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The emotionally driven profit of purpose

Paul Rees-Jones
Executive Planning Director

A few years ago I came across Daniel Gilbert’s great book ‘Stumbling on Happiness’.

It was, in fact, a recommendation from an unlikely source, my not especially happy accountant, but one that has proven to be increasingly valuable working with Clemenger BBDO clients as they navigate the challenges of an emerging century of ever-present change and uncertainty.

Happiness seems to be an increasingly important emotion in a world where reaching any level of satisfaction, in whatever we do, feels more challenging. Regardless whether it’s in our personal and especially working lives. There never seems to be enough time, resources or attention given to things that truly matter.

Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist, focused his work around a fascinating premise; that human beings are only animals that have the ability to think about the future. He explains, that thanks to the uniqueness of the human brain we’re fortunate enough to possess a frontal lobe, something that allows us to learn from experiences we’ve never had, opening up the concept of imagination. This is interesting, especially as we try to get to grips with such evolving times, and the preparedness of so many to retreat to the supposed safety of rational and expected solutions that only go on to underwhelm.

The imagination is something that is anything but tied down by what we know. Rather, it has the ability to draw on the sub-conscious to come up with something completely original. It’s about what could be, or even should be in this values-driven era where accountability has never been more pronounced. Do the right thing and the upside can be felt immediately. Do the wrong thing, and the impact so quickly damning. This is something in-touch business leaders so intuitively understand, and where organisational Purpose has come into a life of its own in recent times.

It was probably almost a decade ago that Nikos Mourkogiannis published ‘Purpose – The Starting Point of Great Companies’. It was one of those business bibles that literally appeared overnight, taking pride of place on so many desks, in plain view. It certainly did in Australia and signaled a leadership ideal founded on a commitment to be authentic and true to company foundations. It became the mantra de jour that was reignited when Simon Sinek took to the TED stage and showcased the often-cited ‘Golden Circle’, and how great leaders inspire action by asking ‘why’, not ‘how’ or ‘what’. The simple but effective premise being the motivation for doing the company’s work is not about what you do or how you do it. It’s about why you do it.

So why has the ‘why’ taken such hold?

People want something to believe in that helps make sense of things


Working closely with culturally focused clients, I’ve come to see there’s a very real idealism alive and well in so many corporate cultures. It feels like new found enthusiasm for the possibility of something, and at the heart of it is the observation that people want something to believe in that helps make sense of things. Something that we want to be true because that’s the way it should be. It’s the return of a decency, an old fashioned concept maybe, but is in fact remarkably modern in its ability to make people feel connected to something of worth, and the future contribution of the work being done. After all, we should understand our future selves well enough to more positively shape our lives, and that goes for the people we affect with what we make, sell and serve.

And this is probably the most fascinating thing of all about a galvanizing Purpose driven organisation; that when you get the money out of the way, and get down to being true to who you are, as in life, you more likely reap the rewards. Because people are emotional wired and that’s something more companies need to feel in what they do.


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