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Designing the Purposeful World: Clive Wilson, Routledge; 2018

Designing the Purposeful World

I have to declare an interest in this book upfront: the author is a colleague of mine. I’ll leave it for you to decide whether this strengthens or weakens the review you’re about to read!

Wilson’s second book focusses on a topic that is clearly a passion for him: how can we all unite to make the world a better place to be? This may sound rather esoteric, but the thesis is grounded in a number of pretty straightforward and sincere approaches that are quickly developed in the book. For example, Wilson introduces the book with an assertion that all of his audiences – whether they be young or old, professional or blue-collar and European, American or of another culture – have arrived at the same conclusions about how they see the future of the world. And these conclusions are remarkably similar to those of the United Nations with their sustainable development goals (see more about the SDG here - www.sustainabledevelopment.un.org).

The book combines emotional appeal and simple logic with an array of compelling supporting evidence, drawing from TED talks, academics, sociologists and philosophers to strengthen the arguments Wilson deploys. The author gives the reader an early opportunity to assess the power of the SDG in chapter 2, with links between them and the work done by Al Gore (a man once regarded as perhaps a run-of-the-mill politician but who elevated himself with a well-reasoned, impassioned and compelling defence of the environment).

As a framework for presenting his case, he uses the model he introduced in his first book, “Designing the Purposeful Organization: How to Inspire Business Performance Beyond Boundaries” (Kogan Page; 2015). The framework is called PrimeFocus and it uses Purpose as the defining core around which everything else in our life can be aligned. Chapter 4 explains this fully and – as Wilson asserts – “The key thing about purpose is that it is the most important asset of any organisation. It is the very reason for existence. It must take account of and inspire all stakeholders.” Chapters 5 and 6 develop this with a discussion on the challenge and imperative of collective purpose. Boldly, Wilson provides us with his definition of mankind’s purpose as being “to thrive in community and celebrate life itself” …

Perhaps the most relevant part of the book comes when Wilson tackles the subject of engaging everyone in the purpose, in chapter 8. He doesn’t dodge the topic either, offering his own menu of actions that we could all take to promote a better and more progressive world. He also gives real-life examples of people who are doing exactly that.

You may ask: what has all this to do with me and my world of work? There are two important links here: one is that the business world is now embracing the need for everyone to do something to help sustain the world we live in. Look at organisations like Pfizer, Unilever and Tesla and what they have to say about the SDG: these should leave you in little doubt that business is not only taking the subject seriously, they probably also recognise the commercial common sense in taking action.

Furthermore, the work of DNV-GL - which has put together a report and video documenting the work of seventeen well-known businesses, one focused on each of the SDGs – demonstrates a growing interest across the board on becoming more serious and significant corporate citizens. In fact, the SDGs are fast becoming the focus of investment opportunities. The new UNGSII Top SDG Equity Fund (Fund) is one example of a portfolio of investments in public companies which have achieved superior financial performance, thereby not only growing their company’s equity valuations but also providing rewards to their respective stakeholders.

Another important link to your world of work is the connection between the philosophy expressed in Wilson’s book and the current theories relating to leadership development. The works of Otto Sharmer, Frederic Lalou, Robert Kegan and Richard Barrett – and others – all endorse the principle that in order to grow as leaders we need to look beyond the narrow confines of our own world and the ‘what’s in it for me’ syndrome. Great leaders have an authentic and compelling World View and they live far beyond the constraining limitations of their own immediacy. Letting go of limiting beliefs and focussing perhaps on our own lasting legacy is a first step in embracing a purposeful world.

The book design really aids reader-engagement, with space for making notes and the end-of-chapter reflection mini-surveys. Wilson’s style is, in any case, accessible and conversational which makes the book an easy read. It is not a political treatise; nor is it a woolly homily based on a diet of hope and imaginings. It is, I think, a well-researched and well-argued call to arms for those with the shared vision and cojones to take action about something that affects us all.

Once you’ve read this book, you may come to regard it as an antidote to the seemingly incessant succession of bad news stories that we are confronted with most days. Even if that is not your reaction, I think you’ll find that it is positive and affirming; and that surely can’t be a bad thing, can it?

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