“A finite game is a limited way of looking at things, and is best described as focusing quarter-by-quarter. But innovation is about running beyond your limits and playing an infinite game, where you focus your investment and business strategies several years out,” says Salsberry. “Purposeful organizations focus on the infinite game, figuring out what your organization is going to stand for in the long run, and aligning innovation goals around that.”
If a business wants to leverage innovation to get somewhere quickly, it helps if it knows where it’s going and why it’s going there – and that its employees feel enthusiastic about this journey. This is the value of purpose.
“People who work at leading companies – such as the big Silicon Valley firms – have a belief in the values of the organization, not just the products they make,” says Duckworth.
The link between purpose and innovation
“I believe a lot of what is driving success is culture, and its leadership’s ability to promote a positive message that permeates the culture through the organization,” says Brough.
Purpose gives a company a way of breaking out of the shackles of short-term thinking, and consequently, embrace more disruptive innovation. It creates a clear long-term path for why certain innovation can and should be pursued. It’s also worth noting that imagining a negative future can work too. As Bolshaw notes, “When Jan Timmer, former CEO of Philips, became the electronics company’s President in 1990, one of his first moves was to dummy up a newspaper, dated a few years into the future. Its bold front page headline read, ’Philips Goes Bankrupt!’ Timmer built his senior team’s strategy around that headline.”
This has had measurable advantages for a company’s abilities to innovate. In a study that EY conducted jointly with the Harvard Business Review, it was found that of the executives surveyed, 84% said a strong sense of purpose positively affected their ability to embrace transformation.
In financial terms, purpose-led innovators also had an advantage. Among those companies who were found to be prioritizing purpose, 58% had enjoyed revenue growth of at least 10% over the last three years, and only 15% had seen flat or declining growth. Among those organizations with the weakest sense of purpose, that figure dropped to 42%. Meanwhile, 42% reported flat or declining growth. Purpose means profits.