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  • Writer's pictureCarolyn Butler-Madden

Love stories for business: activating purpose through the power of story

It’s no secret that the series of cascading global crises we are grappling with right now have dramatically exposed how fragile, inadequate and inequitable many of our current systems truly are. “We are at Code Red Alert — not just for the climate, but for the way we do business”, shares B1G1 Co-founder Paul Dunn. Something had to give, and it has.

For the past decade, there has been a profound shift happening in the way we lead and do business. From the growing B Corp and social enterprise movements to the non-profits borrowing a page out of the ‘Triple Bottom Line’ playbook, it is heartening to see organisations move away from an unsustainable and extractive model predicated on shareholder primacy and towards one that holds purpose at the centre and takes a more equitable approach to people, planet and profit.

Falling head over heels with solving the challenges of our time

As we embark upon a newer, and more purposeful ‘business as usual’, we cannot forget one of the most powerful choices we can make for driving action: love.

Just as Tina Turner rightly asked in her 1984 classic ‘What’s love got to do with it?’ (or Kygo’s 2020 Turner-inspired remix for GenZennials), ‘love’ is not often used as part of the corporate lexicon. However, there is compelling evidence to suggest that today’s leaders need to cultivate love and its strong emotional bonds in order to fully activate purpose.

It seems this powerful four letter word — love — is increasingly on the lips of business leaders who understand its potential to realise a truly sustainable, regenerative and inclusive global economic system. And fair warning, it might be tricky to get that song out of your head now.

“Business is a noble enterprise. It has such a capacity for love because business is created and driven by people – humans – who all want to be loved and feel love. And the sooner we open our hearts and our minds to the possibilities that love in business can create, the sooner we will be able to play a bigger and more meaningful game.” — Carolyn Butler-Madden, For Love & Money: How to Profit with Purpose and Grow a Business with Love (2022)

What love’s got to do with it

While Turner was on the right track, love is far from a second hand emotion. It inspires us and it can drive us to move mountains. But it is not a feeling or an emotion as much as it is a choice to be guided by a higher purpose. In a way, being guided by love gives us the clarity of purpose we need to meet the challenges of our times.

So, as we stand before the range of metaphorical mountains that need moving, how can we tap into the power of love to unleash the full potential of purpose in our organisations and in ourselves so that we may be inspired to lead the change we need to lead?

“When we connect to others from a place of unconditional love, we see them as human beings, sharing their hopes, cares, needs, disappointments. Transformative leadership is not about achieving a title, a goal or prestige, it is about transforming your mindset and skills on the way to self-realisation. Only then, you may serve as a positive power of change inside an organisation. Choose to operate from a place of unconditional love because… there lays the true power of leadership.” — Sesil Pir (Forbes)

What defines purpose-driven organisations

The business of purpose is what it has always been: to inspire action. It is the beating heart of your organisation. It inspires your strategy, your actions and decision-making. It focuses your organisation and all its stakeholders on unlocking the true potential of the business: to create meaningful and positive change, through and beyond its products and services.

But there is a marked difference between an organisation that has a purpose compared to one that truly lives out its purpose. The difference? Purposeful organisations are driven by action.

Organisations who are truly purpose-driven are more agile, resilient, innovative, and financially outperform those organisations who either do not have a purpose statement, or those who have one but do not embody it. Without love and without action, a purpose statement is little more than an empty promise.

Beyond what can be quantified or measured, organisations that are deeply driven by love of something greater (aka purpose) are infused with an energy that can only be inherently felt. There is a culture or environment where ideas and solutions abound, and synapses fire. And the capacity to ‘go the distance’, unlocked.

Today, an organisation’s higher purpose is almost always inspired by a love of people and/or planet. For example, Patagonia’s purpose to save our home planet is inspired by a love of the natural environment. Zambrero’s purpose to end world hunger is inspired by a love of people.

Being purpose-driven is as much about who you are, what you deem important, and your ‘uniqueness’, as it is to do with why you exist. Businesses with a clear and unique organisational identity, driven by a galvanising higher purpose attract and engage people who are invested in their success. This ‘buy-in’ leads to the kind of meaningful action and innovation that results in compelling stories, which in turn, inspire more people.

The stronger your why aligns with your who, the deeper and more potent your purpose.

Graphic: Digital Storytellers and The Cause Effect, Love Stories for Business

Creating an unstoppable force

The way we see it — there are three distinctive characteristics purpose-driven organisations have in common: shared narrative, transformative leadership, and irresistibly powerful stories. Together, these characteristics drive change and align truly purposeful organisations into an unstoppable force.

  • Shared Narrative — a powerful shared narrative creates belonging, meaningful connections and cohesive bonds between people. It shapes your business’ view of itself and its place in the world, including its role in creating and driving impactful change. To borrow or extend Seth Godin’s idea of ‘People like us,’ a shared narrative zeroes in on the beliefs and world views that each of us in an organisation holds to be true; that we identify with; that we care and love enough about to show up for.

  • Powerful stories — stories drive behaviours and decisions, and they unlock motivation. In other words: stories drive action. Whether it’s a story that encapsulates your business impact and boosts culture or a story-driven strategic process that crystallises strategy, shaping and sharing irresistible stories is an authentic and powerful way to unlock purpose from the inside out.

This almighty ‘love triangle’ of shared narrative, transformative leadership and powerful stories not only puts purpose at the heart of your business and its operations, but it activates the heart and unleashes your people’s potential to show up fully and take action. It transforms empty words on a sheet or screen into noble, benevolent aspirations lived out in generous, kind, compassionate, and loving actions.

“The storyteller is the most powerful person in the world. The storyteller sets the vision, the values and the agenda for an entire generation yet to come.” — Steve Jobs

Love in action in the business arena

It might feel like the world is abuzz with the word ‘purpose’, but already, purpose can no longer be framed as passive context for ‘what you do’ in your business. You have to live and breathe it. And it must be fueled by love. That’s what makes purpose equally about identity and human endeavour: who you are and how you show up for the common good or to achieve a higher purpose.

We live in a time where there is a clear need for transformation – of how we conduct business, how we consume, how we treat others, and how we treat our natural environment. Thankfully, you no longer have to look far to see beating-heart examples of businesses inspired by love, and bringing purpose to life in compelling and beautiful ways.

Another heartfelt example is the story of ex-con Dave Dahl. After more than 15 years in prison, he was given what he calls ‘(another) second chance’ to help build his small family bakery into a business when the idea struck for ‘Dave’s Killer Bread’. In just a few short years, not only did the company come to produce America’s best-selling organic bread, but the business went on to be acquired in 2015 for approximately US$275 million.

People fell in love with the business’ story of Dave turning his life around, which inspired the business to do something else. Becoming a proud Second Chance Employer and giving people with a criminal history an opportunity not only to make a living, but to make a life, Dave’s Killer Bread was baked with ‘purpose behind every loaf’.

Another business living out and loving its purpose into being is B Corp Intrepid Travel. Changing the way people see the world by creating a style of travel that benefits both travellers and the places and people they visit, Intrepid’s purpose is brought to life — not just in the way they design travel experiences — but in the actions they take every day.

A perfect example is their team’s 2020 ‘Be Together’ campaign, launched after the pandemic ground the travel industry to a halt. In pursuit of connection, the Intrepid team encouraged wanderlusters to share stories and reflections on what they discovered over the course of 2020.

Whether it was a renewed appreciation for travel and spending time with loved ones as in father-daughter ‘celebration of family travel memories’ or open letters to and from special travel companions, these ‘stories of togetherness’ were successful in cultivating connection and spurring on love because, at its heart, Intrepid knows that travel is about people:

“When the time is right the world will need travel. It needs openness, kindness, curiosity. It needs intrepid people. And no matter how much the world around us changes, this simple fact remains the same.” — Intrepid Travel

In wanting to be the best travel company for the world, Intrepid’s leaders consider it their responsibility and heartfelt mission to protect the natural environment and all of its living species. And this is not a company that shies away from its desire to be profitable either.

Intrepid’s leaders recognise that profitability is essential for them to realise their ambitions, and all key decisions are guided by balancing the ‘package deal’ of purpose and profit.

Another example is ethical Australian superannuation company, Future Super. Investing in climate solutions and divesting from industries that contribute to climate change, Future Super is guided by a higher purpose to create a prosperous future, free from climate change and inequality.

In the lead up to the Global Climate Strike in September 2019 led by Greta Thunberg, Future Super launched the Not Business As Usual campaign, a movement of businesses standing in solidarity with students globally. Initiating and leading an alliance of over 3,500 businesses across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, Future Super encouraged companies to publicly pledge their support for employees to protest by enabling them to take a long lunch, holding a day without meetings or shutting up shop for the day, without fear of retribution.

Throughout this thoughtfully curated campaign, Future Super encouraged pledging businesses to share their ‘why’ for wanting to show that climate change isn’t a problem kids should face on their own:

“What kind of future can someone in their twenties or thirties today look forward to when they retire, if we don’t take meaningful action today to combat climate change?” — Future Super

From ‘start with why’ to ‘start with who’

More and more we are seeing people (employees, investors, customers) drawn to businesses who are driven by a higher purpose; companies who are genuinely trying to use their role and influence to create positive social and environmental impact. While people don’t expect perfection, they do expect transparency and they also want a story they can connect with.

And while, for over a decade, it has been accepted that knowing your ‘why’ is central to leading from a place of purpose, successful purpose-led businesses also serve their purpose by having a clear identity built around that core belief or vision of a better future. In other words, they also ‘start with who’.

Imagine building and growing a business with a team of people and a supportive community who believe in the shared powerful idea of change that you are trying to enact.

To return to Godin’s idea of ‘people like us’, brands that align themselves with a movement for change are attracting people who share their world view. For Dave’s Killer Bread, their ‘people like us’ believe in second chances. They either want a second chance for themselves or they believe that others deserve a second chance.

A business like Patagonia’s ‘people like us’ are those who care deeply about the natural environment. They are surfers, hikers, climbers, bushwalkers, and outdoor enthusiasts who live and breathe the outdoors. And Future Super’s ‘people like us’ are people who genuinely care about a sustainable future and believe in doing what’s right over what’s profitable or easy in the short-term.

This is not about creating echo chambers or herding a group of people who cannot think for themselves — it’s about powerfully tapping into what binds humans together at a fundamental level and creating an emotional investment in a shared future.

If a bakery can thrive by giving people with a criminal record a second chance and aspire to reduce recidivism rates, then what could your business do with a little more love and purpose? What ignites you so much that ‘doing’ it feels like a call to service for the world?

Want to get on board the love train?

We are yet to meet a business leader who doesn’t get excited about the opportunities that being driven by purpose presents, even if they do feel a bit scared about navigating the challenges of this VUCA world along the way. The other thing to bear in mind is that doing purpose-driven work is not a one-person-show. It takes many people working together to create sustainable and regenerative systemic change.

On that note, Digital Storytellers and The Cause Effect have put our collective minds together to show what’s possible when we bring the power of purpose, love and story together.

Introducing: Love Stories for Business — a new and unique program for business leaders who need strategies and stories to connect their people to their purpose. Designed to suit any type of organisation (for-profit business, NFP, education or government) – this offering reflects the growing need for organisations to show up in more human ways, harnessing the full power and potential of purposeful storytelling to meet the challenges of our time.

There is also the opportunity for other provocative sessions such as our ‘taster’ Love Stories for Business Masterclass that challenge leaders to tap into love and use story to show up in more human ways and activate purpose in their business.

Never let it be said that you wanted to take action but lacked a way forward. There are many ways to progress on your path to purpose and beyond.

But this is not a call to arms for hopeless romantics and dreamers — it is a job for visionaries and pragmatic idealists who are not afraid to harness what it means to be human in business — empathy, compassion, bravery, and yes, love — and use it to steward a more inclusive, regenerative and equitable future with purpose firmly at the centre. In other words, we need doers.

Our challenge to you is to begin opening up conversations and cultivate a ‘storytelling ecosystem’ within your organisation that is capable of aligning personal and professional purpose, with action-oriented examples of what it looks like in practice. Because — as we know, purpose without action is not purpose.

To find out more, please download the Love Stories for Business brochure or schedule a 30 minute initial call with The Cause Effect.

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