In 2008, at the start of the great recession and Wall Street meltdown, the Taproot Foundation board chair shared with the team her advice when it comes to hard times: “We have to survive to thrive.” You can’t thrive if you don’t exist. Hunker down and wait out the storm.
The board, management team and I nodded vigorously when she shared her philosophy about hard times. She was helping to lead us through the desert and ensure we didn’t die like Lehman Brothers and dozens of other organizations whose demise were making headlines at the time. We should cut expenses and avoid risk.
We are such suckers for sound bites, especially when they rhyme. “Survive to thrive - ” has such a nice ring to it. It is so simple, clear and compelling. It sounds like an ancient Eastern proverb or something written by one of our Founding Fathers - something of unquestionable wisdom.
It took several weeks for me to realize that this approach was against the core values of the organization and as well as what I was raised to believe.
When the 2001 recession hit, Barron’s wrote an obituary for Amazon.com titled “Amazon Dot Bomb” that predicted the company would soon file bankruptcy. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO didn’t hunker down to “survive to thrive” another day. He used the situation to rally his team to double down and conduct the greatest expansion in retail history. They are now on track to be the first ever trillion dollar company.
As Billy Ocean sang in the 1980’s, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” (Actually, I am not sure that is exactly my point but it is stuck in my head so I decided to use it.)
When times are challenging, it is perhaps the most strategic time to double down and help others. If you give up your dreams and mission only to survive another day, a piece of you dies in the process. If you do this enough times, you can’t recover. You have lost your soul.
Tough times are also ideal to take advantage of the opportunities being missed by the cowards who are hiding with their heads drawn into their turtle shells. They are so focused on survival they aren’t able to respond when you jump over them. They are so internally focused they lose their ability to read the market and see advantages.
Rather than become a conservative culture where the team focused on its own survival, we put our energy into helping others and expanding our impact. We decided to respond to the increased need for our services in a time in which many were hurting rather than shy away from the opportunity.
In 2009 we began the global expansion of the Taproot Foundation. We developed partnerships around the world to help grow our impact and respond to the incredible need. We partnered with multinationals from HP to BMW to bring pro bono services to six continents and ultimately impact thousands of NGOs. Today, the Taproot Foundation’s impact is far greater outside the United States than it is domestically.
When we lead with purpose we are able to see beyond the short-term. We are able to have the longview that gives us the courage to innovate and be generous. It enables us to let go of fear and create value. It enables us to keep our values first and create the future we want for ourselves and organizations.
I left the Taproot Foundation, the organization I founded and lead since 2001, to start Imperative in 2013. At Imperative we are studying purpose and using those findings to help thousands of people lead with purpose and create an incredible future for all of us.
If you are interested in becoming a Certified Purpose Leader, please visitImperative.com to learn more.
Aaron Hurst is an Ashoka Fellow, award-winning entrepreneur and globally recognized leader in fields of purpose at work and social innovation. He is the CEO of Imperative and founder of the Taproot Foundation which he led for a dozen years. Aaron is the author of the Purpose Economy and has written for or been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg TV and Fast Company.
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