Latest great book review by Ciara Garvan, founder of WorkJuggle.com. See her previous review for Irish Tech News here.

“The man without purpose is like a ship without a rudder-waif, a nothing, a no man”

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)

The Purpose Economy is written by Aaron Hurst, who founded  Taproot in  Silicon Valley in 2001. Taproot’s mission is to “drive social change by leading, mobilizing and engaging professionals in pro bono service”. Fifteen years ago few of us had heard of the terms Social Entrepreneurship or Social Innovation so clearly Hurst is ahead of the curve in how he perceives cultural changes. Perhaps this talent is genetic, 35 years ago his Uncle Marc Porat coined the term “Information Economy” and in this book Hurst sets out to prove that the “Purpose Economy” is the next obvious successor.

Hurst defines the Purpose Economy as the quest for people to have more purpose in their lives, an economy where value lies in establishing purpose for employees and customers- through serving needs greater then their own, enabling personal growth and building community.

There is no doubt that he has hit a nerve in trying to untangle that age old question, “What do we want?”. The answer to that questions is increasingly we want to make an impact.

Hurst argues that  during the week most of us spend 50% of our waking time at work so if we aren’t getting our need for purpose met here, we are unlikely to have satisfying levels of purpose in our overall lives. He states purpose enable us to thrive and therefore we need it in the activity we spend most of our waking hours doing: working.

He nicely dismisses the idea that purpose is about finding a cause. In his experience only the minority of people find such a cause. He argues that seeking purpose is about finding a direction, not a destination. That is, purpose is a verb not a noun. That you may never find one true calling but that if we can understand the colour of our purpose it will help have much more meaningful careers and lives.

Perhaps controversially he also argues that finding purposeful work is a universal need, not a luxury for those with financial wealth.

Hurst points to a public with changing priorities of experiences over consumerism, to the growth in the sharing economy, the interest in artisan products and local, organic food as pointers to the growth in this new economy.

It is the final section of the book where it gets really interesting though with examples of how the Purpose Economy can work from an organizational perspective, in particular a case study of Mozilla.

The Mozilla Foundation was created to ensure that the Internet would never become solely owned by companies. As outlined in the book the Mozilla Foundation had a profound sense of purpose – Internet for the people, by the people. How Mozilla then manages its community organizing model is one of the best sections in the book.

In parts the book overlaps in terms of cultural movements with James Wallman’s “Stuffocation” which also outlines the value of experiences over materialism. That said “Stuffocation” manages to be a much better read.

Hurst’s book is an interesting insight into the world of meaning and purpose and how we can relate that struggle into meaningful change. Ultimately though between the cartoons, exercises and graphs the book has more the feel of an activity workbook then a really excellent read.  The Purpose Economy is a worthy book and interesting in parts. It just never really manages to sing off the pages the way a really good book does.


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