In my previous article I examined the challenge of developing our authentic purpose. In this article I would like to explain a little about how we can approach authentic purpose with a view to helping businesses and organisations make the leap from developing sustainable technology to achieving sustainable human evolution.
I would like to start by quoting a short extract from Dan Lyon’s new book Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble, in which he makes some devastating observations from an insider’s point of view of his year inside a hi-tech startup HubSpot:
“HubSpot’s first hires included a head of sales and a head of marketing. Halligan and Dharmesh filled these positions even though they had no product to sell and didn’t even know what product they were going to make. HubSpot started out as a sales operation in search of a product.”
We could call this the antithesis of activating purpose, where a startup is created with the implicit purpose of purely making money. Indeed, Lyon explains how he feels that there has been a shift from a focus on the product to a focus on the business model:
“Another thing I’m learning in my new job is that while people still refer to this business as the “tech industry,” in truth it is no longer really about technology at all. “You don’t get rewarded for creating great technology, not anymore,” says a friend of mine who has worked in tech since the 1980s, a former investment banker who now advises startups. “It’s all about the business model. The market pays you to have a company that scales quickly. It’s all about getting big fast. Don’t be profitable, just get big.”
When I listen to some of the major Silicon Valley tech gurus do their presentations on technology of the future and what is coming, these presentations can often be very big on the DOING side of things, the new technology being created, but they are often very light in terms of reflecting on the BEING of this new technology, and even lighter on how this can impact on our own human sense of being.
Although we need to acknowledge that the word “consciousness” can be used in many different ways, and is therefore problematic, for the purpose of our schematic we can think of the DOING dimension as innovation, and the BEING dimension as consciousness.
In philosophy the great question of being is referred to as ontology. This is a big word which is not always fully understood, but if time is taken to explore what it means, then great advances in innovation can often be made.
One of the best examples is Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas. In 2004, years before he began to co-create the canvas with colleagues, he wrote a masters thesis titled The Business Model Ontology: A Proposition in Design Science Approach. What Osterwalder did which was little appreciated was to spend time asking the deceptively simply question “what is a business model”. In spending time asking about the nature of the business model, Osterwalder can then proceed to the ideation and development stage, which he then did to great acclaim and success.
The BEING dimension in my schematic is less a qualitative graduation and more a journey into being. Osterwalder used the term ontology in relation to developing “a rigorous conceptual model of business models.” However, if we take our inspiration from philosophers such as Heidegger and Gadamer, and my own teacher of the philosophy of wholeness Henri Bortoft, we can learn to expand our consciousness, our quality of thinking to develop a deeper sense of being.
The great question of being can be understood by thinking about the being of a play such as Hamlet. Starting with Richard Burbage, the first actor to ever portray Hamlet at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, there have been many great actors who have taken on this role, including Jude Law, Christopher Walken, Ralph Fiennes, David Tennant, Kenneth Branagh, Richard Burton, and Laurence Olivier.
One of the most recent stagings was last year between August and October which saw huge throngs of fans packing out the Barbican in London to see Benedict Cumberbatch in as a hoodie-wearing Hamlet directed and interpreted by Lyndsey Turner.
At one and the same time, it is possible to conceive of there being the One Hamlet, and many Hamlets. Each new version of Hamlet is not a copy of the previous Hamlet, nor is it totally different and unrelated to the previous Hamlet. We recognise each authentic performance as being Hamlet (identity) while also being different from other Hamlets (difference).
If we try and ask the question “what is the being of a play” it is not that a play exists just as a script, as words on paper. It partially exists in this format, but this is not the fullest expression of its being. neither does a play fully exist in the head of the playwright, which actors, directors and other members of a production team try to recreate, and neither does it fully exist in the minds of the audience who are watching the play.
In asking what a play is, as well as pointing to the elements which make up a play - the script, the actors, the costumes, the set, the theatre, the director, the audience, we can also conceive of the being of a play as being at its fullest in the performance of the play. Great actors are those who allow themselves to allow the play to play them, and when we experience an authentic interpretation of a play, we experience it as a whole where all the parts belong together, giving us a great sense of wonder, excitement and fulfilment.
By thinking of the being of a play verbally, in the happening of the performing, we move away to thinking about the play in an intellectual sense, in terms of the meaning of each individual, be they actors, director or audience members, and we gain an intuitive connection with the very essence of a play, in that a play plays.
This is the dynamic conception of wholeness, the whole play being experienced as it comes to presence through the parts, existing verbally, and also, not as something fixed, but which in each performance call always grow, expand in meaning, while always being whole. The meaning of play can be seen to always be unfinished, since the dynamic conception of wholeness allows for an expansion of meaning without losing the sense of wholeness.
The reason I coined the phrase 'Customer Experiences with Soul' was to help people make an intuitive leap from understanding their purpose to understanding how this purpose comes to presence in products and services. We experience products and especially services as counterfeit when people in an organisation are not able to allow the purpose to play them, due to a lack of resonance, understanding and leadership.
Last year Havas Media Group published research which showed that brands which enhance the wellbeing of people, communities and societies have a “Share of Wallet” which is on average 46 percent higher compared to those brands which are not perceived as meaningful to the lives of people. Customers are now responding to those companies who are genuinely transparent in all that they do. It is not enough to talk about your company’s purpose and mission. Everyone in the organisation has to live it. Absolutely everything communicates something about your business and ultimately your brand, which in turn affect’s people perception of it.
Ironically, one of the situations which most raises our ire is when we encounter people in a call centre who are not treated as fully human, but as machines who have to mechanically follow a linear script, a script which more often than not does not match our reason for calling. People can sense an inauthentic performance of services, but they are delighted when people fully embody the spirit of an organisation (identity) without losing a sense of who they are as an individual (difference).
As I mentioned in my previous article, we encounter counterfeit brands with counterfeit purposes when what the brand says, what the brand means and what the brand does fail to coalesce as a unified whole. The example of the play was used to help us develop an understanding of being, but there are essential differences between the being of a play, in which actors aim to remove their personalities to become a new character, and a sustainable brand in which people are empowered by bringing their whole selves to work, fulfilled in meaningful work for the betterment of society and the planet.
We cannot separate authentic purpose from the universal human values of peace, truth, love, right-action and non-violence. Our customer experience fully comes to presence in people who are not our customers. When a purpose is truly authentic, there is no difference in the way in which this purpose is expressed in the behaviours, speech and actions of those who believe in it, independently of whether or not the other person in the interaction is a customer or someone who can benefit the business in any way.
It is worth remembering that the history of Unilever began in the 1890s, when William Hesketh Lever, the founder of Lever Bros created Sunlight Soap – a revolutionary new product that helped promote cleanliness and hygiene in Victorian England. Their mission was 'to make cleanliness commonplace; to lessen work for women; to foster health and contribute to personal attractiveness, that life may be more enjoyable and rewarding for the people who use our products.'
Unilever are able to inspire their employees, shareholders, stakeholders and customers worldwide by authentically remaining true to the spirit of their beginnings. However, in this new era where brands are being called to have a purpose, sometimes it can be the case that the purpose is treated mechanistically, as something to be added on to an existing product or service. And as we saw at the start, often a business can be created without even having a product or service, let alone a purpose. This is the ultimate expression of innovation without being.
Great actors plunge themselves into a role and give their all to achieve a great performance, but we cannot expect our service to be experienced as a great play if those responsible for that service, in any part of the organisation, are not moved by the purpose.
Soulfulness is wholeness, and it is only when all the parts of a product, service, organisation, brand and purpose fully belong together that we are able to create a customer experience with soul. The magic truly begins when everyone in a business, organisation, network or ecosystem become like great actors who allow themselves to be performed by the play, and the magic is experienced by customers when a brand, purpose and values start to play us.