It was an early morning phone call with Smartie-Pants that rocked me out of my funk. I had spent the past few days wondering why I’d hired this hyper-analytical consultant to help me with my business. All I wanted to do was grow bigger, hire more people, and ship more crystal each year – seemed sort of simple to me.
Why did it matter if we knew why we exist?
I mean seriously.
“Chuck,” he said, “when you know why you exist, people will be able to work for the company – not just for you. The company will take on its own life. It will exist outside of you, and it will be able to grow and thrive. It will be like a tree – its roots are being driven deep into the ground right now as we do this work. Once the roots are secure, the tree will not stop growing upward and will not fall over as it grows taller. Trust me. This is the most important question to answer.”
I took a deep breath. “Okay,” I said, “let’s move ahead.”
The idea of a tree helped me visualize what I was working toward. I’d seen big trees that had been standing for hundreds of years, and I wanted Crystal D to be like one of those trees. I wanted it to be its own self. And I wanted my employees to be truly vested in the organization. I wanted it to grow and grow and grow.
With that tenet, I entered into the next phase of learning where Smartie-Pants led us through a series of exercises in which we were able to define why we exist.
We had to finish this thought: Crystal D exists to….
At first, we thought we existed only to make awards, but then we considered the people who received our awards. What about them? And what do our awards actually do for the recipient?
The more we talked it through, the more we realized that our awards were actual symbols. Our awards are not cheap crap that was given away only to be trashed later. Instead, our awards were weighty, museum-like trophies that very few people possess. They are rare, and they are precious, much like the deserving people who received them were valuable to their organization. Our awards symbolize all the hard work, sacrifice, and dedication that it takes to be a person worthy of recognition and so we thought we had it – “We exist to be a symbol of accomplishment,” we announced.
“Okay. Now, what is the purpose of a symbol?” probed Smartie-Pants.
Then someone answered, “A symbol helps a person remember their accomplishment. So the award is sort of like a physical item that holds the memory of how it feels to get an award.”
Silence fell over the room.
My brain spun as I processed, analyzed, and tested the idea.
“Yep, that is it.” I said, “We exist to make memories.”
From there the group lit up like a bunch of lightning bugs spontaneously sparkling in an open field. Excited. Energized. Settled. Centered.
At last, we’d found it. Our core purpose: “We exist to turn emotions into memories.”
I thought to myself, “WOW. I thought we just made awards. Turns out we make emotions and memories too.”
I went home that night and tested out this new phraseology on my wife, “Did you know we are a task-role culture, and we exist to turn emotions into memories?”
She asked, “Well what does that mean?”
And you know what? I could explain it. In just a few minutes, I could tell her everything – who we are and what we are all about.
I felt surprisingly light and free and happy. I had a sense of direction, clarity, and purpose that I didn’t know I could have.
Damn, that felt good.
One of the best days ever.