Monday, June 25, 2012

Purpose and Mission

In our single-minded drive toward profits, one of the first casualties is sometimes purpose. I long ago observed that passionate people who start out fighting for what they believe in sometimes find themselves believing in whatever they are fighting for. If we're not careful to assess and reassess our mission and how our actions move toward or away from that purpose, we may inevitably drift leeward at the mercy of the winds.

Why are we in this game in the first place, and what do we wish to accomplish? Some would reply: profit, of course, it's only business. Hm. I really wonder, how many people go to their graves lamenting that they hadn't focused enough on making more money, that they hadn't succeeded in increasing their company's profit margins during the last quarter? It seems there must be more to life than that.

Cresswell Walker recently posted a letter from Lagos, Portugal to The Economist, published in the June 16, 2012 print edition. Due to its elegance and concision, I quote it in full:
Would it be too cynical to pose the same challenges for companies that you posed for robots? I thought Isaac Asimov's three laws seemed particularly germane to both: protect humans, obey orders and preserve themselves, in that order. It seems corporations have them in reverse: preserve themselves, obey orders (follow the law) and protect humans.

Failing as we do to elicit moral behaviour from organisations, which are made of people, how can we hope ever to succeed with machines?
It is true that a company cannot accomplish its mission if it falters as a company, just as a politician who fails to get elected forfeits their influence over legislation. Is a politician able to recover from a campaign that compromises principle? Can a company accomplish a worthy mission by sacrificing the humanity of its leaders and employees?

The task is to hold onto principle and purpose, while achieving success. Anything less is unworthy of the effort.

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