How To Why (Discover: Part Two)

Discover, Science of Story August 31, 2016

How To Why (Discover: Part Two)

Andy Swindler
Conscious businesses prosper through purpose-driven people-first practices, but many still struggle to tell their courageous stories. I help connect the dots.

What the !@#$%^&* does that mean? It was hard enough making Why into a noun. Now it’s a verb?

Okay, forget the lingo. We’re here to talk about Whyfinding.

Dang, that’s not even a word. So let’s just start with curiosity, the common ground between science and story. Structured curiosity leads scientists to collect and reinforce the knowledge that powers most of our world by filtering it from what is evidently untrue. And the best stories keep you curious until the very end.

Hank, Adam and I share insatiable curiosity. We’re so curious about the connection between story and purpose that we’ve collectively interviewed more than 200 companies to see if they are ready to believe in business. We find listening to people’s stories to be so inspiring that we’ll keep nurturing our new community well beyond what we need for book research.

In my last article, what does your business believe (discover: part one), I mentioned that we’ve encountered different methodologies for discovering a company’s purpose. I’d like to explore a few of those now. The main thing they have in common is a reliance on curiosity and a commitment to keeping an open mind.

Curiosity and Judgment

It’s not unreasonable to think that humans became the dominant species on our planet largely due to our ability to organize our experiences into complex patterns (like Seinfeld reruns). This led us to define and label people and things so that we can have a common point of reference when communicating and reflecting. Eventually our ability to label things grew beyond simple wayfinding and into curiosity.

Creativity begins with curiosity, which then leads to discovery. And whether these discoveries are driven by necessity or a belief that things can be better or simply wanting to find out what might happen, curiosity encourages us to see everything in our world through fresh eyes full of possibility and opportunity. It requires us to defy our comfortable patterns and represents the first of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s seven pillars of mindfulness: beginner’s mind.

ChimpThink of Curious George, the monkey who’s insatiable curiosity invariably leads him astray. George sees our world with fresh eyes and he gets to do things we can only dream of doing, but inevitably his unfettered curiosity lands him in trouble. Because George (unlike the man with the yellow hat) lacks the judgment necessary to counterbalance curiosity.  

Judgment lies on the other side of the spectrum from curiosity, and with it another pillar of mindfulness: non-judging. Patterns can lead to assumptions. It’s a tricky balance. When people fixate on certainty, they can become frustrated or even dangerous in their attachment to their consistent perception of the status quo. It’s hard for them to realize that we simply don’t have clear answers to most of life’s mysteries. Some think this is the wonder of life. Others are troubled by it.

Although the reliable man with the yellow hat has good intentions, he is a creature of habit and it is through George’s unquenchable curiosity that the man begins to question his assumptions. Only then do we have the satisfaction of knowing that irrepressible George and his staid friend have once again maintained the delicate balance between curiosity and judgment — between sticking with what is known and exploring life’s possibilities.

Stories do rely on patterns and labels to unite us with a common context. But the best stories can lead us beyond what is familiar and take us to new unimagined experiences. These inspired stories then become the context for our shared existence.

That familiar context for a company begins with a Why that truly expresses what its people believe the business is all about.  


What Do You Believe?

We help people discover their Why by being good listeners. As we talk with people about their companies, we pay close attention and start them thinking down the path of discovering their Why, which usually already exists in their company. They just need a little help bringing its importance to full consciousness and we know how to connect the patterns we hear to draw it out.

As I said in discover: part one, we believe a Why should be simple, genuine and aspirational. It begins deep within the hearts of the people who are defining it and extends far into the future as an unattainable guiding light. It’s already there, you just have to find it.

Simon Sinek inspired our journey like he has for countless others. His work as a consultant helps companies find their Why’s and he’s also developed an online course to help you Learn Your Why in 7-10 hours. He upcoming book is called Find Your Why. We’re excited to read it.

We’ve met a few more fabulous Why sleuths along the way who have developed rich methodologies to help companies discover their Why’s and more. Here are two that expanded my view of purpose.

ClearSpace: A Practical Approach to Discover Your Why

Thea Polancic and Lee Capps founded Chicago-based ClearSpace to help companies discover their Why and core values. They were ahead of their time with this consulting practice, which also led to forming the Chicago Chapter of Conscious Capitalism, for which I serve on the advisory board. Thea looks at the world and sees untapped potential where others see limited resources. She told me about their process.

To help a company discover its purpose, ClearSpace uses Ken Wilber’s AQAL integral model, which places all human knowledge and experience on a four-quadrant grid. These quadrants are individual, collective, interior and exterior. A genuine Why serves as a decision-making tool to ensure that your company is staying true to its purpose and its stakeholders (remember that north star that keeps your company’s ship sailing in the right direction?). This concept is illustrated by the grid below.

Ken Wilber's AQAL model quandrants

It’s not the size of a company, but rather an attitude of curiosity, that predicts the probability of success in discovering its purpose. This curiosity must start with leadership. If the leaders of a company aren’t committed to this discovery process, it will never take hold. And let’s not forget that purpose is not a mission. Thea actually feels strongly that we should retire “mission” in business since it’s become meaningless jargon for so many companies and even many not-for-profits.

“The journey of being a conscious capitalist business has to start at the top,” Thea said. And so let’s begin in the upper left corner of the grid with the individual interior. Many times, the work she does starts at the individual level of the CEO or founder whose own purpose is fundamental to the company’s Why. When leaders share their purpose with others in the company, we move from individual to collective interior in the lower left corner.

This natural next step gets the team aligned with this purpose, which can have surprising results as employees often realize their own beliefs are already in close alignment with the group. It’s probably why they enjoy and are successful working together. A company’s purpose emerges from the collective discovery of individual purpose. However, sometimes the Why requires more refinement before presenting to a larger group, potentially challenging the founder’s beliefs.

LeaderConscious leaders inspire people by acting in a way that shows externally what they individually believe, which is represented by the individual exterior in the top right corner. After all, business is the fulfillment and emanation of purpose of the founder. Even if the founder has left the company, their fingerprint still remains and people are still attracted to the company because of their shared beliefs. Traces of the founding DNA remain in the company like traces of DNA from Mitochondrial Eve, our single common female ancestor.

If the discussion with the leader of a company focuses on a goal such as increasing productivity or branding, these are external considerations. Thea said, “What I do is a function of what I believe or think or what I view is possible.” The exterior, therefore, should be driven by the interior, and we should always closely observe the source of the interior belief, or Why. If the team is aligned and being led by example, we move to the lower right corner to reach the collective exterior.

Thea told me that 80% of change management fails. I call it intention versus impact. You can train people to be more effective, but if you don’t change people’s mindset, it won’t work. Purpose-driven work that isn’t anchored to the bottom line profit may feel good, but won’t last. Similarly a great business model or brand with a terrible culture is not sustainable. A pursuit of purpose must be steady and genuine.

Thea is concerned about a growing trend of purpose washing. This is what’s happened to many high-minded movements in the past such as being Green. Some people take it very seriously as a core belief system while others use these new trends and desires to gussy up an old way of doing things, which tends to dilute the initial purpose and confuse people to the point where they don’t know who genuinely represents the original point of view. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is typically perfunctory and not representative of well-implemented conscious capitalism.

BusinessI believe this is much harder to do with purpose since people are increasingly aware of what companies represent. Companies must change how they act before they can tell a better story. But changing culture takes time. It can’t happen in a one-hour discussion.

ClearSpace also helps companies define their values, which complement a well-defined purpose. Values describe the channel you’re sailing in. While discovering Why is often best done initially with leaders, exploring values is typically best done with a culture team that considers both horizontal and vertical perspectives of the company.

Generic values like “community” don’t clearly guide behavior. It’s better to ask: what does it look like if someone is walking the walk of this value? (Remember the motivational poster of the kitten hanging on a limb and how not inspiring that was?) Ask too, as an individual member of the group, what does teamwork or community mean to us?

True Purpose Institute: A Mystical Approach to Discover Your Why

At the annual Conscious Capitalism conference in April 2016, I met Tim Kelley and Tom Rausch from True Purpose Institute, which helps people and companies discover their purposes and also trains purpose coaches to help even more people. Tim led two back-to-back sessions. I had planned to attend only the first, but was so impressed with his approach that I stayed for the second. (Seriously, this was some mind-blowing stuff).

MapI’m glad I did, because the second portion was a more hands-on demonstration of Tim’s approach to soul searching, which is what sets them apart from many other consultants. He led a group of 50 or so on a guided meditation where we walked through a forest to a clearing to find our trusted source. I decided mine was my soul (others might choose God or a fallen loved one). Those who made it this far needed only to ask their trusted source about their purpose. And for extra credit, Tim suggested that we ask our trusted sources any other big questions while we were there.

My results were interesting, but inconclusive. I found it easy to drop into the meditation since I’ve studied mindfulness and meditation. But apparently it’s rare to discover a true purpose in this initial interview, so it may need to be repeated a few times. Tim’s approach reinforces the notion that purpose is already within us and our companies. We just need creative ways to discover it.

“Finding your purpose is best done as a conversation between the part of you that wants to know your purpose and the part that already knows it. The part that seeks purpose is your conscious mind or ‘ego.’ The part that already knows it we call your ‘trusted source’ (though you may have other names for it).” -True Purpose Institute

True Purpose Institute believes there are four methods by which to discover purpose and four essential elements of a purpose. The four methods for discovering purpose are:

  1. Purpose at birth. Most entrepreneurs had business and purpose mixed together when they started their journey. They’ve had a higher purpose in mind from the beginning so they and their businesses are joined at the hip.
  2. Purpose by accident (otherwise known as the CEO epiphany). Even some of the most profit-minded capitalists have realized there is more to business than making money. This often happens later in life when their family relationships cause them to reassess their world view. Sometimes this transformation expresses itself through their businesses.
  3. Purpose by ego design. What do I do well? How do I see the world? This isn’t a deep look inward at the present self, but relies on historical facts or future dreams to derive what one’s best contribution to the world may be.
  4. Soul/ego inspired (the one I tried). This isn’t for everyone, but this method brings the most powerful transformation. It’s arguably the closest we get to discovering who we truly are. It can be painful as it requires digging deep. And it often results in the loss of stakeholders who were never aligned with our true purpose.

One of the things our ego does is compartmentalize and judge the world using that finely tuned pattern recognition we all have. To work with this rather than against it, we can help the ego in its pursuit of purpose by breaking purpose into four essential elements: essence, blessing, mission and message. I am my essence. I give my blessing. I achieve my mission. I share my message.

The four essential elements of purpose are:

Essence is a state of being that makes you uniquely you and informs a brand image. Only others are impacted by your essence or could describe your essence. To you, it’s just the way you perceive the world and what you radiate as you walk through it.

Blessing is how you impact other people through your essence. Think acting versus being. “When you are most successful and most fulfilled, you are doing your blessing. Like your essence, your blessing is usually unconscious. You are doing it all the time without realizing it.” For a business, this manifests as the products and services that people use.

Mission specifies the change that you are meant to create in the world. The pursuit of purpose may reveal higher instructions for how your purpose is designed to transform the world in which you live. This definition of mission most closely represents what we describe as Why. “While your blessing is something that you do over and over again, a mission is something you do once.” If your Why is truly aspirational, you’ll never reach this goal. It’s designed to keep you focused. (Wait, I thought we weren’t using mission anymore?) This is a good example of the overlapping vocabulary people use in this space.  

Message is the deepest truth and wisdom you can share with others. This aspect of purpose often brings with it the most fear and responsibility. It should be written about at length. “Your message is meant for specific people who need to receive it. The act of delivering your message transforms you and those who receive it from you.”

How Did They Discover Their Why?

Chicago-based tech startup Timshel believes in getting our best talent to work on humanity’s biggest problems. Founder Michael Slaby, who led Obama’s tech teams for both elections, draws from his deep experience combining technology with social impact. He’s frustrated that our society rewards startups that innovate things like smarter robot litter boxes and faster food delivery when we still have so many dire problems that shouldn’t exist in civilized society like starving children and lack of access to education.

Timshel’s impressive flagship product, The Groundwork, was three years in the making and helps social impact organizations use their data to treat people as individuals and personalize communications with them.

Consider an organization that receives donations. They may send an email with the same generic message to all the people they know. If a volunteer got a generic message, she might be put off without an acknowledgement of her effort in the context of being asked for more money. But with the proper connection points through data, a message could be customized for these volunteers that would be more in line with what an informed and empathetic person would say to the volunteer directly.

Timshel is helping communities tell better stories by creating more meaningful interactions between data and people, and then use these stories to drive meaningful action.


Check out more Why’s Guy interviews on advisor.TV

Gold Eagle, helmed by CEO Marc Blackman in southwest Chicago, nailed its Why shortly before we met: protecting and preserving the things people love. Marc considers a corporate Why to be “guard rails for the future.” While you might not recognize the brand name Gold Eagle, you’ve probably seen its most popular products, STA-BIL fuel stabilizer & 303 cleaners and protectants, on a retail shelf near you.

Gold Eagle’s Why came after Marc discovered his own purpose as a leader while attending Stagen’s integral leadership academy. This process of self-discovery to be a better leader had such a profound impact on Marc that he started wondering if it could translate to his entire company.

Marc considers it his responsibility as a leader to be mindful of the future. He said, “companies have to come to the realization that they have to transform themselves,” which must be done carefully after 85 years of success. This chemical manufacturer sees how quickly the market is changing, largely due to digital disruption and younger generations with different purchasing priorities, and sees opportunity.

So why are people passionate about Gold Eagle’s products? A patio can be a sanctuary away from the world, where you lay your worries to rest until tomorrow. And car enthusiasts are about as passionate as they come. I don’t know much about boats (come to think of it, I still need a boat friend in Chicago), but I know people REALLY care about the condition they are in. Gold Eagle products help these enthusiasts provide the best care for their most important things. In this way, they rejuvenate their own joy.

Starting with a more conservative Why that related directly to Gold Eagle’s products allowed Marc’s leadership team to embrace this radical new concept much more quickly than they otherwise would have. While he works to ignite this Why throughout his culture, Marc is also intrigued by a discussion about reaching for a potentially deeper Why related to joy rather than protecting things. We call this the iterative Why and it’s a way for complex organizations to ease into the power of purpose.

Artisan is an award-winning innovative creative staffing agency with offices around the United States. When Adam and I met founder Bejan Douraghy and his team, we were immediately impressed with their commitment to the people they represent. Our discussions with Bejan had inspired him to consider what he believes and the next time I saw him, he told me his Why is inspiring better lives. Nicely done!

Started in 1988 in Chicago, Artisan was one of the first creative staffing agencies for freelance graphic designers, art directors, photographers and illustrators. In the beginning his agency helped artists find employment in large firms, but Bejan soon realized that our world was moving toward a freelance economy.  And so Artisan has repeatedly pioneered the craft of helping freelance talent gain access to benefits that had historically only been found in salaried positions in the corporate world.

In this way Artisan has effectively bridged the gap between the new world of independent flexible workforce empowered by technology and not constrained by distance, with the security and convenience of the traditional corporate job. There are many who try to copy this model, but none have succeeded. Their missing ingredient is love.


Check out more Why’s Guy interviews on advisor.TV

Gaggle believes that real student safety saves lives. Their journey started in 1998 focusing on monitoring email communications in schools. They’ve evolved to embrace the numerous forms of digital communication available to students now and provide solutions that truly impact students’ lives.

Gaggle was founded on a strong Why, but just hadn’t found the right words to convey it to each other and the world. This was a top priority for Rob Yoegel, Vice President of Marketing, when he arrived two years ago. Rob knew how a simple Why could unify their tribe and stories. Part of it was inspired by a client, who told Rob that Gaggle’s program truly saves students’ lives. This may have seemed too bold a statement for Gaggle to say on its own, but when it realized this profound truth from another perspective, it became easier to own as a phrase.

Despite what may seem like an obviously good program that our society needs, there are still barriers to providing this service. Some school leaders think the problems don’t exist in their communities (I say kids are kids everywhere!), some don’t have the funding (the federal government recently cut a key program) and still others believe that they are already doing enough.

But how much is enough when we’re talking about preventing children from committing suicide? Or monitoring keywords to help a family recognize that a child may have an eating disorder? Or identifying a bullying situation that a student was embarrassed to confront? Gaggle gets their message out through numerous educational channels to help their stakeholders know these problems already exist.

While it’s understandable that student privacy concerns limit how well Gaggle can measure their impact after reporting a potentially harmful communication, they do sometimes receive indications such as the photo below posted on a wall at one of the schools they support. Three may not seem like a big number in the grand scheme of things, but in this case it’s huge.

Gaggle: real student safety saves lives

The Science of Story grows stronger with each voice we add. What do you believe?

Next Read: Light Up Your Company Culture (Ignite: Part One)