In the 1980s we were told that profit was king. The whole economy was restructured to put this focus before all else, on the basis that if we did that right then everything else would follow. But the reality is very different. Profit itself follows from putting a sense of wider purpose first, and from looking after people in the way that such a purpose ensures.

Purpose

To put profit first is to let someone else set our direction. It is to act as if we have no choice, when what we are really doing is choosing the easiest path, the one that makes us least distinctive.

But taking the immediate easiest path is never taking the most beneficial path in the long term, because so many others are following the same path, all fighting for scraps of the same short-term benefits. This creates situations like the current housing market, which creates financial bubbles rather than new housing for those who most need it, even though a different path could solve the shortage in less than a generation.

Profit itself follows from putting a sense of wider purpose first, and from looking after people in the way that such a purpose ensures.

If you want to create something that stands out, something that endures, then first you have to choose your path, not let the market choose it for you, whether that purpose is social housing, radical design or an alternative approach to cloud solutions. Start with what you want to achieve.

People

An organization with a sense of purpose will naturally end up serving the people who share that sense of purpose, as innovations to assist that cause also assist them.

Improvements to the battery life of the Tesla Roadster provide an example of this. The company wants to provide more efficient environmentally friendly ways to drive, and their customers want the same thing. As they achieve improvements to this technology, like a battery that can go further between charges, they come closer to their aim of better environmentally friendly cars, while also providing a better service to the people driving those cars. Over time, this will increase the number of people using their products, through better service and value for money.

Tesla Motors are no mere novelty. They are a company on the rise, financially and in terms of profile. That rise comes from serving a purpose, and so serving people.

If you want to create something that stands out, something that endures, then first you have to choose your path, not let the market choose it for you.

Profits

Across the globe, there are signs that a sense of purpose can lead companies to profit by better serving people. Like Tesla Motors or Woetzel, Mischke and Ram’s schemes for a better housing market, the Fairtrade movement finds it purpose in a grand cause, aiming to provide a better income for poor third world producers. This directly puts people first, and has led to profit for organizations large and small, from African mango growers to London boutique shops.

But a purpose doesn’t need to be political or social to benefit a company. Apple’s sense of purpose has long been built around providing technological innovation and user-friendly products. This has provided customers with products they never knew that they wanted but now can’t live without, such as the iPhone, and a design aesthetic that has a huge cult-like following. Their strong sense of purpose has provided for people, and ultimately for huge profits.

Putting purpose first is about recognizing that profit is not an end in itself, but a way of supporting companies and those who invest in them. If your purpose is something that people value then those people will naturally be served by your work, and profit will flow from that.

It’s not about ignoring profit. It’s about putting purpose first.

Originally appeared on Switch and Shift: http://wp.me/p25GBV-5ST