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From the Inside Out: Reflections on the Purpose Issue

Vanessa Childers July 9, 2019

Dedicating an entire issue of Conscious Company magazine to purpose seems a bit redundant on the surface. To be conscious of your actions in business — and of the effects those actions have on others — is, in essence, to proclaim a purpose of “caring about the welfare of people and the planet.” But we humans can get a little distracted by the broad strokes of that commitment, the goals we’re looking to achieve, and how we’re going to get there. Often, the meaning behind what we do becomes fuzzy and out of focus. 

In his book “Start With Why,” our cover guy Simon Sinek presents a concept he calls The Golden Circle, represented by three superimposed layers: “what” is the outermost, “how” is in the middle, and “why” is at the center. In his blockbuster 2009 TED Talk, Sinek says, “Every single organization on the planet knows what they do. Some know how they do it, whether you call it your differentiating value proposition, your proprietary process, or your USP. But very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by why I don’t mean to make a profit. That’s a result. By why, I mean, ‘What’s your purpose — your cause, your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed every morning, and why should anyone care?’ As a result, the way we think, act, and communicate goes from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing . Inspired leaders and organizations, regardless of their size and industry, all think, act, and communicate from the inside out.” With this approach, a company’s how and what can vary (and should, as markets and consumer demands change), but the why remains constant. Conscious Company is a good example; this issue is the last installment of our print magazine, but we continue with our why, to “redefine success in business in service of all life,” through other hows (co-founder and CEO Meghan French Dunbar explains this decision in more detail).

But what if the why for most companies isn’t, well, very meaningful? That’s the question Brian Sherwin asks in the thought piece that kicks off this issue, along with the question, “Shouldn’t we assess an economy by the quality of meaning it produces?” When it comes to learning how to articulate your own meaningful why, who better to guide the way than The Purpose Institute’s Chief Purposologist, Haley Rushing? Check out her 19 lessons (and one dirty little secret) from 20 years in the arena

This issue is packed with case studies of purpose-driven efforts: learn how Kate Spade New York’s social enterprise initiative is radically transforming the community of Masoro, Rwanda; travel back in time to the seventh year of Interface’s successful 25-year quest to eliminate any negative impact the company may have on the environment; and then check out the 22 superstars nominated by their communities for our Top Conscious Business Leaders of 2019. Let these two dozen stories act as roadmaps for aligning your why with your what and how, no matter your company’s size, industry, or previous practices.

A good reminder as you draft or revisit your purpose: you can’t create a healthy outer world without first cultivating a healthy inner world. Prepare your mind, body, and soul to weather the burnout, stress, and depression that inevitably come with purpose-driven work with Gia Duke’s four antidotes to compassion exhaustion — lending another meaning to working from the “inside out.”

You will also find fortifying messages about the timeliness and importance of bringing forth your purpose here and now, breaking with the status quo. To quote Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” “One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them,” and the business dogmas of old are no different; for centuries, we’ve been conditioned to believe that business leaders must exercise strict authority over their employees. But, as Aaron Dignan poses in his book “Brave New Work,” it’s time businesses break free of bureaucracy, hierarchy, and a compliance mindset and recondition a new way of thinking — one that trades the illusion of control for something far better. Speaking of “far better,” what if organizations strove to not only reduce harm, but to go so far as to heal their stakeholders? In our interview with “The Healing Organization” authors Raj Sisodia and Michael J. Gelb, we learn what it means for business to alleviate suffering and elevate joy. And in his new book, “The Infinite Game,” Simon Sinek explains his bold new paradigm for capitalism — and how, despite the metaphor, there is no “winning.” Sounds grim, but I promise it’ll light a fire within you (or stoke the one that’s already there).

On a personal note, you’ll notice that this issue has a particularly literary theme — an ode to the vehicle that led me to realize my own purpose at a young age: “to tell stories that move people.” I was eight years old when I became mesmerized by the power of the written word. “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” This quote, commonly attributed to Mark Twain, underscores the tone of the pages you’re about to enjoy. 

Happy purposeful reading,
Vanessa Childers, Editorial Director

Stakeholder Capitalism
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