I have been giving a lot of thought recently to the role of intentions in business. I believe they are one of the keys to our long-term success. Most companies are started with an intention to deliver something better or to solve a problem that has not been solved. As they deliver value, they get more customers. As value goes up so typically does their revenue.
Over time, the intentions of individuals and organizations may change, sometimes consciously and sometimes not. I worked for a company many years ago, that actually was a game changer in the industry. They found ways to apply technology and reach to become a nationwide force in what was and remains a very fragmented industry. Then they made the front page of the Wall Street Journal as one of the best performing stocks on the NASDAQ over the previous decade.
The intentions changed at that point and it became more important to be a high performing stock than a high performing company. Six years later the company was sold at a fraction of its previous value.
A confluence of recent conversations gave me some insight into this.
I have been following a writer for some time now by the name of Charles Green. He is the author of the blog Trust Matters and co-Author of the book Trusted Advisor. One of the key points I gleaned from the book was that, with Trust business moves more effectively, and delivers greater value. Remember, more value typically means more revenue. A key element in the Trust equation is the degree of self-orientation the advisor has. The more that the advisor is motivated by their own interests the more trust is impacted negatively.
I have also recently have read Daniel Pink’s book, Drive. It speaks about what really motivates us. We, often mistakenly it turns out, think it is incentives like more cash, more rewards. In fact, studies over the last 40 years point out that incentives can have a negative effect on our performance particularly when the task involves higher cognitive effort. It turns out that one of the three biggest motivators for us is work in service to a higher purpose.
Then while working out the other day I listened to a TED presenter Nancy Etcoff talking about the science of Happiness. She makes an interesting observation. She says
“We are social beings from the beginning. In addition, even studies of cooperation show that cooperation between individuals lights up reward centers of the brain. One problem that psychology has had is…, is that they focus instead on the self, and self-esteem, and not self-other; it’s sort of “me,” not “we.” And, I think this has been a really tremendous problem. It goes against our biology and nature. It hasn’t made us any happier at all.”
As I heard that, the various pieces of the puzzle in my own mind fell into place. We are most successful in business when our focus is on delivering value. And, this is subtle; it has to be about delivering value in service. (Yes, we have to earn a profit but if that is the intention, then value delivery can be diluted).
Daniel Pink presents us with good research that demonstrates we are more motivated about our work when among other things we are serving a higher purpose.
Nancy Etcoff shares with us that at a biological level we are wired to be social; that is to say, we are happiest when we are serving others versus serving ourselves.
Charles Green presents us with the Trust Equation and the way that our orientation towards self vs. other, (intentions), affects the Trust in the relationship
So what does this all mean to you? I don’t know. For me it means that every day it is important to remind myself that I work at tasks and projects that deliver value. Moreover, that, that value is in service to a bigger cause. It is important to remind myself because I immersed in a society that reinforces the message of self-orientation.
What do you think?