What we can learn about purpose from Elon Musk

There is always something interesting to read on the MindGym site, and we really enjoyed this article on business purpose, entrepreneurship and Elon Musk.

Entrepreneurial leaders like Musk tend to have a sense of purpose that works on three levels: by seeing the outcome of their work (in this case Tesla’s first electric car for a mainstream audience), by contributing towards something they couldn’t achieve alone (Musk is a tech entrepreneur, not an automotive engineer) and by making the world a better place (Musk’s ambition for a sustainable global energy future).

58% of US workers would take a 15% pay cut to do work which is aligned with their personal values, but only 24% of US workers think their work is meaningful, and a further 17% aren’t sure. If people don’t think their work makes a difference to themselves or anyone else, how can we expect them to be motivated to lean in and to always give their best?  One way to help people find meaning in what they do is to connect them with the person, initiative or community they positively impact:

Task purpose: I can see the fruits of my labor. My efforts lead to progress, and no work is futile.

Collective purposeI’m contributing towards something I couldn’t achieve alone. Having a strong sense of contributing to a team effort motivates me to dig deeper and perform better.

Social purpose: My work has a wider impact and it matters beyond my immediate workplace.

The opportunity to have a meaningful job is open to us all.  For our thoughts on purpose in business you might want to read our latest article on how purpose can help boost productivity.

You can read the full article here.

Growing your business on purpose

A great article from Steve Fuller, creative head and co-founder of The House, that shows how purpose can help you grow any business, not just the Unilevers of this world.  You can read the full article here or there is a summary of the main points below.

Purpose is a powerful lens for innovation

[pullquote]purpose lets you widen your horizons while still keeping your focus[/pullquote]

Purpose doesn’t just open up more possibilities, it also narrows your innovation strategy into a laser-like focus, giving you permission to ask: is this new opportunity really in line with what our business is ultimately about?

Purpose drives investment (and makes you more investible)

The evidence* shows that having a clearly communicated sense of purpose builds business confidence, drives business investment and can attract new investors.

*Deloitte’s 2014 Culture of Purpose Report

Purpose puts the wind behind your sails (and sales)

[pullquote]72% of global consumers would recommend a company with purpose to others, a 39% increase from 2008 (Edelman 2012[/pullquote]

Purpose is a purchase trigger. A 2012 Edelman survey revealed that over half of consumers will pick the purposeful brand when price and quality are the same. And, customers don’t just buy from purposeful companies: they become advocates.




In the previous article (Too good to be true?) I articulated our belief that the shift from profit-led to purpose-led thinking has the potential to change the world. We believe it has the power to shift the business paradigm from one in which 60% of employees actively hate their jobs to one in which it’s the norm for people to be proud and energised by their workplace; where young talent seeks out big companies instead of actively shunning them. 

[pullquote]”Only 20% of young people today wanting to work for a big company”


It’s fantastically exciting to see so many huge organisations actively focussed on Purpose. Yet in most corporate organisations, purpose is just not working.  There is a gaping chasm between the purpose articulated by the Board and the reality experienced by the people in the organisation. And if that gap is not bridged, purpose will die, the nay-sayers and cynics will win and a once in a generation opportunity will be lost.

Yet there are organisations where this gap does not exist. It’s easy to see in small, agile, exponentially-growing entrepreneurial companies where the purpose runs through the company like a stick of rock. It’s easy to say this is because they are small or new or exciting (and there is much in that argument) but ‘purpose-led, entrepreneurial thinking’ is not driven by scale or chronology but by an attitude of mind. Would it not be more intelligent to try and identify the beliefs and behaviours that these companies exemplify and see what can be copied?

There are a small but growing list of global organisations that have done just that. These global businesses share a lot of these entrepreneurial attitudes to purpose-engagement. Yet, Apple is not small, REI is not new and Unilever is hardly exciting.

Our experience of these agile and purpose-led businesses reveals a clearly defined list of cultural beliefs and behaviours that are the secret to bridging the gap.

Inspiring leadership helps.  Purpose must be inspiringly and credibly led.  But what the business believes about itself and how it behaves are more important.

[pullquote]Without the beliefs of trust, ownership and context to bridge that gap, muddle, distrust and cynicism will persevere and Purpose will not take root[/pullquote]

The first belief we observe in all organisations that genuinely engage purpose at every level is an absolute commitment to TRUST. Without trust in every vertical and lateral relationship, purpose will not flow through into an agile culture of openness, empathy and innovation. Cultural Competence will not exist.

The second belief pattern is around OWNERSHIP. Unless all the players in the organisation feel – and feel allowed to feel – a powerful sense of ownership of the business and its purpose, it will not flow through into staff behaviours of alignment, engagement and autonomy. Without ownership Staff Competence is weak and customer value compromised.

The final belief drives how effectively decisions are made and strategies implemented. This organisational language we call Context allows for the organisational Purpose to flow through into creating Management Competencies of agility, clarity and velocity.

It’s easy to agree that Purpose is a good thing for organisations big and small.  It’s easy to identify the behaviours of aligned and engaged staff, open and innovative cultures and agile and clear-headed management that we would all love to see in our organisations.  The problem is the gap between the two. Without the beliefs of trust, ownership and context to bridge that gap, muddle, distrust and cynicism will persevere and Purpose will not take root. And that really will be a tragedy.



It is wonderful to see leading corporate advisors like Deloitte, KPMG and EY embrace the power of purpose and compassionate business, and it makes it more important for us to get a clear idea of what purpose actually is and what it isn’t.  Graham Massey’s article for SALT magazine is a great illustration of some of the differences.  We particularly like the fact that he has highlighted how purpose links with commercial performance.

You can read the whole article here and a summary is below.


Purpose is more than ambition or mission

Doubling the size of your business is an ambition. “Making sustainable living commonplace” is a purpose. Firms like Patagonia and Tesla have all shown that having a purpose that connects to a greater good goes hand-in-hand with growth and commercial success.

Purpose is more than CSR

CSR is great for establishing “basic hygiene, but purpose goes further. With CSR, companies do good as an add-on to their usual activities. Purpose means putting positive change at the heart of your products, services and strategy.

Purpose is more than environmental sustainability

Purpose gives us permission to think even bigger. Recent events in Paris – negative and positive – offer us a moment to step back and think about all of the major global challenges we face.

[pullquote]Purpose comes from the sweet spot where your love and passion, your skill and the zeitgeist overlap.

David Hieatt – Do Purpose [/pullquote]

Purpose IS a growth strategy

A clear sense of purpose will guide you into new markets, new products and towards new customers and partners. The evidence from brands such as Ben & Jerry’s and Dove shows that purpose-led brands outperform.

Purpose IS a purchase trigger

Purpose inspires customers. As the business thinker Simon Sinek says, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”.

[pullquote]A 2012 Edelman survey revealed that over half of consumers will pick the purposeful brand when price and quality are the same.[/pullquote]

Purpose IS an investment driver

The evidence shows that having a clearly communicated sense of purpose driving your business at its core will build confidence, drive business investment and attract new investors, and purpose can also help you find new sources of investment.


Get your purpose clear, and it will act as both your engine and your compass. Can you afford not to build your business on purpose?

Graham Massey is the business head of The House, a consultancy that believes valuable businesses are born out of purpose.