In Vistage, we say “Great leaders ask great questions.” The most important question: What’s my purpose?

The 2 Ingredients of Purpose

Your purpose is about solving problems that are meaningful to yourself. Two phrases are key in this sentence:

  1. solving problems – whilst you can get momentary happiness from experiences, only improving quality of life for other beings gives rise to lasting fulfilment
  2. meaningful to yourself – if you don’t enjoy the journey, you are going to give up quickly. If you give up, you will not solve problems. You must be selfish in this respect. You must use your own unique combination of talents and desires in a way that is satisfying to you personally

The path of the purposeless one is beset on all sides by distraction and other people’s priorities. Modern western society gives us the greatest freedom of action of any civilisation in history. This freedom is dangerous without defining how you will use it.

The greater the freedom, the more important to clarify your own purpose.

“Freedom is not the absence of commitments, but the ability to choose – and commit myself to – what is best for me… “

Paolo Coelho

Dan Sullivan speaks about 2 kinds of freedom:

  • “Freedom from” – the removal of obligations: I save enough money to not have to work in a job that is not meaningful
  • “Freedom to” – the creation of a purpose: I actively exercise my power of will to choose to pursue a meaningful purpose

Being highly efficient in pursuit of what is fundamentally unimportant is a terrible life path. I know several people who are brilliant at tactics, but lack any coherent life strategy. They are lost.

Nobody climbs Everest by accident. It was a dream and a plan and part of the meaningful activity of life for a decade before the summit.

How do you begin to answer: What is my Purpose?

Write something down. Anything.

What do you want to do during your life? Bucket list, problems you want to fix, experiences you want to have, how you differ from others, how you relate to others, teachers that made a difference…

Write them all down.

That’s step 1.

My friend David Tomas and I went to a 3 day workshop with Dr John DeMartini about 10 years ago called “Master Planning for Life“. For 3 straight days we sat in silence in a room in London and we wrote a plan for our life. Mine is 150 pages of word document. It is exactly what I described – a big list of every place I ever wanted to go, every thing I ever wanted to learn, every person that matters, every teacher that impacted me, every dream I have… and a set of financial plans that would allow me to make it happen.

I haven’t done everything that is in the document. I get demotivated and forget to review it often. I have days where I ask myself “what is it all about?”

I have this document as a map and a compass that can get me back on track.

You have to write it down.

…and then you iterate it many, many, many times. You come back to it regularly and add things that are even better and delete things that don’t resonate any more.

After 100 iterations you have something that can re-motivate you about why you are here.

After 1,000 iterations you should start to have something that really reminds you what is important and how to use your time.

Is there a shortcut?

…of course not. This is too important an aspect of your life to cut corners. Imagine if you just copied someone else’s purpose document? You’d end up living a great life, for them.

…and iterations are vital – because often what you think is important or meaningful when you are young turns out to not quite be the experience you expected.

Put it where you will see it often

It is not the writing down that matters. It is the iterating and repeatedly reminding yourself of what you think is important.

The problem is not that you don’t know what matters to you and what activities are most important – it is that you forget or get distracted so often.

If you liked this post, you will also like finding purpose and defining a vision for your life and A Truly Compelling Vision.

Professional Rugby Players do it…

On a transatlantic flight this year I came across the “Chasing Great” documentary that followed the life and career of New Zealand rugby captain Richie McCaw.

When Richie was 12 years old, a friend of his father asked him to put his dreams down on paper. They wrote it on a napkin while having lunch. Here is the napkin (source NZ Herald 25 August 2016: Chasing Great: Richie McCaw’s secret video tapes revealed)

A recreation of the napkin containing Richie McCaw’s All Blacks plans.

Professional Golfers do it…

Here’s something I found today on twitter that resonated… Pro Golfer Justin Thomas shared his written goals for the coming season…

MIT Endicott House

I was in Boston to teach on the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation EMP (Entrepreneurial Masters Program) this week. MIT Endicott House is one of the most beautiful locations for leadership retreats and programs. I brought my drone to capture the scenery around the main buildings. You’ll see the drone shots right at the beginning of the video below.

Why Do We Need to Clarify our Purpose?

Dandapani in Barcelona, 2016

Dandapani was one of the speakers at the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation Masters Program event this week at MIT Endicott House, outside of Boston. Dandapani spent 10 years as a Hindu monk, meditating with his guru on the purpose of his life.

Dandapani spoke about the importance of consciously deciding what is important and what is not important in your life. Why?

Because life is finite.

More from Dandapani

Dandapani on Instagram (he takes great photos) https://www.instagram.com/dandapanillc

“How to Concentrate”, Dandapani at TEDx

In his TED talk, Stephen Duneier explains that what defines him are not titles, but an approach to decision making that transformed him from someone who struggled with simple tasks to a guy who is continuously achieving even his most ambitious dreams.

For thirty years, he has applied cognitive science to investing, business and life. The result has been the turnaround of numerous institutional businesses, career best returns for managers who have adopted his methods, the development of a $1.25 billion dollar hedge fund and a rapidly shrinking bucket list.

“Every one of my report cards basically said the same thing: Steven is a very bright young boy, if only he would just settle down and focus.”

“What they didn’t realize was I wanted that even more than they wanted it for me, I just couldn’t. And so, from kindergarten straight through the 2nd year of college, I was a really consistent C, C- student. But then going into my junior year, I’d had enough. I thought I want to make a change. I’m going to make a marginal adjustment, and I’m going to stop being a spectator of my decision-making and start becoming an active participant.”

“And so, that year, instead of pretending, again, that I would suddenly be able to settle down and focus on things for more than five or ten minutes at a time, I decided to assume I wouldn’t. And so, if I wanted to achieve the type of outcome that I desire – doing well in school – I was going to actually have to change my approach. And so I made a marginal adjustment. If I would get an assignment, let’s say, read five chapters in a book, I wouldn’t think of it as five chapters, I wouldn’t even think of it as one chapter. I would break it down into these tasks that I could achieve, that would require me to focus for just five or ten minutes at a time. So, maybe three or four paragraphs. That’s it.”

“I would do that and when I was done with those five or ten minutes, I would get up. I’d go shoot some hoops, do a little drawing, maybe play video games for a few minutes, and then I come back. Not necessarily to the same assignment, not even necessarily to the same subject, but just to another task that required just five to ten minutes of my attention. From that point forward, all the way through to graduation, I was a straight-A student, Dean’s List, President’s Honor Roll, every semester.”

“I then went on to one of the top graduate programs in the world for finance and economics. Same approach, same results. So then, I graduate. I start my career and I’m thinking, this worked really well for me. You know, you take these big concepts, these complex ideas, these big assignments, you break them down too much more manageable tasks, and then along the way, you make a marginal improvement to the process that ups the odds of success in your favor. I’m going to try and do this in my career. So I did. I started out as an exotic derivatives trader for credit Swiss. It then led me to be global head of currency option trading for Bank of America”

Mr. Duneier teaches graduate courses on Decision Analysis in UCSB’s College of Engineering. His book, AlphaBrain is due for release in early 2017 from Wiley & Sons. Through Bija Advisors, he helps business leaders improve performance by applying proven, proprietary decision-making methods to their own processes. His artwork has been featured around the world and is represented by the Sullivan Goss Gallery. As Commissioner of the League of Professional Educators, Duneier is using cognitive science to alter the landscape of American education. He is the former Head of Currency Option Trading at Bank of America and Emerging Markets at AIG International.

For more on achieving goals, check out 6 Reasons we Give Up on Goals and Finding Purpose and Defining a Vision for your Life.

This video is from up in the French Pyrenees.  It is about learning to ski.

It takes a few days of hard knocks to get to a level where you can even basically enjoy it.

The skills that turn out to be passions in your life, they will take time to develop. Many people give up after 1 day of frustration – they give up on skiing, they give up on speaking in public, they give up on learning a new language.

The easy stuff gets boring quickly. The harder skills can give a lifetime of enjoyment… if you can get through the initial pain.

If you liked this post, you will also like What is the hardest thing you ever had to work for? and Finding Purpose and Defining a Vision for your Life.

What skills are you working to improve in 2018?  What areas of your life will you dedicate time and energy to make changes? I’d love to hear in the comments below…

Last week’s blog post (Do you have inspiring goals?) triggered a wonderful response in emails and comments. I had many questions. A common question was about how to begin to find a purpose and define a vision for your life.

This video shares a tool I found 8 years ago that had a major impact on my life over the 2 months after I first did the exercise:

If you are reading this via email, check out the video on the blog here: How to find your Purpose

Did you do the exercise?  How did that work for you?  Let me know how this goes…

Download a quick template for this Purpose tool…

Continue with this line of ideas by reading Meaningful Contribution or Start with the End in Mind or What do you want? 

Two Approaches to Life

My friends live their lives in one of two contrasting ways:

  1. Guided by a Long term Vision for their Lives
  2. Take Opportunities as they come

In the short term, the opportunists made great early progress.  I have one friend who changed job every 1-2 years in the investment banking industry.  Each job change achieved an increase of 30-50% in salary.  Problem: he is now stuck and has no serious chances of moving up to the really senior ranks.

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Another friend in investment banking has stuck it out in the same bank for 14 years.  He didn’t take each opportunistic head-hunter call looking to get him to switch jobs.  His salary languished behind our opportunistic friend.  Today he is moving into the senior ranks of the bank and has enormous political support to take job choices that improve his work-life balance.

It was a hard choice when I was young.  I worked for Accenture for 9 years.  Every year I watched peers leave to join competitors for 30-50% increases in salary.  I had offers and I thought about leaving.  In the end, I valued flexibility over salary and used my network in Accenture to live in London, Chicago and Sydney.

Case: Henry Kissinger and US Foreign Policy

I finished reading Kissinger’s biography by Niall Ferguson before the summer. The central debate in the book: Was Kissinger:

  1. an idealist hit by impossible problems? or
  2. a realist who responded as best he could to opportunities?

Remember the 1960s?  I don’t…  only through my history courses and books.  I highly recommend a Coursera course with Professor Philip Zelikow: The Modern World, Part 2: Global History since 1910.  It is one of my 3 favourite MOOC courses that I have studied over the last 5 years.  Prof Zelikow is passionate and engaging.

Kissinger’s Major Criticism of US Foreign Policy: 100% Opportunist

Kissinger’s criticisms of the Kennedy and LBJ presidencies was that they were pragmatic opportunists, but there was no overall vision of what they stood for. The Soviet Union (at the time) stood for fairness, and the US argument was that its economic policies would make citizens wealthier.

It was a lost argument.

People were not inspired to fight in order to improve their economic situation. This was not a psychologically motivating appeal.

Kissinger identified freedom as the value that the US most espoused. He felt that the foreign policy decisions should be taken in the framework of whether the individual decisions improved individual freedom – not on a case by case basis.

Opportunism leads to a Dead End

Those who know why they are fighting will win over those who don’t.

The Vietnam war was militarily un-winnable, and Ho Chi Minh was always a step ahead of what the US were interested in negotiating.   He understood that the US would always be short term and opportunistic. He was fighting for a cause, the US had got themselves into Vietnam bit by bit by bit and then found themselves stuck fighting for a cause that didn’t exist.

I’m no history or politics expert, but I would suggest that the US role in the world from the end of the Vietnam war up until 2000 was largely positive.  The recent decade has seen the US fall back into an Opportunistic foreign policy – George Bush’s photo opportunity driven foreign policy was the start of a collapse in Visionary and values driven US foreign policy.  Trump is here because the political consensus had gradually become what is politically easy, not what is right.  The increasing polarization of the US political system makes it hard to establish a long term vision.

Only a life led towards a vision based on your own set of values can lead to work you love in the second half of your career.  A life led entirely on the basis of opportunism will inevitably take you towards a dead end (or Trump).

How do you Establish a Framework for your Life?

Kissinger began by identifying the most important value that he believed represented the US culture: Freedom.

What is your single most important value?  

Is your life showing this?  Is the majority of your time going to your most important value?  Are you spending your money on your most important value?  Are you building friendships and mentors that support your most important value?

You need a coach or a mentor to help you work out your vision, framework and how to take the tough decisions to orient your life around this vision.  I have never seen someone do it alone.

One of my favourite examples of a powerful personal Vision comes from Cameron Herold. He calls it his Vivid Vision. You can read his updated 2016 Vivid Vision Statement here.

“Leadership is about communicating with people, uniting them behind a shared mission and values, and mobilizing energies toward accomplishing the mission or purpose of an Organization.” Peter Drucker

Leadership is a means to an end–the mission it serves is the end.

People who accomplish great things have a combined passion for a single mission with an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission, whatever the obstacles and however long it might take.

In “Leading Change”, John Kotter outlines 6 aspects of a good vision
statement:

  1. Imaginable. It needs to paint a visual picture of the desired future in the minds of those who read it.
  2. Desirable. It should appeal to the people that are striving to reach it and the customers they are serving.
  3. Feasible. While aspirational in nature, it needs to articulate a realistic and achievable future purpose.
  4. Focused. It should provide concentrated direction to those following it.
  5. Flexible. By being broad in scope, it allows for modifications due to the dynamic nature of the business environment.
  6. Communicable. The vision statement should be easy to articulate to others.

We need to be careful about taking the easy path and not the right path.  We need people that practice it in their own lives, and we need to reward leaders who practice it in the public arena.

If you liked this post, you will also like Freedom is not Fun and Meaningful Contribution.

 

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I made a little change to the classic story about 3 men building a cathedral…

Working on a Cathedral

In the distance I see the construction site of a future cathedral. I approach the site and see three men laying bricks.

I approach the first man and ask “what are you doing?” He says “I am laying bricks.”

I approach the second man and ask “what are you doing?” He says “I am the world’s best stonecutter.” *

I approach the third man and ask “what are you doing?” He says “I am building a cathedral.”

* this is the little change…  😉

Who Are these Men?

The first man is clearly a day labourer and is not committed to the business, to his own personal development or to making society a better place.  He is not a leader and not part of a team.

The third man is focussed on making society better and feels that his work is a meaningful contribution.  He is a leader and part of a sense of team.

What about the Good Workman?

It is the second man that we must worry about.

This man is dangerous.

I meet many people who are like this second man. They are working on making themselves the best that they can be. The best manager, the best lawyer, the best gardener, the best architect.

Deciding to be the best that you can be at your job is a good thing.  However, it is not a mission.  It is not linked to an outcome that improves society.

It is possible to be the best stonecutter and allow a terrible cathedral to be built around you.  It is possible to be the best stonecutter and say nothing when you watch the plumber do a poor job with cheap tools.  It is possible to be the best stonecutter and watch the project fail around you and walk away saying “it wasn’t my job to look at finances, it wasn’t my job to make sure plumbing was done well… I did my bit”.  This is why it is dangerous for people on your team to limit their mission to being the best at their job.

How do you express your mission for your work?  Is it focussed on improving quality of life, or is it about being the best X?

 

Idris: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“Haha…  what?  me…  I think I’m a little too old for that”

Idris: “You do realise that you are still growing?”

“Hmmm…  you mean…  The Dream?”

Idris: “Yes, The Dream?”

“I don’t think people have enough time to dream.  Real life gets in the way of dreams.”

Idris: “What if I said to you that I can make it happen…  would you be up for that?”

Idris: “When we are kids we play, we think, we dream…  but as an adult we slow down very quickly.  No matter what stage they are in life, people shouldn’t stop dreaming.  They should thrive on.”

What is your Dream?

Read more on purpose, dreams and living fully:

“What if I said to you that I can make it happen…  would you be up for that?” Idris Elba

What do you need to start?  What is the first step?  What can you do now without needing permission from anybody?

An effective statement of mission should be short, sharp and direct. It should fit on a t-shirt. Not a font 8 squeeze, but a legible font.

Every person who is involved should be able to articulate how their contribution adds to that mission. If not, then you don’t have a mission. You have a hopeful statement written by a board and not lived by an organisation.

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A Mission Is Not About What is Possible Today

“Never start with tomorrow to reach eternity. Eternity is not reached by small steps.” John Donne

A mission is not guided by what we can do today, what we do today is guided by the mission. If you start with the believably possible, you won’t create a mission you will draft a plan. Martin Luther did not say “I have a plan”. If he did, he would have had the auditors and accountants with him, but no actual people.

JFK said “a man on the moon by the end of the decade”. That’s not a plan. That’s a mission.

Norman Foster has designed some impossible buildings…. and then the engineers have found new ways to build.

Creating Mission: Start from “what problem do you want to solve”?  Don’t start from “what you know how to do”.  

Most people do not have a compelling vision.

A boring vision attracts mediocre people and mediocre performance.

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“I want to make €1 million” is not a compelling vision. It is about you, and you alone.  Why would anyone else give their best effort so that you can have €1 million in your bank account?

Guy Kawasaki once told me that a compelling vision is based on one of three things:

  • Right a wrong
  • Give back to people something they have lost
  • Improve quality of life

How do you improve the quality of life of a group of people?  How do you fix something that is wrong with the world?  How do you give people something they once had but is now lost?

It takes courage to build a compelling vision.

It takes deep self reflection about what is deeply important to me.  The closer I get to what my deepest values ask of me, the more I will feel fear of ridicule by others.

If anything was possible, what type of world do you want to see?

Describe this world.

If it feels easily achievable, you do not have a compelling vision.  If this seems important but very difficult – you might be on to a compelling vision.

If you work for the money, you will get bored and apathetic sooner or later.  If the money is for a bigger purpose, then your journey can overcome many obstacles.