Professor Viktor Frankl in his iconic book Man’s Search for Meaning wrote that, “Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself…” In Frankl’s writing he set out to answer some of the larger existential questions of life and death, he also offers a road map to thinking about the meaning of work beyond the obvious economic value. He encourages the idea that the purpose of work is as much linked to meaning-making as any religious or spiritual experience.
Business can and should be a meaning-making endeavor. Like the lived experience of disability which relies heavily on the need to adapt, problem-solve and constantly innovate to create a better quality of life, businesses ought to adopt this ethos and define themselves as agents of change while simultaneously creating a strong, healthy, sustainable company primed for growth. In fact, there is a growing trend leaning towards the evolution of purpose-driven companies that are defined by an authentic commitment that permeates both the business strategy and decision making, illustrating that the personal good and the collective good can become one.
Many of these purpose-driven companies have found their origins trying to find solutions for those with disabilities and have discovered that these products and services have a much broader impact. OXO is a prime example of one of those companies and their Good Grips line with its thick rubbery handles revolutionized industrial design and launched a suite of kitchenware products that is more inclusive for everyone. Designer Sam Farber created the Swivel Peeler, OXO’s flagship product that was conceived in order so that his wife Betsy who had arthritis could find easier ways to engage with numerous kitchen products which for the most part were not designed for ease. This epiphany led Farber to realize that creating products with intuitive design is a viable business that could potentially have a long shelf life in the marketplace and as Farber described, it isn’t so much about the product itself, but rather what someone can accomplish and how that makes them feel.
In recent years there are numerous tech startups who have picked up the mantle of building purpose-driven companies. Like OXO, these companies have understood that many things we take for granted in life such as walking, chatting on the phone, cooking a meal can become real challenges for those who are differently abled. In New York City, local tech companies are taking these challenges seriously and creating products, platforms and apps that can help make life a bit easier for everyone.
Some examples are companies like Talkspace who are revolutionizing the business of mental health by helping individuals manage their well-being through virtual therapy. The company provides a digital model, that is user-friendly with both desktop and mobile interfaces and reasonable pricing that help break down some of the barriers that prevent many people from seeking therapy. Freshly, another innovative company provides ready-to-eat meals through direct-to-door delivery and creating ease of preparation. While anyone is eligible, the company is finding new revenue opportunities for busy parents, those with children with special needs, and is especially helpful for those with limited mobility offering a range of options that will ensure that all dietary restrictions can be managed while still maximizing nutritional value. In addition to Freshly, another company that sees the importance of the aging in place philosophy is Hero, delivering an in-home medication management solution. The focus has been to create a tool that offers a user-friendly design and intelligent programming ensuring that users never miss another dose of their medication mitigating a risk that can be critical for those living independently and managing many medications.
Whether it be healthcare or product design, companies are embracing Frankl’s ideas that a critical aspect of a business is purpose driven bound by a sense of responsibility to create a better life for others. In fact, according to research implemented by Accenture, consumers in the United States are no longer making decisions solely based on product selection or price; they are assessing what a brand says, what it does and what it stands for. In fact, they support companies whose brand purpose align with their own set of beliefs and often reject those that don’t, with one in five walking away forever.