People want purpose in their work — especially when each day seems to hold more uncertainty than ever before. And businesses want purpose in their work, too: research shows that purpose leads people to do better work. But if your organization isn’t tasked with the big picture — noble tasks like solving climate change or feeding the hungry — how do you create a sense of purpose in your day-to-day?
Dan Pink, best-selling author of To Sell Is Human, dropped by the Design Better Podcast to talk about how individuals can create a meaningful workplace, even over Zoom. He thinks purpose can be explored on two different levels. There’s the big, transcendent “capital P” Purpose — the mission-driven work that needs no further explanation — but there’s also the “small p” purpose. This purpose is all about reframing our everyday tasks as contributions towards some bigger purpose, whether that’s a company mission or a personal goal.
Often, Pink says, organizations lose their sense of purpose in their day-to-day routines because conversations at work tend to focus on execution — the “how” to do a task, rather than the “why” the task is being completed. He notes this communication style is more prevalent in technical fields. Most conversations there focus on things like “here’s how you write that patch” or “here’s how we do sales presentations.” While Pink says those conversations are important, they should be less prevalent than conversations about why you’re writing patches or why you do sales presentations a certain way. By connecting these smaller tasks with a larger purpose, the work begins to feel holistic.
Pink challenges listeners to end their days by naming at least one contribution they made by the end of the day. Whether it’s helping a teammate get a project out the door or solving a customer’s problem, the amount of purpose your seemingly menial tasks hold may surprise you.
by Eli Woolery
Eli is the Director of Design Education at InVision. His design career spans both physical and digital products, and he is a lecturer in the Product Design program at Stanford University. You can find Eli on Medium or on Twitter.