For three reasons, it feels as though this particular point has a bit of a minefield to cross to reach you.
First, whenever we ask “what is the purpose of business?” (which by the way on most MBA courses is seldom), there is a temptation to throw back an answer that leaves us none the wiser. If the answer is “to make a profit”, or “grow”, or “create shareholder value”‘ then it would surely be a fairly easy task to continue the interrogation beyond this illusory end-game of naming abstractions by asking “and what is the purpose of… (e.g. profit, etc.)”. If such a ‘thing’ as money were really the purpose of business, it would surely be, ultimately, a hollow one. Of course, a danger here is that the question may be mis-heard as “what’s the purpose of your business?”, thus restricting the response to one element of the system only and isolating the business or organisation from its environment. In ecology, the unit of survival is not the individual (or even the population) it is the organism and its environment. You can’t consider one without the other.
It has to be considered that there’s another possibility; that the purpose of business may be such a given, a taken-for-granted, or so lost in history that we are just unable to see it.
Secondly, when we come to pose the question “what is Personal purpose?”, we are in danger of straying into areas of philosophy that have remained contentious for as long as this enormous question has been around. If this has eluded great thinkers, academics and learned scholars for millenia, what chance have we got?
Thirdly, what do we mean when we say that two things should align? The dictionary offers three meanings for this word, “to arrange in a line or to be parallel”, “to move or adjust to be in proper relationship or orientation with”, and “to ally with a cause”. Which one is it?
So one element of the equation appears too concrete, another too abstract, and their constellation ambiguously either one of linear or relational arrangement (systemic or political). Yet if we are to take this whole Personal Development thing seriously in a management context, we have to find a way of making sense of it. Naturally, I think the preceding four principles of PD help frame an answer in the following ways:
1. Business, commerce, trade and the like are ideas that only exist in context of other things. The purpose of business is therefore a social matter, and its purpose cannot be decided at the level of the firm, by management or shareholders alone, nor in splendid isolation at the level of politicians and legislators. I would suggest that the purpose of business is not any end point or a thing at all but rather it is a process. What’s more, given that we’re all in this together (in a finitely-sized and resourced world), a sustainable process that concerns itself with social good. Anything else is just selfish and short-sighted. Of course, at the level of the organisation, the other answers (making money, creating wealth etc.) are important things but they only make sense when placed in service to this greater purpose.
2. Personal purpose is certainly experienced at the psychological level, emergent from (and part of) the social, and which I would suggest is the highest level of knowing available to us. We would need transcend the self in order to do away with the need to ask the question, so in the main we probably need to keep and open mind and keen eye on our beliefs about our purpose and see where we get. If the individual (psychologically, not biologically) is explained by values at the level of the social, then there must be a close relationship between our core values as experienced by us individually and the purpose of business (as outlined above).
3. Alignment is to be understood in terms of constellation, a matter of dynamic, relational positioning and repositioning of elements in a system.
In conclusion, then, this 5th principle, “Align your Personal purpose with the purpose of Business”, is not a call to toe the corporate line or slavishly put aside personal values in the pursuit of the company’s vision. It’s actually a challenge to think at another, higher, level, to begin to see the pattern of relationship that must necessarily be how these things are connected.
“Warriors are not what you think of as warriors. The warrior is not someone who fights, for no one has the right to take another life. The warrior, for us, is the one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity.” ~ attributed to Sitting Bull (with thanks to Finn Jackson for drawing my attention to this quote)
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