Book Review: The Economics of Higher Purpose

Posted by Kristin Arnold on August 22, 2022

Purpose-Driven Teams

With the popularization of Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why,” the purpose-driven life and organization seem to have ingrained themselves into business conversations. But how, precisely, do you do that…and still make money?

Robert E. Quinn and Anjan V. Thakor, in their book, “The Economics of Higher Purpose: Eight Counterintuitive Steps for Creating a Purpose-Driven Organization” explain why purpose-driven organizations have failed to gain traction and the evidence that they can and do make money as well (if not more!).

One author is a professor of management and the other is a professor of banking and finance, so I got a crash course on business economics and of a higher purpose.

Purpose-Driven Points to Ponder:

The foundation of business economics starts with a “conventional mindset” where “principals (bosses) and agents (employees) engage in conventional relationships of transactional exchange: for this amount of money, we agree that you will do this amount of work.”

The foundation of a higher purpose is a “social system in which the greater good has been envisioned, articulated, and authenticated….[It is] the arbiter of all decisions, and people find meaning in their work and in their relationships despite the conflicts. They share a vision and are fully engaged. They strive to transcend their egos and sacrifice for the common good.”

The authors, rather than believing these two theories are mutually exclusive, set about to find where they intersected…and go from there.

Ironically enough, Part I is about why we should consider being a purpose-driven organization – and the dangers of faking it e.g. making it a PR campaign vs. the way to do business.

Part II is the 8-step method, which frankly, isn’t THAT counterintuitive, but definitely requires some intentional thought and actions. The steps seem simple enough, but will probably be hard (not easy!) to do.

I have three clients who consider themselves to be purpose-driven organizations (or on the path toward calling themselves such). I am suggesting they read this book and confirm what they are doing well – and then have a frank and authentic discussion about what they are NOT doing yet SHOULD be doing and/or what they can do differently based on the various steps.

One final thing: You don’t have to be the CEO to read this book and implement these purpose-driven ideas. You can use this book as an individual, team, business unit, or enterprise level. Good luck!

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KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.