Business and the Quest for Meaning

Posted on December 22, 2006. Filed under: business, entrepreneurship, marketing |

I have been thinking a lot these days about the connection between Internet business models and marketing approaches. Now I am going to begin with the assumption that we understand some of the ideas behind the oft-discussed holy grail of marketing: ‘viral growth’. Seth Godin does a great job of detailing the factors he sees driving the phenomenon. For me the crux of the discussion revolves around personal meaning.

To the extent that we create meaning in the world for individuals – for real people – we create value both for them and for our organizations. I have to credit Guy Kawasaki (who in turn cites John Doerr as an inspiration for this) with articulating the importance of meaning to business. He clearly states this in the first chapter of his highly recommended book The Art of the Start. Interesting side note here regarding Guy’s inspiration / mentor John…

[John Doerr’s] success in venture capital has garnered national attention; he has been and is currently listed on Forbes Magazine’s exclusive “Midas” list and is widely regarded as one of the top technology venture capitalists in the world.

He is described as brilliant, highly charismatic, and energetic. Today, Doerr remains one of Silicon Valley’s most influential figures… Forbes magazine estimates his net worth to be well over $1 billion, making him one of the richest people in the world.

Doerrs’ success certainly suggests that he might be on to something…

But I digress. One of the reasons why The Art of the Start stands out for me above and beyond most (if not all) business books I have read to date is the fact that Guy connects business to our existential journey as human beings. Guy is not a vulture capitalist, he is a humanist who between the lines acknowledges that we are spiritual beings. We are driven towards deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us. In this sense, business is not strictly rational science but something of a mystical or alchemical art. Now don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of room for solid business fundamentals, rational thinking, and market research in the lifespan of our business; but what we are talking about now is the core energy from which our business takes it life. And this is the magical part of business, and of life for that matter: creation.

I suggest to you that we, as humans, need to connect with a deeper existential meaning in life by our very nature. The need for meaning, for evolution and progress, drives us in our pursuits to varying but undeniable degrees.

And yet how often do you hear as a entrepreneur the charge to “Create Meaning.” I assert that if you create meaning with your businesses and give your customers an opportunity to share this meaning with (or even better, create meaning for) their friends and friends of friends … well you have hit the ‘Eureka’ vein of gold that all businesses strive for: rapid viral growth and loyal customers.

Next up… The Tao of Meaning.

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