An example: the way we create new products. We used to follow a set plan, but now we follow agile methodologies through which we adapt better to an equally changing market.
Business is evolving, too.
Our only goal in business used to be to provide our shareholders with a profit. Nowadays, an increasing number of new generations of startups and companies are in business not only for their own financial benefit but also to resolve humanity’s greatest challenges. Not limiting themselves to doing things the right way, they’re trying to do the right things to create a positive impact on our organizations and on the world.
This credo as our banner, a few months ago a very diverse group of 71 individuals from different countries got together to create the Purpose Manifesto. Its goal is simply to inspire people and organizations to create a better world.
I’m very excited to tell you about it here today.
A Little Bit of Context
I began studying Computer Engineering in 1999. From first, I had a feeling that something didn’t fit the way I was being taught to develop software. Software engineering techniques were based on what had been learned in other kinds of engineering, like civil or mechanical engineering, where a cascade process with a series of very well-defined phases was followed: first a deep analysis of the problem to be solved, then a detailed design of the solution to that problem, which was finally implemented. It seems like a logical process, right? Over time, however, I discovered that it was not the best way to get things done in the world of software, basically because you can’t predict at the onset everything that the users will need or the way they’ll behave towards a new application or program. So, it was common for software engineers to feel frustrated at skillfully designing supposedly ideal solutions that rarely matched what the users needed.
This motivated a group of 17 software engineers to meet in Utah in 2001, and create the AgileManifesto (agilemanifesto.org), which set down a series of values and principles that created the foundations of today’s agile development techniques and frameworks, such as SCRUM. They made way for a new paradigm in software development that is currently taught in every university in the world and applied in development companies when creating new products. And that’s not all: its impact extended to other areas and gave birth to innovative techniques such as Customer Development or Lean Startup.
I began to venture into entrepreneurship shortly after beginning my computer studies. I trained at different business schools to complement my technical studies and again, from the start, I had the feeling that something didn’t fit right about the way we were taught to create businesses. The goal of a company, we were told, was to create a financial benefit for its shareholders, for which it was important to innovate and build products with value for the market. It made sense, but through the years I observed that more and more, there were people creating companies with another motivation, beyond making money: to improve the world. These individuals, aware of the huge problems and challenges facing humanity (wars, social inequality, lack of access to education, climate change, etc.), built companies that, besides being profitable, contributed to confronting these challenges and finding innovative solutions. And that’s not all: they were having brilliant results!
In recent years, this new business approach has begun to spread like a large, benevolent oil spill. It’s not just that entrepreneurs are more aware of the world’s problems and want to help solve them, it’s become evident that individuals and organizations that orient their activities not only to generating a profit but to creating a positive impact on the world as well, improve their bottom line. I’m not making this up, publications as prestigious as the Financial Times, explain this in a series of articles on the subject titled The Company of the Future: Profit and Purpose, or the Harvard Business Review, which dedicated the cover of its Spring 2022 issue to leading with purpose.
Why and How We Created the Purpose Manifesto
A movement has taken shape in the last few years, made up of organizations and communities that uphold a new purpose-based paradigm for entrepreneurial initiatives. This movement has grown and many have joined it, including organizations such as B Lab, which awards the B Corp seal to companies that show that they provide social and environmental improvements besides giving their shareholders a profit; Ashoka, which promotes social entrepreneurship; Impact Hub, a global network of incubators that helps entrepreneurs create a positive impact; Singularity University, which educates, empowers, and inspires leaders to use exponential technologies to resolve humanities great challenges; IE Business School, which helps its students find The Next Best You throughout their careers, their impact, and their purpose; Catalyst 2030, a global community that tries to attain the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and others.
The Purpose Alliance community was also born as part of this movement, focused on empowering individuals and organizations to create a better world through their initiatives. In early 2022, Purpose Alliance created a new manifesto, the Purpose Manifesto. Seventy-one persons from around the world, from very different cultures and lifestyles but with a common goal: to inspire other individuals and organizations to create a better world.
The process consisted of a four-week co-creation exercise that began on February 21 and ended on March 19, 2022. The first three weeks were online, with a divergent approach, open to all kinds of ideas and proposals from everyone involved. After this first phase we developed an initial draft and a clear structure of the elements that the manifesto needed to include:
Its own purpose, expressing its reason for existing
A series of beliefs expressing the basic motivations inspiring us to create the document
A set of values to help individuals and organizations prioritize and be guided towards a purpose
A list of principles to help ground those values in more practical issues to enable the implementation of the manifesto
The second phase required our physical presence, and 49 people ultimately met and are considered the official authors of the document. We met daily in Granada, Spain, on March 17, 18, and 19, and participated in activities, such as the Silent Art Museum dynamic, in which everyone offered feedback on the draft we had developed. We also formed work groups focused on the different values, to finalize the definitions expressing them and their various principles. A few of us supervised the entire process and the content generated in the different groups to ensure that all the pieces fit together correctly.
We finished writing the PurposeManifesto on Saturday, March 19, 2022, and that same day we launched its website (www.purposemanifesto.org) to make it available to the whole world, since we don’t feel it belongs to us, it is a document that presents an important message to organizations and individuals worldwide: that it’s not enough to do things the right way, you must do the right things.
What Does the Purpose Manifesto Say?
The best way to know what the Purpose Manifesto expresses is, obviously, to read it. Nevertheless, I’ll summarize the points I consider most important in the following paragraphs.
First, we encounter its own purpose: “To inspire people’s actions in order to make the world a better place,” originating in a series of beliefs that lead us to believe that it’s possible to achieve. The first of these beliefs is that “everyone can create a positive impact.” We all leave our footprint as we go through this world and whether that footprint is positive or negative depends on us.
The Purpose Manifesto also describes a set of five values to help us prioritize what matters most and two principles linked to each of these values. Below you will find the five values of the Purpose Manifesto:
Purpose Over Problems and Solutions
The founder of Patagonia likes to say that the company’s purpose is “to save the planet” and that it is the reason why he created the business. Purposes don’t speak to what we do (the solution), or about what we’re trying to solve (the problem or the market need), but rather try to describe a better world.
To innovate properly it is important to focus on the problem over the solution, which helps us validate that the problem is real and to understand it fully before providing a solution. However, to innovate in what really is important it is crucial to focus on the purpose over the problem and on the problem over the solution. That way, the purpose will guide us and we will identify the problems that truly need to be resolved.
In Patagonia’s case, for example, focusing on the purpose over the problems and solutions lets them find problems linked to their purpose and solve them. In turn, this grants them access to a great abundance of opportunities and to create a company with multiple business lines, all brought together by a common purpose.
Long-term Positive Impact Over Short-term Profit
People and organizations that act with only the present in mind, without considering the consequences of their actions, and trying to maximize profits at the moment, run the risk of losing perspective and finding themselves in compromising situations in the future. And that’s not all, but also compromising our environmental resources.
We are increasingly aware of the importance of carrying out our activities sustainably, for it is the only way to continue to preserve our society and our planet. All actions attempting to create a lasting positive impact are not only good for the environment but also good for you since the most profitable initiatives and organizations are the ones that create a positive and lasting impact on people and the planet.
Collaboration Over Competition
I recently heard Elon Musk state that he would love for Apple to launch an electric vehicle on the market, as it announced it would, since, although it would be a new competitor, there would be new opportunities that would benefit both companies. The market, in general, would grow, which would boost Tesla’s own purpose: “To accelerate the world’s transition towards a sustainable energy model.”
Competition is necessary, it can even be positive to a point, for it encourages us to constantly improve. However, taken to the extreme it’s no good for anyone, for everyone loses. That’s why the Purpose Manifesto values collaboration above competition. Different individuals and organizations can compete and at the same time seek ways to collaborate to reach a common purpose. I once wrote about this subject in an article called “Industries Create Scarcity, Purpose Generates Abundance.” I urge you to read it.
Collective and Individual Well-being Over Self-Interest
In the say way that generous individuals always get back much more than they give, initiatives and organizations that try to generate a benefit for the world also receive a welcome from society and the market, which ends up generating profits.
Like all forms of life, people and organizations are interdependent. By contributing to well-being beyond ourselves, we create an environment and a balance that not only benefits the world but also ourselves.
Actions Over Intentions
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Purpose must not be an advertising slogan or a message that helps camouflage or clear up our own or our organization’s image. Purpose must translate to real action, beyond nice words and good intentions.
Now that you are aware of the PurposeManifesto, I recommend several actions:
Download it, read it, and share it. You’ll find it on the official website, in several languages: purposemanifesto.org. Reading it, you’ll also find the principles linked to each of the values, which will help you put them into practice. Don’t forget to sign it and share it with others!
Evaluate whether you are truly purpose-oriented. The PurposeManifesto can be used to validate whether an individual or an organization is purpose-oriented. How? Very easily, just ask yourself if you are truly aligned with the PurposeManifesto values and follow them. This is also useful when evaluating whether other organizations are greenwashing.
Really be purpose-oriented. The manifesto can help you find where to improve to really be a purpose-oriented person or organization, which will be good not only for the world but also for you and your projects.
Boost your purpose orientation. If you already follow the manifesto values, the document can help you jump to the next level. In fact, after developing it, at Purpose Alliance we reviewed and improved some elements, such as the values and principles of Purpose Launchpad (purposelaunchpad.com), our framework to help entrepreneurs and organizations to create positive impact.
In closing, I would like to give profound thanks and express the connection I feel to all the people who have collaborated in creating the Purpose Manifesto, and with a large number of individuals and organizations that have already signed it. We all share the solid belief that it is imperative to act to face the world’s challenges and that those who do garner the best results. Humans should not go down in history as the species that ruined the planet and their own civilization, but as the species that improved its own existence and the world.
As I said at the beginning, everything is constantly evolving. The way we create products and businesses evolves, as does the reason why we create them. People also must evolve and we must question how we see the world.
It’s your turn now. Do you want to evolve? Would you like to join our manifesto?
If so, I invite you to read it, sign it, and of course, share it.
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