3 Ways To Become a Purpose-Driven Organization

Marc Mertens Chief Executive Officer

Ten years ago, I found myself in an uncomfortable place. I had spent the previous seven years chasing down blue-chip brands to build up an impressive client roster for a digital agency. The company was a success story. We sold more flat screen TVs, Twilight DVD box sets and canned energy drinks than I ever fathomed possible. Mind you, despite living in the entertainment industry’s epicenter, I hadn’t owned a TV for a decade, I couldn’t pick out Robert Pattinson in a lineup if my life depended on it, and I get my buzz from a good morning bike ride. So what was the point of it all?

My lack of a compelling answer—for myself and more importantly, my team—led me to seek out any opportunity to look at things from a different perspective and ultimately, a complete reframing of how I approach what I do and what I expect of my clients.

I started asking myself, what kind of meaningful challenges do I want to solve, what kind of future do I want to shape, and how can I make a profit while doing it?”

Today, I find myself in good company. We’re living in an unprecedented moment for purpose-driven organizations. Consumers don’t just want to know there’s a deeper intention at the heart of a company than ROIs and spreadsheets. They expect it. And at the same time, the term “purpose-driven” has become about as meaningful as “green” in 2008. In other words, it’s over-used and often ill-defined. While many companies will claim that having a good product means you have purpose, true purpose speaks to something more pure and transformative. It requires digging a little deeper and asking yourself what kind of legacy you want to leave behind.

Buzzwords aside, becoming a purpose-driven company means driving purpose to the core of your company.  At A Hundred Years, we help organizations take the long view to create meaningful impact today. Why 100 years? Because it’s audacious, ambitious, but also in the realm of possibility. Within the last 100 years, we put a man on the moon, replaced horse-drawn carriages with gleaming Model Ts, exploded our access to information with the Internet, and cured once-deadly diseases with antibiotics—all without access to modern technology. Now imagine if we channeled that energy and invention to solve problems that could save lives and preserve our planet. Today, we not only have the tools and technology to change the future, we have to do it. For that reason alone, I truly believe this is the most exciting time to be alive.

Developing a hundred-year vision requires three significant shifts in perspective:

1. Commit to optimism.

Instead of extrapolating how the future might look based on improving where you are today, pause and imagine what’s possible. Then work backwards.

2. Align your profit with your purpose.

It’s not about nonprofit or for-profit anymore. It’s about building a business model where every dollar made is another step toward deeper positive impact, which is no easy feat. But it’s crucial to start somewhere. Because purposeful brands are the secret sauce of successful businesses.

3. Spend as much time making sure you’re asking the right questions as you do answering them.

Einstein said it best: “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” We often spend a ton of time and resources solving the wrong challenges. If you focus on asking the right questions, the more likely you are to solve some gnarly problems.

So what do you want to be remembered for in a hundred years?

Related Practice Areas:

Business Strategy