Without this - purpose is pointless

February 8, 2019

Victoria Hurth // Associate Professor of Marketing // Plymouth University

 

 

Business will not change - whether it is purposeful or not - if the values which underpin the move towards purposeful business are dictated by the market, rather than by what gives us a sense of wellbeing as human beings.

 

Over time, the notion of value has been gradually appropriated by the market - what we might consider as valuable on a human level - such as connection, community and wellbeing - has been sidelined in favour of what the market can offer - such as individual wealth, success and material gain. 

 

And yet, when it comes to the things that really matter to us - spending more time with friends and family, the courage to live a full life (so often summarised by the regrets of the dying) - we rarely disagree on what constitutes a good life.

 

Anand Giridharadas, author of Winners Take All : The Elite Charade of Changing the World says:

 

When it [the market] becomes the only language, when it becomes the only way of thinking about the right thing to do, it leaves us with a very impoverished sense of how to live together.”  

 

Which is why, when Associate Professor Victoria Hurth speaks about purpose, it is from a foundation of what constitutes human value, what we collectively consider worth striving for, rather than perversely, what the market ascribes for us. 

 

See also Anand Giridharadas OnBeing podcast

Transcript

When you think about talking about questioning what value is and not saying value is just ultimately subjective and the market decides what it is  - we need to, we need to say and you know come out and say what we know to be true is that there are these universal values of right and wrong  - Viktor Frankl talk to it in his about in this man's search for meaning there are these universal values and if you were to put those universal values of right and wrong in today's context you that be I suppose very few people who might argue that our shared purpose is long-term well-being for all equitable, sustainable because it’s long-term and that it's about well-being in other words satisfying our human needs the suite of human needs that we have satisfying them one way or another obviously we need to do that in a sustainable way where everyone’s benefits. 

 

I think doing that recognising that and that's where the concept of purpose has started to really help ground that. So I'm working with colleagues in Cambridge and we looked at the concept of purpose and we're really trying to pin down these parameters because once you start to pin them down you have something to work towards you have a way of bringing in conversations like it's not okay or that's wrong but it's but it's based on an outcome that you have a shared sense of what that outcome is because if you don't have a shared sense of the ultimate purpose how can you possibly reconcile what's right and wrong? 

 

And how can you start to bring those conversations into a business a business which is there to achieve certain outcomes so it becomes it could easily see talent seem tangential to whatever that purpose is so we need to  be clear about the purpose and then we need to be clear that it needs to be the right kind of purpose and and so the role of business then is to start and the people in it at the start is to start to say in the context of delivering long term well-being what's our organisation's particular role to play what can we and that’s where you get organised your purpose that's where an organisation can start to really start  to build what it's good at you know build strategy build build action plans build you know unite human endeavour for a reason that's what organisations are here for but until we ground value as something that isn't just subjective and isn’t just based in the market then I don’t think we will be able to solve those

things.

 

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We film unbusiness-like conversations with leaders about values, purpose and leadership  We aim to generate a new conversation about the role of business in society.