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Neil Gaught:
Turning Aspiration Into Action

With his award-winning book, Core, Gaught has bolstered the case for a radical rethink of the purpose of business by proving change is not only desirable but entirely possible.

Neil Gaught started his career in design and then moved onto brand and business strategy. In many instances in his career, he’s became a bridge between creatives and strategists, visionaries and practitioners, idealists and realists, because he can ‘speak both languages.’ With his award-winning book, Core, Neil has bolstered the case for a radical rethink of the purpose of business by proving change is not only desirable but entirely possible. His Single Organizing Idea (SOI®) and its potential to deliver profitable outcomes to those seeking to put society at the core of their business strategy is creating a fast-growing following.

Gaught was in conversation with Etienne White, CEO and founder of Possible; answers have been edited and condensed to fit the format.

What are you passionate about?

Neil Gaught: Ideas — and most especially, helping companies identify powerful ideas that can deliver the kind of positive change our world urgently needs. Businesses that organize themselves around a single idea that puts the needs of all their stakeholders at the core. A Single Organizing Idea has a multiplier effect. At the heart of a truly successful sustainable business, we see multiple positive benefits: Companies are attracting great employees and retaining star employees, they are a hotbed of innovation, they have increased sales and better margins … the list goes on. And while we look at it and hold it up as an example, many of us don’t know how to create that same environment in our organizations, or which angle to take to even begin the work. My work is about helping companies get clarity on their offering and their benefit to society through identifying and defining what their SIO is. Once they have a clear purpose identified, we can execute and ‘make it happen.’

And you have your eyes on a new generation of business leaders?

Yes, Sustainability is mainstreaming — it’s happening. It won’t be long until millennials make up the majority of not just the c-suite, but company boards, too. Culturally, we’ve become addicted to wealth, we use it as a single source or proof of success (and we’ve built vast, extractive industries and economies around attaining our wealth goals). Millennials and Gen Z reject that assumption; they work in a new paradigm. Gen Z are coming, too — they will be the most different generation yet; they are going to question all our systems and financial models.

What will you be talking about at SB’19 Detroit?

I’ll be calling for the radical change that is needed. We’ve all agreed that CSR is not what we do anymore — instead, we are all about ‘Purpose.’ But purpose done wrong is just ‘purpose-washing;’ and when done right, can it galvanize the hearts and minds of many — it unites people behind a sense of something bigger than themselves and their individual contributions. When you are in branding, design and strategy, you have the power to influence so many, but it’s also easy to flounder and water down or lose messages, too. Additionally, purpose can’t just be communicated — it must be demonstrated and proven.

Specifically, at SB’19 Detroit, I’ll be running a workshop in which we’ll turn theory into a reality and start using some of the ‘Core’ tools I’ve developed. People will learn what the most foundational elements are to get right; they’ll learn how to add clarity to the process; and what the practical, no-nonsense steps are to transform their business. We’ll talk about what kind of leadership is required at each stage of the transformation. We will scratch a little deeper, in our brands and businesses, asking questions like: What is the economic and societal benefit this brand brings? What is the best, most admired thing this company can do for people and planet? What is your new story and your potential value? The Single Organizing Idea gets you to a place where you harness all your creativity and strategy, and use that power to do enormous good in your marketing and in your broader organization. My hope is that together we can turn aspiration into action.