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8 ways to build a business with a higher purpose

Much has been written and said about building sustainable companies and organizations. Yet too often, after all the conferences, books and articles, little is done. The big ideas get downsized and bureaucratized.

In the past decade, the two of us have worked with hundreds of new ventures and dozens of non-profits and big companies, all with designs on changing the world through new technologies or new business models.  We love working with entrepreneurs that see something that needs changing, and that will marshall the team and resources to build organizations with impact. It has reinforced our belief that business is a key force to make the world a better place -- and that business, done well, provides better products to customers, better work for employees, better performance for owners and better communities for all of us.  

To do this, businesses need to aim at a higher purpose -- to improve the conditions on our planet. And they need to aspire to having that purpose last a long time -- the law grants a corporation a perpetual life, after all -- and a corporation should benefit society for the length of its existence. This driving intention to matter, in perpetuity, is what we call soul. In this post, we would like to share some design goals for going beyond sustainability, in search of soul.

1. It isn’t just about developing and selling innovative goods and services. It is about developing and selling goods that are good and services that serve.

2. It isn’t just about being a little greener by conserving a little energy, or recycling paper coffee cups at the office. It is about radically redesigning your entire supply chain -- upstream and down -- to dramatically reduce waste, or better yet, transform it into an asset.

3. It isn’t just about beating the competition. It is about shifting the basis of competition to more beneficial behavior, and enabling and encouraging others to follow the same path.

4. It isn’t just about creating jobs. It is about creating meaningful work; with a fair, livable wage, and preferably, ownership for all co-workers over time.

5. It isn’t just about giving back to your community. It is about being embedded in your community, and creating deep, lasting commitments to the people, places, and values that make it special.

6. It isn’t just about creating returns for investors. It is about designing a business model that has impact and, if it requires investors, providing them with reasonable returns, subordinated to the company’s purpose.

7. It isn’t just about having a vision statement. It is about embodying your purpose in your organization’s structure and processes, and perpetuating it well beyond the current executive team, long range plan or ownership group.

8. In short, it isn’t just about doing business. 
It is about building something, that matters, with soul. This isn't easy stuff. It's hard work, and it's worth doing well.

Illustration by mbeo via Flickr

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