We all talk and hear about purpose in our lives. This may come from a spiritual following or something in the past. Or maybe from something that is near and dear to your heart, giving you a specific passion or drive to live in a certain manner. Whatever it is, nobody will argue that purpose is important to a meaningful life.
Re-reading the book “The Infinite Game,” by Simon Sinek for the Nth time sharpened my focus on what he refers to as ‘Just Cause.’ In his book, Simon defines Just Cause as a specific vision of a future state that does not yet exist; a future state so appealing that people are willing to make sacrifices in order to help advance toward that vision.
There are unlimited examples of this in history. Wars, philanthropic efforts, revolutions, disaster relief. The Just Cause isn’t to fix the problem, it is to ensure enough change is created over time so that the problem never appears again.
Companies can have Just Causes as well as individuals. But, if we take a deeper dive into each we see that many get confused between mission statements, goals and Just Causes. They are not the same thing. Are companies mixing words to paint a pretty picture? Are we, as humans, telling ourselves we have a Just Cause when we really are just trying to win or gain notoriety? Let’s take a look at some examples.
We will first pick on one of the most recent offenders of ethics and trust in corporate America—Wells Fargo. We all know a bank is in business to 1. Make money 2. Help people manage their financial goals and transactions 3. Be a functioning part of the country’s financial system. Wells Fargo’s mission and vision statement goes:
“We want to satisfy our customers' financial needs and help them succeed financially. This unites us around a simple premise: Customers can be better served when they have a relationship with a trusted provider that knows them well, provides reliable guidance, and can serve their full range of financial needs.”
Great. Your goal sounds very similar to every other bank. In a nutshell, this says “We want to make money while helping clients make money with our products so that we can all make more money.” Nothing wrong with that. But, there is no mention about a Just Cause—their employees, their stakeholders or how they are trying to better the society in which they benefit from.
Now let’s look at Whole Foods. They also are in business to make money, sell products and supply communities with food and goods. Their mission statement goes:
“Our deepest purpose as an organization is helping support the health, well-being, and healing of both people — customers, Team Members, and business organizations in general — and the planet.”
Or how about Southwest Airlines:
“To provide authentic hospitality by making a difference in the lives of the people we touch every day.”
Both Southwest and Whole Foods provide substance in their statements. There is a passion to help, make a difference and affect not only customers’ lives but their employees, stakeholders and communities. Wells Fargo’s statement feels like a limp handshake, the others more like a hug. Being a customer of both Southwest and Whole Foods, they live up to it.
Whether you are a business or an individual, having a Just Cause is of absolute importance. It can act as a moral compass, a reason to get out of bed, the reason you do the right thing. Just Cause doesn’t act as an instant achiever of success, profit or fame. It is the power behind that passion that builds a foundation, a conviction. This foundation is what builds reputation, long-term success and the ability to not only leave a legacy, but also leave a world that is better than the one you found and the momentum to keep making it better. Let’s face it, we all leave something or someone behind.
As Henry Ford so eloquently stated, “a business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.” Henry Ford may have been known to be a ruthless boss, but he had a true vision and a Just Cause. He changed the world and he changed lives. Let’s face it, his main competition was himself and over 100 years later, his legacy lives on in a positive light.
As innovators, Henry Ford, Apple’s Steve Jobs and Microsoft’s own Bill Gates were not focused on their outside competition. Their competition was themselves. They didn’t care that they had the best product now, they cared that they had the best product to serve their customers (and the world) in the end. They realized that it wasn’t just themselves that made them successful. Just Cause has no room for ego.
On the flip side, let’s look at where ignorance and ego in business can get you. Blockbuster Video—home of the Friday night movie rental paradise. At one time, Blockbuster ran a mega-chain of brick and mortar movie rental stores. First with VHS tapes, moving onto DVD’s. Then came businesses like Red Box and streaming providers. Instead of the executives at Blockbuster realizing that times were changing, they held their line. Their mission statement:
“To be the global leader in rentable home entertainment by providing outstanding service, selection, convenience and value."
Well, they kinda blew that one. No mention of innovation, their people, etc. At one time there were 9,000 Blockbuster stores around the globe. There is now one, yes one, Blockbuster store in operation in the US. What happened you may ask?
In the year 2000, the founder of Netflix offered to sell his company to Blockbuster for $50 Million. Blockbuster laughed. They stated that the business models of Netflix and just about every other online business were not sustainable and would never make money. Obviously they had a lack of vision. That lack of vision sure fits their mission/vision statement. As of 2022, Netflix is valued at $106 Billion (with a B).
One may say that Red Box killed their business or Netflix delivered the final blow. Regardless, Netflix or Red Box competed with themselves. They were innovating and working toward giving customers and society more time to spend at home, paying less money and providing access to more entertainment. Blockbuster had an ego. They dug their own grave.
In times of financial distress, recessions and cultural/technological change, a lack of vision layered with a coat of ignorance while trying to simply 'win' can be the differentiator between surviving and thriving. History has shown this many times over. It goes for us individuals as well.
The thirst for profits over people or shortsightedness will continue on. But, those businesses and individuals who recognize their Just Cause have an absolute advantage. They are playing the long game, committed to resiliency and ensuring that their outcome has meaning. This requires controlling emotions, believing you are serving a bigger purpose than yourself and an absolute belief in what you are doing—not just how. There is no beginning and end with a Just Cause. Only a beginning and the unwritten future.