you should treat your employees just as well as you treat your customers and investors. Their success is your success.
  • Conscious Leadership: It’s not traditionally considered a virtue to show your weaknesses; but you should. You should be honest in your dealings; in what you know and what you don’t know. Focus on how to enrich the whole team to accomplish the business’s purpose.
  • Conscious Culture: Your culture is the sum of all of your interactions, processes, and outcomes in your company. With a good culture, you can conquer just about any problem. With a mediocre culture, you’re not competitive with companies that have a good culture.

More and more, we’re seeing companies that aren’t just there to make money, but to have a purpose. These companies have the opportunity not only to make money, but to make the world a better place. We need that. As the interview points out, millennials are looking for that in a company. If you had asked me what I wanted four years ago, I would have told you I wanted to find a home. Four years later, I understand what I want that home to look like.

  • I should be proud of everything my company does. If I’m not, that means bringing up the subject and talking about the issues and working to resolve them.
  • My company should be purpose driven. It has to be a purpose I believe in.
  • The internal culture should support fulfilling that purpose,
  • I should be proud to tell people where I work and what we do.
  • Diversity of thought and deed should be paramount to the the company. This means hiring a diverse group of people; not to match some sort of idea of equality (although that has its own benefits), but because diversity of thought and action makes everything better.
  • The second part to diversity is being able to speak up; if the culture doesn’t support speaking up without fear of retaliation, it’s not a diverse culture.

Silicon Valley tries* to pay more than lip service to this ideal, but given that Silicon Valley has a myopic culture, it’s hard to see if they’ll have any real effect in this area (If you’re looking for more evidence of Silicon Valley’s culture problems, spend a day reading Model View Culture).  Another reason Silicon Valley won’t produce these sorts of companies is that on the whole, SV is worried about Exits, not about building a sustainable, purpose-driven business. That isn’t to say a Silicon Valley VC driven business can’t also be a purpose-driven business, just that it’s going to be hard if the VC aren’t on the same page with the founders about the type of business they want.

That means that these purpose-driven companies that developers want to be a part of are going to emerge from places other than Silicon Valley.

I’m excited about the rise of purpose-driven companies. For my part; I’m going to continue to pursue opportunities to be purpose-driven; and for the future of technology, I hope you’ll do the same.



*While there are lots of companies that believe in diversity and being purpose-driven (like Mozilla); the good companies don’t get nearly the press the bad companies do (Uber, for instance).  Like it or not, the companies that do bad things (again, Uber) are having a bad effect on the perception of every company in Silicon Valley. It may not be fair; but this is my perception as an outsider.


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