You’re standing in the middle of a beautiful meadow on a sunny day. In the middle of this meadow is a large, heavy rock. Your assignment is to move that rock. So, you tie a rope around it, and you start pulling to the north. It’s heavy, but you’re determined to make it happen, so you pull like crazy and it starts moving. You give it everything you’ve got, and after a while, you’ve eventually made it out of the meadow with the rock in tow. Nice work!
A “vector” is a quantity that includes direction and magnitude. In the example above, you had one direction (north) and one magnitude (everything you’ve got), so it wasn’t too difficult to get things moving. But what if the rock is bigger and needs more people to move it?
Vectors can be added together. Two people pulling in the same direction with all their might will get that larger rock out of the meadow. Sounds easy, right?
Now let’s throw your Vice President into the mix. You both know you’re supposed to move the rock, but you haven’t really talked about the direction. So while you’re pulling to the north, he’s pulling to the south. Fortunately, you’re more determined than he is, so the rock gradually starts moving to the north. However, it’s going to take significantly more work to get it out of the meadow. You have more people, but your efforts are canceling each other out.
So, you hire some additional help. You pay some people to grab a rope and start pulling. One of them is really hungry and keeps pulling toward the burger place on the edge of the meadow. Someone else is trying to help you pull north, but he doesn’t have the strength to contribute much. The third one seems to be collaborating with the Vice President, adding magnitude to the southern pull even though you wanted to go north.
See where I’m going with this? Every company has a vector: the direction it’s going and the speed at which it’s going there. According to the math of vector physics, your company’s results are the sum of your team’s direction, as well as the magnitude at which everyone is working.
Let’s try this again, this time with purpose.
“Listen, guys,” you tell them. “At the north end of this meadow is a truck that’s waiting to haul this rock off. They’re going to pay us a lot of money for this rock and even more if we get it to them before the deadline.”
“Whoa, that sounds good to me,” says your vice president. “I didn’t know there was a truck there.”
You continue. “Besides that, I believe we’re the kind of team that gets our job done so we can spend time with the other important things in our lives. I don’t want to spend all night out here in the dark pulling rocks, and I hope you don’t either.”
One of the hired hands speaks up: “Yeah, I want to go spend time with my family!”
“Great!” you say. “Let’s each grab a rope, and pull as hard as you can. If we all move the same direction, we’ll get this done in no time.”
Everyone grabs hold and starts pulling, and the rock starts moving almost effortlessly. Everyone’s excited about the big payout and the opportunity to see their friends and family, so they’re pulling harder than ever. Soon, you find it’s so much easier with everyone moving in the same direction that you’re doing it at almost a full run. Everyone on the team is laughing as you throw the rock into the truck. The driver checks his watch, amazed at how fast it just happened.
That’s what it feels like at a purpose-driven company. The magnitude is increased (because everyone understands and desires the outcome), and the direction is unified, so the process can move tens (or hundreds…or thousands) of times faster than the typical corporate scenario of a bunch of people half-heartedly looking out for their own interests. On top of that, people are enjoying themselves, and feeling more fulfilled in their work.
The idea of a purpose-driven company isn’t mumbo-jumbo. It’s basic physics. The laws of the universe ensure this stuff works.