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?
Aaron Hurst: I was very lucky to be raised in a family of social entrepreneurs – from my grandfather who ran the Aspen Institute for 25 years to my mother who helped women in rural Mexico develop export businesses to support their families. For me, work has always been about purpose. I have always seen work as being about making an impact and growing as a person.
TG: How does purpose show up for you in your work now?
AH: As an entrepreneur, I am lucky to have a tremendous amount autonomy to build an organization that is a direct manifestation of my purpose. First with the Taproot Foundation where we helped people so the dignity and nobility of their work and now with Imperative where we are leading the movement to bring purpose to everyone in the workforce through positive psychology, big data and artificial intelligence.
TG: Do you have a clear sense of your life’s purpose? How has that evolved? Do you expect it to keep evolving?
AH: My purpose is to awaken lions. We all have a lion inside – a courageous leader. When we awaken this lion we are able to do incredible things and to act in alignment with our values and care for other people. Imperative is in the lion awakening business. This has been my purpose that drove me as early as in high school. I don’t believe one’s purpose changes, we just getting better at it the more we live it courageously.
TG: What do you think are some ways businesses today can ‘live’ purpose? How do you think about instilling purpose in others?
AH: We have studied this in depth. First people must want purpose in their careers. Then they need to build self-awareness about their purpose. Then they must own their purpose and realize that it is their responsibility to live it. They then can start to work to constantly align their work with their purpose in little and big ways. Finally they become purpose-driven leaders who act courageously and are able to be transformational voices for teams and organizations.
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?
AH: We measure fulfillment. It is based on three variables – the quality of our relationships, the impact of our work and our continued growth as people and organization.
Aaron Hurst is a globally recognized social entrepreneur who works to create communities that are empowered to realize their potential. He is the CEO of Imperative, a B Corp advocating for Purpose-Oriented Workers and supporting the organizations that embrace them.
Widely known for his thought leadership, he is the author of The Purpose Economy (2014) and a regular advisor and thought partner for many global brands. He has written for or been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg TV and was named a LinkedIn Influencer. He is the author of Fast Company’s Purposeful CEO profile series.
Aaron is the founder and an active advisor to the Taproot Foundation where he was the catalyst and lead architect of the $15 billion pro bono service market. He was the creative force behind the conception of the White House’s Billion + Change campaign.
Aaron is a member of the Nonprofit Times’ Power & Influence Top 50, and has been recognized as a top social entrepreneur by Fast Company, Ashoka, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, Manhattan Institute and the CommonWealth Club. In 2009, he received the highest honor bestowed on an alumnus of the University of Michigan.
An entrepreneur since 16, Aaron began his career as a social innovator at the University of Michigan, where he designed and led an educational program for local correctional facilities, subsequently becoming the first student to receive the Michigan Campus Compact Award.
Born in Aspen, Aaron has lived in Bisbee, Boulder, Brooklyn, Halifax, Ann Arbor, Prague, Chicago, and San Francisco. He currently resides in Seattle with his wife Kara Hurst (Worldwide Director of Sustainability for Amazon.com), their two children and dog.
Purpose Type: Empowerer