You can have anything you want, just not everything you want. This was the advice given to me by my family financial planner when I was a teenager and I’ve never forgotten it. The constant reminder that not only life is short, but that I need to think about what is most important. For me, it’s my faith, wife, children, and making a difference. As I’ve thought about who I am and who I want to be, I often consider how do I ensure that the things and people most important to me stay first. How do I ensure that my life has the meaning that I set out to have it contain? That I fulfill my purpose… on purpose… not by accident. I think the same existential quest that we all go through in our personal searching for meaning relates into how we create through our work. Pope John Paul II wrote an encyclical called Laborem Exercens, namely on the idea of “through work” we find meaning in our lives and become who we are called to be. In a same way, a business does the same. A business, “through work” becomes what it can be, or was “meant” to be. A well run business is not just run on products or financial outcomes, it’s run on ideas and purpose. A sense of purpose that imbues who it is and what it has the opportunity to become. Ask yourself… does my business have that sense of purpose? For Concurrency for instance it’s “the Golden Rule“. For Gigi’s Playhouse it’s “educate, inspire, believe”, for children with Downs. So, building on this, ask yourself about your digital initiatives. How do your Digital Initiatives inspire the sense of purpose that your company needs to contain in order to be truly successful?
Let’s talk about a story from Gigi’s Playhouse. Their mission to educate, inspire, believe in the capability of individuals with downs inspired a mission at a customer of ours. Clover Technologies was interested in making a difference, as well as improving the productivity of their re-manufacturing plants. They thought, what if we could accomplish efficiency, while at the same time enabling a whole set of people who were dis-empowered to do meaningful work because of a cognitive disability? How could we use the mission of our business (Clover) and the mission of Concurrency (Golden Rule) to do something better? That is where we set out on an AI for Good initiative that enabled individuals with cognitive disabilities with augmented reality that enabled them to do meaningful work on a light manufacturing environment. Using a set of audio inputs and directional visualizations an individual with autism or downs can perform picking operations in a manufacturing environment safely. This job could have already been done by these individuals if they were partnered with another individual, but that’s not normally the case. With this technology we’ve enabled those individuals to do a job they previously could not do, or couldn’t do well.
Here is a video of the Gigi’s Playhouse and Clover collaboration in action. In this video he shows the combination of the audio inputs with the video tablet. This is actually a pretty early version of this platform and much more has been built into the open source capabilities:
When you ask individuals who worked on the Gigi’s Playhouse / Clover AI for Good project about “why” they invested their time in the initiative, they’ll say in so many words, “it was the right thing to do“. In a sense, they are fulfilling their purpose and our organizational purpose of transforming organizations with technology and even though we can’t help everyone, doing meaningful change in this instance. In this case it not only provided the meaningful work for a great group of individuals, but also saves time and optimizes the picking process for ANYONE who is on the floor, as well as inspires the entire community within the manufacturing environment. They are inspired because we find meaning in the good, the true, and the beautiful and when our work environment inspires this, we are more interested in pursuing our best selves. Visit https://www.aitechnologyforgood.com/ to learn more and participate in the OPEN SOURCE project.
My challenge to companies is to think about the purpose of their organization and understand how their organization can bring about meaningful impact in the lives of their employees, customers, and community. I recall a time when I was in college and I took a “business/social responsibility class”. It all felt so trite, false, and fake to me… almost like an employer did things just to say they did them. It feels like the business community has come around and we’re now looking at social responsibility as a true thing and Digital Social Responsibility as even more important given the impact on all stages of our lives.
At Microsoft Inspire this year Judson Althoff spoke about purpose driven digital as a core element of Microsoft’s strategy. I’m proud to be a Microsoft partner, working to deliver meaningful business value, as well as good in the world. We can’t do everything, but together, we can do more, and that is the power of a broad set of commodity technologies enabling many businesses to do something meaningful. This doesn’t mean you throw your business’s profitability or other goals to the side. The point is that your business’s purpose needs to be about the impact to people… ultimately because that is what gives meaning to everything else.