Walter Isaacson On His Evolving Purpose

'As people and as businesses, we all are part of something larger than ourselves.'

Purpose is at the center of the conversation about the way we work and live. Science has now validated that a sense of purpose is essential to every aspect of our well-being. And on a collective level, purpose-driven companies are more resilient, better able to navigate an ever-changing business climate, and grow in a sustainable way. We talked to leaders about the role that purpose plays — both personally and professionally — in the world today.

Thrive Global: How did you first discover purpose in your work?
Walter Isaacson: When I first worked as a high school intern on my local paper, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, I did a series of stories on sugar-cane workers. It wasn’t meant to be preachy, just to tell the story. I realized by helping people tell their stories, and letting others hear their stories, I began to believe I was doing something purposeful.

TG: How does purpose show up for you in your work now?
WI: Whenever I tell a story — of Steve Jobs or Einstein or Leonardo da Vinci — I keep in mind what moral and life lessons I am trying to convey. I ask myself, what purpose does this tale or anecdote serve.

TG: Do you have a clear sense of your life’s purpose? How has that evolved? Do you expect it to keep evolving?
WI: I understand that one purpose I have in life is to be a storyteller, which means my purpose can keep evolving.

TG: What do you think are some ways businesses today can ‘live’ purpose? How do you think about instilling purpose in others?
WI: As people and as businesses, we all are part of something larger than ourselves. The way we conduct our lives and our work should reflect that.

TG: It’s said that ‘we measure what matters and what matters gets measured.’ If your business has metrics of meaning and well-being in addition to financial metrics, what are they? If not, what could they be?
WI: I’ve been at Time, CNN, the Aspen Institute, and an author. I try to measure the impact my companies and my books have had in helping people better understand the world.

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