Thoughts about Higher Purpose

Gary Hamel, the originator of the concept of core competence, said on his Wall Street Journal blog in 2009:

Ensuring that managerial work serves a higher purpose. Management, both in theory and practice, must orient itself to the achievement of noble, socially significant goals.

This higher purpose means a purpose that is not merely focused on profits. It must be a purpose beyond profits.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and Purpose
At the extreme end, we see companies very focused on creating social change in the world. They are focused on how they can contribute to create a better world in a very direct way. Some companies that come to mind are Toms Shoes and Method. These companies priortize the world’s needs over their own needs. This is very similar to the highest level, self-transcendence, of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

There are also companies that are driven to create the best products in the world. For example, BMW and Apple. Again, in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, this urge to create great products can be categorized to the self-actualization stage.

This observation suggests that if we imagine a company as a human being, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs could be applied to them as well. Unlike individuals where we only have one consciousness, and we are quickly to understand our human needs for something higher in the needs hierarchy, companies and organizations must make the effort to understand its own needs.

Like the human race, a company that just got founded starts out at the bottom. It needs to attain the physiological and safety needs. Naturally, at that stage, a company has to prioritize profits so its people can bring food to the table everyday.

But these companies must not make their purpose about attaining these basic needs. They need to define a higher purpose - one that is in the self-actualization and self-transcendence stages of the hierarchy needs. Profits are the means to realizing the purpose.

As the famous French playwright Molière said, “One should eat to live, not live to eat.”