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Innovators who embrace the role of purpose in their work stand a greater shot at success. Having a belief stemming from a real problem that you passionately want to solve says, “I see something that needs to change, and I am going to change it.”

Aligning your core belief to a real problem sets the foundation for differentiation, is a magnet for talent who want to fight alongside you for your vision, and can help you power through the inevitable obstacles and challenges you will face as an innovator.

Purpose is in the conversation everyplace –in business and life.  I may tune into the topic because I redirected my own career away from shareholder-driven companies towards what seemed to be a bigger “why” aligned with my values: My purpose is to use my expertise to help innovators succeed. Or maybe it’s because I see our two millennial kids making life choices that are so purpose-led. The millennial commitment to purpose inspires me.

Know your purpose, from the outset.

Do not confuse purpose with an ad campaign, cause-related marketing effort, or slick CSR program report. Nor is it about a mission statement that remains just that – a statement.

Just like “innovation,” purpose is easy to talk about, hard to deliver. Authentic purpose emerges from the core of who you are and what values you stand for. It permeates an organization’s culture, processes, policies, and practices. It is inherent to the business model. It is upheld and nurtured and implemented every day by every member of the organization.

Purpose is role-modeled from the top of the house, but it’s not a top-down edict.
When purpose drives a business, employees are making decisions, asking questions in meetings, and doing their jobs in a manner that reflects their commitment to, belief in, and advocacy for why the business exists and what the organization’s values are.

Purpose and Innovation

Purpose nurtured in this manner links directly to innovation – and helps to achieve meaningful differentiation, establish a special culture and identity, and build an authentic brand that stands for something of deeper value to stakeholders than product, service, or bottom line.

Where do purpose-driven innovators begin?

  • By knowing who they are — and the “why” driving their innovation pursuit that reflects the answer to the user problem on which they are passionately focused.
  • By being passionate about achieving the “why.”
  • By recognizing that the connection between the “why” and daily decisions – and always asking, “How does this decision align with our purpose?”
  • By being a role model for behavior that demonstrates commitment to the purpose and its implications for the business model.

Seeing Kraft Heinz’s recent disastrous earnings announcement made me think about the contrast between this relentless cost squeezer, to the thriving brands who instead have been on the path of building businesses from their core beliefs, values, and purpose.

If the financial crisis taught business people anything, it’s that financial engineering is not a pathway to growth. Some, like Kraft Heinz, still flog that failed strategy.  Others are turning in new directions, understanding what they truly want to stand for and why, and integrating the answers to those questions right into everything they do.

Some of my favorite purpose-led innovators and what they stand for:

  • Patagonia: “We’re in business to save our home planet.”
  • Mozilla: “Ensure the Internet remains a global public resource, open and accessible to all.
  • Everlane “Radical transparency”
  • Nike “To move the power of sport to move the world forward. We believe in a fair, sustainable future – one where everyone thrives on a healthy planet and level playing field.”
  • Unilever’s Dove brand: “We believe beauty should be a source of confidence, and not anxiety. That’s why we are here to help women everywhere develop a positive relationship with the way they look, helping them raise their self-esteem and realize their full potential.”
  • KIND: “Make the world a little kinder. We believe that kindness can change the world. That’s why we’re on a mission to make the world a little kinder and have been since we were founded in 2004. We call this the KIND Movement..”

Purpose – well defined and authentically executed – underpins meaningful innovations, and is a catapult to sustainable growth and market differentiation.

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