Doing Something on Purpose

“Have I really accomplished anything?”

This forlorn-sounding question was scribbled over and over throughout the notebooks of the most prolific inventor in human history, Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo was not, however, asking for a tally of ticked boxes on the to-do list. He was undergoing a self-examination of his work in the context of the Renaissance Principle of Contribution. Leonardo was asking himself about the deeper sense of felt purpose in his work and questioned his work’s contribution to the advancement of mankind. Leonardo wondered if he had advanced the Renaissance quest for knowledge, had he added to the understanding of our world and had he contributed to the bene commune or common good.

The Universal Principle of Contribution

The Principle; The realization of Potential through enduring contributions that enrich and advance, holds that our contributions, the result of application of our potential, become more enduring and legacy-like the more they enrich and advance the common good. The intent of the Contribution Principle was to guide us to meaningful, purposeful change; Meaningful in that it had enduring qualities and purposeful in that it contributed to bene commune.

Dimensions of Purpose

Today, we search our companies and brands for purpose so we may fulfill the market demand for authenticity and sincerity. We see forms of the Contribution Principle in triple bottom line strategies and corporate social responsibility plans. Thanks to authors and consultants such as Simon Sinek and his book “Start With Why” we now seek answers to the “why” behind the “whats” of our products and services. This quest for strategic purpose, while important and competitively advantageous, runs the risk of leaving our brands and companies feeling a little smug and the people who care for them feeling a little left behind.

Felt versus Strategic Purpose

The reason is there is a dimension to purpose that goes deeper than strategic. It is felt purpose and it comes from deep within, not the product or service, but the people responsible for them. Renaissance people understood that it is human nature and therefore our purpose to use our talents and skills to advance and enrich one another and the common good. (Enrich was not altogether altruistic. There was a powerful profit motive at work when you consider the centre of the Renaissance was the banking centre of Florence.) Today, we use the more common definition of purpose; to use resolve to accomplish a goal or objective. This is the nature of business; to accomplish goals and objectives.

Bridging the Dimensions of Purpose

When we bridge the strategic and felt purposes of an organization, like Renaissance era people did, the work, the products and services become enduring successful. Renaissance people knew that doing something on purpose required a careful blending and alignment of business/strategic and felt purpose. The Contribution Principle and the felt sense of purpose are just two of the contributing factors to the Renaissance’s significant outpouring of creativity and innovation.

Today, purpose has real power and authenticity only when we align strategic and felt purpose because felt purpose connects the company and its products and services to the potential of the organization and to the felt needs and ambitions of the market.

The Purpose of Apple

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple made this point plainly in a recent speech. Most of us, with a little thought, could come up with a strategic purpose for Apple; “the freedom to create”, “powering individual creativity”. Cook has a new idea and seems intent on moving Apple from a strictly strategic purpose to one that bridges strategic and felt purposes. During the speech Cook shared a story of a racist encounter he had as a child in his hometown in 1970’s Alabama.

He shared the story to make the point that Apple was “a company that believed deeply in advancing humanity”. Cook was encouraging the company to look deep within itself and every engineer, developer or analyst to look within themselves to find this higher order felt purpose. Cook knows that the company needs to be known for more than the latest iPhone and he seems to instinctively know that each employee needs and wants to make a contribution beyond the phone. Cook is saying that Apple must get the next great iPhone to market as one of its strategic goals. But, he is also asking how Apple is advancing and enriching others along the way. (It is interesting to note that talking about advancing humanity, literally and figuratively, has made Cook and Apple appear more human and approachable.)

Tim Cook, like Leonardo da Vinci, is looking at the body of work and asking “Have I/we really accomplished anything?” The answer will make Apple as well-loved, respected and admired as Leonardo. It will also make Apple as enduringly successful.

Ask Leonardo’s question of yourself, your team and your company to understand what you are doing on purpose to be enduringly successful. How could you and your organization use the Renaissance Contribution Principle to advance on meaningful, purposeful change? Are there other companies that are doing great work on purpose? Share your thoughts with us here.



Submitted by James Schutz on

Hi David,
Thanks for this post. I'm a former CAAP student of yours and I was chatting with another former student and colleague (James M) today and I told him that my mantra in my marketing career has been "I have to believe in the product in order effectively market it." But, it actually goes deeper than that. I need to believe in the leadership and that the organization as a whole is having some impact, some lasting good, some purpose in order to truly feel good and fulfilled by the work. Reading your post has helped me frame that and realize that perhaps I'm not the only one that thinks this way.

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