Last month, We First Founder & CEO Simon Mainwaring shared his own unique journey to personal purpose that led to the formation of We First Inc. and discussed some of the common roadblocks, challenges and solutions many people find when undertaking their own path to making an impact. At the end of the session, Simon answered some illuminating attendee questions. You can watch the webinar in its entirety here. Be sure to sign up for the We First Newsletter to learn about upcoming webinars.
Here are excerpts from the Q&A that we hope will help you with your personal goals:
Q: Where do I start in defining my personal purpose? It feels overwhelming.
A: I’ll speak to WeFirstWorks.com now as a quick way to answer your question and then I’ll come back to the larger question. We First Works is an online platform that has two courses on it: a course on how to define your personal purpose and a course on your company purpose. It’s a step-by-step action plan where you walk out with a purpose statement and a way to activate against it. So, that’s a great place to start.
Now coming back to your larger question. The first thing to acknowledge is that it’s not simple. It’s not easy. It’s something intangible, illusive, and instinctive. The most powerful thing you can do at first is to give yourself permission to be okay with a messy process. You want to let it emerge rather than stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood appear on your forehead.
Then, I would secondly put myself in a state where it’s conducive to getting those answers. Take time, go for a walk, set aside time to reflect. Spend some time where you’re asking yourself important questions without a lot of distraction. What are you the only of? When you’re at your best, what are you doing? What’s your enemy? What legacy do you want to lead with every day?
Q: Does purpose have to mean you’re doing good? Can’t you just do something functional?
A: That’s an interesting question. There’s a distinction between purpose as utility — a function — and purpose as an aspiration or intended impact. What we’re talking about here is the legacy that you’re going to lead. A purpose — which is why you exist. It should be meaningful to your head, to your heart, and to your hands. It should be an active verb that inspires and makes you want to do something, rather than purely functional. The world will be a little better off because you’re living your truth.
Q: The company I work for isn’t necessarily a purposeful company, yet so much of my life and welfare is derived from there. How do I bring some of my purpose into a work environment that might not support it?
A: Many times when we go into companies they might have an internal champion that wants it to be purposeful. There might be a key stakeholder that want the company to build a culture of purpose or have a positive impact. But invariably, there’s a challenge. There’s leadership who hasn’t bought in or a CFO who doesn’t understand why it’s more than a nice-to-have, etc.
You need to lead with a conversation that they want to have. What do I mean by that? If you go in there and say, “You need to be purposeful. It’s the right thing to do”, companies, more often than not, will say, “Yep, that sounds great. We can’t afford it right now but we believe in the same things.” And then nothing will happen.
Instead, you need to align the impact you want to have with the business goals of the company, because I deeply believe that profit and purpose are two sides of the same coin. I believe that because today we have a heightened awareness of the compounding global crises we face like climate change, younger demographics like Millennials & Gen-Z, employees & customers who want brands to do good, and connected technologies like social media that keep everyone very well-informed.
So, you can go in and make the business case. Align around shared values and work toward a common goal. If you can say, “We’re trying to reach this market and this market cares about this thing, and we as a company stand for x, y and z. We can do these sorts of activations that reach those people and they’d be engaged with our brand, products and services to achieve a common goal”.
The second thing you can do is unlock their competitive instincts. Show what their competitors are doing. In every industry, you’ve got leaders being more purposeful whether they’re doing it to mitigate risk, build their reputation, win the talent they need to grow, etc. Finally, there’s so much research and data now to support all this work: Ernst & Young, Edelman, & Gallup are all great sources to look at. In short, don’t lead with your need — what you want to get them to do — back out of what they want to achieve. And it’s not about being duplicitous — the very way you drive growth and profit today is by being purposeful and showing up in a way that is meaningful to those stakeholders.
Q: It’s easy for big companies to have a purpose, but why is it important when you’re just trying to get your first product out?
I was told 67% of new jobs in America come from small businesses. So, all the founders and social entrepreneurs out there who are starting their own business — they’re doing extraordinary work. For many people, you’re working from your kitchen table. Getting your MVP, your first product out the door, raising money from your friends and family, or maybe a series A of funding — all can be extremely demanding.
But, here’s what we discovered. Pretty soon over time, if you’ve got a product-only focus, you’ll say one thing about one product, one thing about the next, one thing on one channel, one thing on another channel — and overtime, you end up broadcasting schizophrenia to people. That then begs the question: how do I connect the dots?
It’s far more effective to define your purpose in the first place, let that inform your business from the outset, and position your products as social proof of that purpose. And if you’re a small company, solopreneur or founder — your personal purpose is effectively the company purpose. You are shaping it 100%.
Q: Can two people have the same purpose?
Yes, they can in a sense — in the abstract. But I don’t think any two people are alike. I’ve met countless folks working in the purpose space who are fantastic and so good at what they do. But the way they manifest it is unique to their journey, their skillset, their team, their marketplace, their goals, their aspirations, etc. So, I think two people could have the same purpose, but if you interrogated it a bit further, you’d probably find that they frame different language and, ultimately, it’d be different. They may be trying to impact the same category, cause, issue — but the way it will show up when the rubber hits the road will be slightly different.
Everyone who enrolls in a We First Works course has access to virtual office hours with Simon and We First Strategy Lead Stacy Anderson where they have the opportunity to ask questions like these in a personal one-one-one about their own purpose path. Visit our site for more information or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.