The Proliferation of Purpose

We have extraordinary levels of freedom to choose how we will live and how we will contribute to the flourishing of the system we all share. As my friend Raj Sisodia pointed out, we can be like the caterpillar—choosing to consume everything we see for our own gratification, paying no heed to any destruction left in our wake; or we can be like the butterfly—cross-pollinating, simultaneously nourishing ourselves and the entire eco-system in which we live.  Now even my 9-year old twins know, “caterpillars are kind of gross,” while butterflies “well, they just make you happy…how can you not like butterflies?

The most extraordinary thing about butterflies is that they all started out as caterpillars. And one can see the value, for a time, of caring for the self, growing in strength and stature in preparation for something greater. But eventually that caterpillar must transform itself into an entirely new state of being – not just physically but fundamentally. After turning to complete mush in the cocoon, it emerges to begin life anew – not just for its own profit, but for a greater purpose…to live in a way that contributes to the beauty and health of the entire system.

It was over a decade ago when we first began observing that the companies operating with a greater purpose (beyond just making money for shareholders) were, in fact, creating systems where everyone flourished: employee wellbeing was high, customers were delighted, communities welcomed them with open-arms and shareholders profited handsomely. Kind of like a butterfly—they just made people happy.

Back then caterpillars were everywhere and butterflies were talked about as if they lived alongside unicorns in the land of make-believe. Leaders were skeptical that you could live like a butterfly and still succeed—surely, being overly concerned with the welfare of others would come at your own expense (so thinks the caterpillar). But as conscious, purpose-driven companies like Southwest Airlines, Chipotle, Whole Foods Market, John Deere, BMW, Google, Starbucks, and Timberland have grown and prospered, the ascendance and proliferation of butterflies has been astounding.

As I sit here in 2015 looking out at the landscape, I stand in awe at the explosion of purpose-driven companies in the marketplace. Leaders are thinking deeply about how to use their organizations to solve the big problems facing our world. They’re thinking about cultivating values-based cultures where people feel loved and supported and believe that what they do matters. They’re looking at the problems faced by their customers and rolling up their sleeves to create products and services that address those needs in a positive and real way. They’re working in true partnership with suppliers and vendors to create mutually-beneficial relationships. They’re thinking about how their operations impact the planet and what they can do to contribute to a sustainable way of living. And—like bees to honey—these companies are attracting the next generation of talent who are eager to invest their time and energy in the service of companies they believe in, doing work that contributes to the greater good of the system.

To all the caterpillars that have made the choice to become butterflies, to those still in the messy, mushy transformation process, and for those who are just now considering that there’s more to life than being a caterpillar…I say thank you. It’s been a joy to behold the transformation and it’s a great honorto continue to be a part of this Purpose movement.

Long live the butterfly!