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Fit for purpose

Goals that are over-stretching, unrealistic and have no core personal purpose that adds value to your life will inevitably fall by the wayside. A sense of purpose is neurologically rewarding, intrinsically motivating us to keep going and to strive for success. Purpose is the reason volunteers continue to volunteer and artists create. A pursuit of a goal or a day’s work without purpose is draining – effort without meaning is simply hard work.

Purpose and daily meaning play an important part not just in our motivation but in our health and happiness. A study published in the Lancet looking at subjective wellbeing, identified that eudaimonic wellbeing (sense of purpose and meaning in life) is associated with increased survival[1]. Okinawa in Japan is one of the nine Blue Zones’ – cultures identified and studied because inhabitants live measurably longer healthier lives. In the Okinawan language they have the word ‘ikigai’, translated as ‘the reason I wake up in the morning’. A sense of purpose is amongst the aspects all the Blue Zones have in common and the project lists it as worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy.[2] So, for those resolutions you have listed for yourself what is the reason for each, their true purpose? What would a change in weight, fitness or job really mean for you? By tapping into the real purpose you will fuel your motivation.

A sense of purpose in our work is essential for engagement and for organisations with a clear purpose it delivers demonstrable returns. The power of purpose is often underestimated in the workplace as a critical driver of engagement, innovation, client/customer service, collaboration and performance. Mission statements go up on walls and over-stretching targets are dealt out in the hope of increased productivity, but rarely do these carry a clear link between individual contribution and the true meaning of the work. The result is work done in isolation with a sense of disconnect and, at worse, futility. Jim Collins in his book Good to Great, notes how “enduring great companies don’t exist merely to deliver returns to shareholders. Indeed, in a truly great company, profits and cash flow become like blood and water to a healthy body: They are absolutely essential for life, but they are not the very point of life.” So what’s the formula for the lasting endurance of an organisation? Collins continues: “To make the shift from a company with sustained great results to an enduring great company of iconic stature . . . discover your core values and purpose beyond just making money.” [3] Jim Stengel of Proctor & Gamble commissioned a study of over thirty thousand brands with a focus on twenty-five top performing ones. The in-depth study found that all the top-performing brands were fulfilling a higher order purpose[4]. Furthermore, Collins, over the course of a six year research project with Jerry Porras,[5] found that long enduring and highly successful organisations all had a clear sense of purpose built around a core ideology beyond making money that differentiated them and provided a deep and meaningful identity to all employees. For organisations with clear purpose and values, the ‘what’ and ‘why’ is accessible. Decisions become faster, easier and clearer.

Purpose creates a lens through which the world is viewed and moves are made based on their relevance to and alignment with that viewpoint. Questions such as cut costs, outsource, pursue a different market are simpler to answer if the result of them being put into action would be to violate the purpose? Purpose directs and unites people through a common reason and desire to progress, which provides that intrinsic reward.

So at this time of reflection, whether at work or outside of work, think about your ikigai and its source of value to you.

Happy New Year!

Click here for further reading on this subject and the other DRIVERS© of intrinsic motivation and trust.


  1. Subjective wellbeing, health, and ageing, Prof Andrew Steptoe; Prof Angus Deaton; Prof Arthur A Stone; The Lancet published online November 2014; Volume 385, No. 9968, p640-p648, 14 February 2015
  2. Blue Zones, Power 9 accessed 12 July 2016
  3. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap..And Others Don’t, Jim Collins, Harper Collins, 2011
  4. GROW, Jim Stengel; Crown Business, NY; accessed 7 December 2017
  5. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, J. Collins and J.I. Porras, Random House Business Books, first published in 1994