“Disruption” and “Innovation” are the key concepts of our time. As we watch old institutions come apart and political systems erode, a void is emerging that is unsettling for many. Yet this void opens up a space where something truly new can emerge: for our society and for us personally.
I find it striking that both disruption and innovation are mainly discussed and applied on a corporate and systems level, mainly focused on transformation through digitalization. Given the situation we are in – and it’s almost cliché to mention VUCA, the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous times we live in – I believe that we also need to take this journey on a personal level. Let’s be disruptive with ourselves. Let’s dismantle our own limiting belief systems, judgemental thinking, and conditioned behaviors that do us no service. And let’s use our liberated minds to fuel the transformation we are in collectively.
But — how can we make this shift?
Some of you might cringe hearing the word – but I firmly believe it’s a powerful tool to energize transformation: purpose. Knowing one’s purpose and working towards something bigger helps orchestrate activities in an organization and motivates employees, customers and investors alike. In his yearly letter to CEOs, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink makes crystal clear “that every company needs a framework to navigate this difficult landscape, and that it must begin with a clear embodiment of your company’s purpose in your business model and corporate strategy.”
In a time when corporations are being asked to act more responsibly, what about us? Maybe it’s because I’m a psychologist that I’ve always been more curious about what purpose means to us as individuals, as human beings. In fact, becoming increasingly aware of our reason for being is an essential part of our personal growth story. (Re)gaining access to that kind of inner guidance allows us to intuitively know what to do, not only in challenging situations. Purpose is found by connecting the dots between our most important values, our signature strengths, and core incidents in our life – purpose glues it all together and helps us make sense of ourselves.
Just as the shift towards purpose means a fundamental change in the ways we do business, so it does on a personal level. We start operating from our core as opposed to operating based on what others expect from us.
Unilever transforms, driving change from inside
Few top executives embody their purpose as consistently as Paul Polman, former CEO at Unilever and founder of IMAGINE – a for-benefit corporation and foundation to help accelerate implementation of the Global Goals. Transforming Unilever into one of the front runners in sustainability, he demonstrated that business can be done differently. Throughout Unilever’s transformation, leadership was strongly involved. In their leadership development program, featured in the Harvard Business Review article “From Purpose to Impact,” senior executives crystallized their personal purpose. Energized through this, they launched impact projects as part of the leadership curriculum. In this way, they strengthened their sense of purpose and advanced Unilever’s portfolio and expertise in impact-driven business practices.
One’s sense of purpose, once found, will likely grow and blossom over time – but learning how to live up to it can consciously be accelerated. What then are the key steps to make this happen? Well, the Purpose Activation process can be structured in three major steps. First, we mine the “gold nuggets” from our past and hammer out what truly matters to us. Basically, the question here is: “What is missing after I leave the room? What is my essence?” Then, step by step, we become better at connecting the dots and we learn how to boil it down and put it into words – words that have the power to inspire us every day. Lastly, once we have gained this clarity about our WHY, we can intentionally align what we do and how we do it, becoming more and more consistent over time.
For this reason, taking a step back from time to time – to retreat, reflect, and connect with ourselves and others in a meaningful way – is a powerful starting point for us to tackle the decade ahead, together.
© Headerphoto: OctavianRosca on Unsplashed