Does Your Job Have Meaning?

Last Updated Mar 16, 2010 11:53 AM EDT

The crisis we are going through at the moment is not economic, it's moral, according to Paul Bennett, chief creative officer at the European office of design organisation IDEO.

We need a reboot of our values and choices, in order to make the businesses on which our economy depends durable enough to withstand the next crisis.

Speaking at the Economist and Design Council's Redesigning Business summit, Bennett broke this moral reboot down into a number of specific areas:

  • Have a higher purpose and meaning. Those companies which transcend the profit imperative and take on a real basic need felt by their customers. "It's about having the passion burning behind the eyes," according to Bennett.
  • Operate transparently: Businesses that court feedback remain in the conversation their customers are having about them. The internet makes businesses transparent anyway, whether they like it or not, so it's better to have even a little control over what customers find out.
  • Play well with others: The day of the business world being moved along by lone geniuses is over and it has been replaced by innovation by collective. Companies prosper by sharing the stage with others.
  • Deliver service: By thinking of service as a duty to your customers, you create a virtuous circle that enforces customer loyalty. Central to great customer service is having staff who feel they matter to the company and are being cared for by it.
  • Create the theatre, not the play: Don't follow the conventions of the market, look for other ways to engage the same customers to create new revenue streams.
  • Be trusting: Assume that your customers want to do the right thing. Businesses that give customers and collaborators lee-way in how they choose to behave generally find they abide by the rules without having to be policed.
  • Be brave: What's in your peripheral vision is often the most exciting, but it takes courage to change your focus. Look to the future but keep your eye on what's going on now too. Have answers for today and questions for tomorrow.
These are all high ideals that we'd all like to adopt, but will they make any difference? Speaking to Bennett after the show, he said the reaction from the audience had been one of relief that they aren't alone: "Not everything's broken. We wanted people to walk away with the idea that they aren't heretics for suggesting alternative ways of looking at their business."

IDEO's presentation and workshops -- that there is a higher purpose and meaning to running a business -- is actually a return to a view of business that was accepted in the past, but which has been discredited more recently.

This view contends creating a community with your customers and the other businesses around you, trusting the people you work with to abide by the rules and a commitment to self-governance are foundations for insuring the business failures of the last two years don't happen again.

Do you think there is a place for a higher purpose in business? Post your comments below.