Purpose in business is real. Everyone needs it. But not everyone needs it in the way that the purpose-brigade preaches.
A cringemaking story that does the rounds is the one about bricklayers working on a cathedral. I’m ashamed to say I probably used it in the past. Here’s a straight cut-n-paste from one (typical) version on Huffpost.
“A traveler came upon three men working. He asked the first man what he was doing and the man said he was laying bricks. He asked the second man the same question and he said he was putting up a wall. When he got to the third man and asked him what he was doing he said he was building a cathedral.
They were all doing the same thing. The first man had a job. The second man had a career. The third man had a calling.”
Then it generally goes on to spout about how people will find more meaning in work if it has a grand purpose.
And in reality, for some people, yes it does. Which is fantastic. We do need to make sure that business makes a positive difference.
But not everyone needs a “grand calling” for their work. And that’s OK. Because the real lesson should be that everyone finds their own purpose. The third man may have had a calling to God. Or he may have asked the traveller to take a photo to post on Instagram and show everyone he was building a cathedral. Who knows.
And the first man? Well, he was getting a decent wage for a decent day’s work. He took his pay home, and after paying food and bills, it also allowed him to buy a football kit for his daughter who was a member of the local footie team. And he loved to take her every Sunday and just watch her play. She didn’t end up being Jill Scott. She just had fun playing footie until she was 13, then decided to give netball a go.
And actually, just earning to keep his family fed and buy kit for his little girl so she could play, and he could shout support from the touchline was happiness. And plenty meaningful and positive enough.
OK. So I’m a crap storyteller. But the point is that business owners do have a bigger responsibility to build businesses that are ethical, and which help fix rather than further break the world. But accept that everyone’s motivations are different, and that’s more than fine – it’s beautiful and the very richness of life.
So don’t try to force everyone to drink the koolaid with you. Some just prefer apple juice.
And that’s OK.
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