I challenge people for a living. I find ways to ask questions that actually matter and pursue them until I have exhausted the possibilities. Because unless I’ve pushed my clients way outside where they imagine themselves, they won’t actually be able to see their organizations in a way that is meaningful to the human beings that matter to them. And meaning is what matters in business today.
Meaning is the secret sauce that businesses need to thrive. It is the key differentiator. It’s not fluff, it is the core value. If you don’t get it right, it’s only window dressing. It’s not just for outside your company. Meaning is for every single person your company touches, employees, suppliers, competitors, government, partners….People, in general, are becoming much, much more discerning and they’re looking for authenticity in everything. Nathan Shedroff, Chair of the MBA in Design Strategy at California College of the Arts in San Francisco taught me that “Design is the process of evoking experiences. Meaning is strategic.” Every aspect of design today is focussed on looking for and finding meaning. Meaning creates value. Meaning creates loyalty. Meaning is enduring.
You can’t make meaning up. It “is”, whether you have a handle on it or not. Anyone who knows about your organization, in any way, is out there making meaning about you right now. The most successful companies know what they mean to people and they live it — authentically.
When I recently helped a medical research organization create their brand, we started with science. That’s where they were coming from. It was about beating disease through cutting edge therapies and new methods of detection. Their function was to do three things: raise, and continue to raise funding; attract the brightest minds in their field to help them; and find the most innovative ways to outsmart the disease. The surgeons, clinicians and oncologists I met with needed to step back from science and revisit what the disease meant to the patients and their families. They needed to see what meaning their organization created for potential employees, experts, partners and funders. At a human level, what did the fight with this disease mean to these people? The process was pragmatic and thorough, but it produced a brand that was steeped in meaning that they had found. I simply helped them to do that.
Your organization could be doing, making, selling the next best thing ever, but without understanding its meaning, you’re missing your upside. Because meaning is what matters.
*Also published in The Nitty Gritty