In the early days of 2005, when the world had a different perspective on doing business, I began to sing a new song in the corridors of my company. I preached that our mission went beyond merely chasing profit. But as with every new tune, there were initially many off-key notes. There were promises that weren't kept, many nods of agreement, but little real action.
I dreamt of a company that created value not just within its walls. So, we started, for example, establishing small schools in less fortunate countries. I also wanted each of our 120 employees to come to work with a smile every day, knowing they could rely on both professional and personal support, ensuring their well-being and work-life balance were prioritized.
But dreams and reality sometimes clash. Terms like 'sustainability' and 'socially responsible business' only slowly became real action points. Not everyone appreciated the change. When I decided that even our international advertising campaigns for clients should have a social twist, many felt I was crossing a line. "No one is waiting for that!" echoed through the corridors.
2011 was the year I, hand in hand with Wassili Zafiris, introduced a book to the world about: 'Meaningful Profit'. A vision that struck a balance between pure profit-seeking and altruism. Some media dismissed it as too idealistic, too detached from reality. "Companies are there to make a profit, nothing more," they said. And sadly, many of my colleagues still nodded in agreement.
But I kept believing in my tune, in a world where businesses could be more than just profit machines. Time would tell who was right.
Machines Must Adapt to Human Nature
After echoing my vision throughout the company, there was a more fundamental insight I wanted to share. "Machines must adapt to human nature," I often proclaimed. At the heart of my belief was that businesses, like people, thrive when purpose is involved. Studies have shown that people with a higher purpose in life are happier and more successful. Why wouldn't this principle apply to businesses as well?
Striving together for a higher purpose, for true meaning, creates an unbreakable bond. It provides that extra spark of motivation that not only boosts efficiency and job satisfaction but is also indispensable in times of adversity.
My quest to understand the roots of our work culture began in the early 2000s. I discovered that many of our modern work practices originated from the industrial revolution. Hierarchies, well-defined processes, strict working hours - all conceived by technical engineers who viewed humanity as merely a cog in a larger machine.
This vision completely overlooked the essence of human nature. Who wants to be seen as a mere 'resource'? Who gets inspired by merely being a small, confined part of a bigger whole? And did you know that the concept of 'management' also stems from that era? The word literally means 'control'!
Since the industrial revolution, humans have continuously had to adapt to the 'machine'. I believed it was time in the early 2000s for the machine to start adapting to human nature.
Humans Aren't Made to Just Give or Take
The tune I sang, the vision I shared, wasn't just about the company's structure but also about the deeper meaning of life itself. "Humans aren't made to just give or take," I often said. If a company's sole driving force is financial gain, and for an employee, it's just the salary, then we live in a world of missed opportunities. Sure, you can add career growth and good collegial relationships, but even then, there's a void.
True wealth isn't measured in numbers on a bank statement. It's in moments of happiness, in the loving relationships we build, and in the friendships we cherish. And what, besides these relationships, nourishes our soul the most? Precisely, purpose.
Imagine a world where employees' personal purpose aligns seamlessly with the company's mission. A world where everyone, both inside and outside the company, benefits from this synergy. That's the world I believed in and fought for every day.
From Intrinsic Motivation to "That's How It's Done"
The journey I began, and the tune I sang, eventually resonated in the broader business world, fueled by various people. Nowadays, this mindset is embraced by most companies in one way or another. Socially responsible business and sustainability are now the norm. But where does this urge come from? Is it genuinely intrinsic motivation, or is it because "that's how it's done", imposed by governments claiming to know what's best for us?
This raises a deeper question: are the policymakers who set these rules truly the voice of the people? But that's a discussion for another time. The real issue I see is that many companies now feel compelled to focus on societal and sustainable goals, not from a deep sense of purpose, but because it's expected.
True change comes from within. If purpose is the driving force, companies will naturally care for society, sustainability, and the climate - perhaps in ways more efficient and genuine than when simply imposed.
As an entrepreneur, I dreamt of a more future-friendly world where businesses adapted to human nature, unlocking the full potential of our employees. In such a world, companies would naturally care for all the matters governments now regulate. Because when you act from a place of purpose, you care for each other and the world around you, not because you have to, but because it's right.
Why are Purpose and Intrinsic Motivation Essential?
In a world where we're often told what to do, we sometimes lose sight of the 'why' behind it. When instructions are followed blindly, the flame of innovation is extinguished. The ability to think outside the box, to be genuinely creative, gets buried.
A future-friendly world doesn't ask for passive compliance but for sparkling innovation. We can't naively believe that current solutions - often imposed by others - will solve all global problems. What we need is disruption, renewal, and a wealth of creativity. Not people who act out of fear of sanctions or damage to their reputation, but individuals driven by a deep sense of purpose and intrinsic motivation.
The Power of Purpose; My Plea
In a rapidly evolving world, where change is the only constant, we need to dig deeper than superficial motivations, fleeting trends, and imposed rules. It's purpose, the pursuit of a higher goal, that gives us the resilience, creativity, and determination to effect real change.
Companies and individuals driven by intrinsic motivation, by an authentic desire to make a positive impact, will always lead the way. They will push the boundaries of innovation, overcome obstacles, and create a world where profit and well-being go hand in hand.
If we take on the challenge to look beyond the here and now, act from a deep sense of purpose, and force governments to step back from their coercive methods, our deep roots of meaning can take hold, giving us the strength to grow, flourish, and leave a lasting impact on the world around us.