To receive my newsletter right to your inbox, sign up here.

Growing Up With Deep Purpose

In the early 1970s, my mother built a business by bringing designs inspired by handmade prints from Indian villages to the high-end fashion world. An anthropologist by training, she recognized that villagers were anything but primitive or behind the times. Rather, she knew that even in the face of economic deprivation, they were sophisticated and had a deep aesthetic sense. She exported garments to most major Western countries and was extremely successful; at one point, she directly or indirectly employed more than 1,000 people. 

From the time I was a teenager and all the way through college, I worked for my mother doing a range of jobs, from managing the factory floor to handling supplier oversight to traveling to European markets to meet with buyers. Looking back, I recognize that many of the ideas that fascinate me now as a business researcher have their roots in my mother’s experiences. 

In her core, she understood that a successful business always begins with a sense of purpose that blends both commercial and social objectives (although she probably wouldn’t have used those words.) She was touched by the extreme poverty experienced by the rural people she visited and was eager to make a difference in their lives. She came to the realization that if she could find a market for their designs, she could then source the fabrics from this region and bring decent jobs there.  

It wasn’t easy. Once she found a market in the West for her designs, she had to convince the local villagers to produce fabric in the large quantities she needed. So she had to offer some of her suppliers seed capital to allow them to hire people and buy the equipment to print fabrics, and also to extend them credit when they needed it. Some lacked basic business skills; she taught them. But through all her challenges, her sense of purpose guided her in the right direction.  

The main theme of my upcoming book, Deep Purpose, revolves around not just imbuing businesses with a sense of purpose but actually acting on it. I explore how successful businesses are not only deliberate about having a sense of purpose that blends both social and commercial goals but also find a way to enact their purpose in all that they do. That’s probably not a coincidence, given what I saw my mother accomplish. Through her eyes I saw the possibility that businesses can be profitable and fulfill a larger social purpose at the same time.  

Both my mother’s experience, and my later investigations into how businesses use purpose to their advantage, have led me to the following conclusions:  

*A consistent and strong sense of purpose can help guide businesses through their most stressful periods and increase their chance of success.  

*A unifying purpose can help motivate employees to perform beyond expectations, and in the process deliver higher returns for shareholders.  

*A clear and compelling statement of purpose, with a powerful narrative arc, can attract investors with like-minded priorities.  

*Too many business leaders think that purpose and practicality cannot exist at the same time. But I have found that business leaders can be both idealistic and pragmatic at the same time, and in fact that a healthy dose of idealism can help propel a business to financial success. 

#entrepreneurs #entrepreneurialism #purpose #deeppurpose 

P.S. If you have a question about great leadership, building a resilient organization, or how organizations can deliver high performance and social good at the same time, or if you have reactions and wisdom of your own to share, please shoot me a message at [email protected]. Let’s learn from one another and push our collective thinking further.