The DNA of Purpose - Decoding Human Kinds Search For Meaning

The pursuit for purpose is so often considered a lofty and soft topic that is very difficult to break down in a tangible fashion and leaders are confused.

In the Harvard Business Reviews ' Business Case For Purpose' It was found that while 90% of leaders believed that purpose was good for business, only 46% tried to implement purpose driven business strategy leaving an astounding 54% of leaders who have no idea how to identify, articulate or integrate a purpose driven business strategy.

So where do we begin in bridging the gap between knowing purpose is good (and good for business) and actually doing the work to identify, articulate and integrate a purpose driven business strategy? Where do we start in decoding our own purpose as leaders, so that we can create shared purpose and organisational purpose in a business?

Stating that your business has a purpose means absolutely nothing, if your people, stakeholders and clients are not in alignment with that purpose. A brand on its own cannot have a purpose, without human expression. After all purpose is human.

As the Optimism Director at Future Crunch I am inspired every day by the world of science and that is why I turned to science in order to simplify the one thing that enables us to intentionally create our legacy while we are alive. That one thing is purpose.

The DNA of Purpose - Decoding Human Kinds Search for Meaning

In scientific terms, DNA, short for deoxyribonucleic acid, is the molecule that contains the genetic code of organisms. A code for life containing key instructions for our cells. In its simplest form this is why we are a certain shape, have unique features, or carry a genetic condition.

If we think of DNA as a symbol for the decoding of purpose we will discover the following similarities:

  • DNA is unique to all life - so is our purpose.

  • DNA provides us with a unique code - so does purpose.

  • DNA is inherited genetically. Purpose is influenced by culture, values and beliefs, so components of purpose are also inherited.

  • DNA exists beyond space and time - purpose is also inter-dimensional. In the same way our children carry our DNA, our legacy is an example of purpose living beyond our existence.

  • DNA evolves with the environment. Purpose also evolves due to environment, and is influenced by context, and the experiences we encounter in any given environment.

The Explanation

Purpose, by definition, is the reason why something exists. The explanation of purpose is more complex. Its analogy to DNA provides an explanation for the activation and process of integrated purpose. Rather than being fixed, this model is intended to offer an opportunity for purpose to be implemented, integrated or innovated. The basic idea is to provide a structure and framework, much like our biological DNA, from where the process of purpose can be defined and evolve.

The DNA of Purpose

  1. Decision

One of the myths about purpose is that it’s something we discover and that purpose somehow finds us, or we find it. There are key factors that influence purpose in our lives, however those who live with purpose do so because they have made a decision to do so.

Like DNA, our purpose has always existed within us, and the process of activating integrated purpose is found in the intention to shift our purpose from the unconscious to conscious mind. To take the first step in a process of self actualisation.

Self-actualisation is a term that refers to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. In his first paper Maslow defined self-actualisation by claiming that “what a man can be, he must be ” (Maslow, 1943). This idea captures what it is to leverage one’s abilities and to reach potential.

She Decided

Stephanie Lorenzo didn’t start her career planning to start a charity. It was a chance encounter with a book about sex trafficking, and a life-changing trip to Cambodia that left her asking ‘how could this be real’? In that moment, Stephanie decided to unlock purpose and play a bigger game founding Project Futures. For many, combatting the worlds third largest crime is a mountain too big to climb. For Stephanie, that mountain was too big to ignore.

2. Narrative

The intentional decision to live with purpose directs us to craft a narrative about the meaning and significance of our lives. This is the narrative that we create, that influences us personally and gives voice to a story we share with the world expressing meaning in our personal or professional lives.

If we understand that the way we see the world is influenced by context, we are then also able to scan our past, our present and our future in order to craft a story about who we have been, who we are today, and who we hope to become tomorrow. This narrative influences how we feel about our life’s contribution and is a light shining on who we hope to become in the future.

Purposeful Narrative

 Blake Mycoskie (founder of Toms shoes) was checking into a flight after an unsuccessful meeting. He looked down and saw a woman wearing a pair of red Toms shoes. This was the first time he had seen a stranger wearing one of his shoes. When he asked her about the shoes, she excitedly grabbed him and said that Toms where the most amazing company in the world, telling Blake his own story.

3. Alignment

Purpose is a narrative, however without action the narrative is shallow and does not generate a depth of meaning. Nor is it a narrative that is truthful, trustworthy, credible or grounded. At the heart of alignment is the idea that we can only ever be, the best version of who we already are. We cannot pretend to be something else, in the same way a blue eyed person cannot pretend to have brown eyes. It is not in their DNA.

In order to be in complete alignment with purpose our story and our actions must be congruent. The decisions that we make, the manner in which we lead, our values, and belief systems must also harmonise in order to create the transformation required to self actualise. At the heart of alignment in purpose is integrity, and when we are leading from a space of deep integrity we lead from a place of empowerment.

The Purpose Paradox

In January 2019 Gillette crafted a purpose driven narrative suggesting that a ‘good man’ should call out toxic masculinity in society. The paradox… this was a fairly ironic narrative from a company who had prided themselves on phallic symbolism. Based on the social climate this advert made sense, but the thing with purpose is it doesn't lie. It is a force integrity, not something we make up based on the changing face of social expectation.