Getting to Yes, And

Deep Purpose


Ranjay Gulati

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Kelly connects with Harvard professor Ranjay Gulati to discuss his new book Deep Purpose: The Heart and Soul of High-Performance Companies.

One of the things I love about your book is how you blow up the idea that a concept such as ‘purpose’ is a soft or disposable thing in business.

“By way of background, I was a math and computer science math economics and computer science undergraduate. My PhD was also very mathematical. Even when I was doing my MBA, I was in the mathematical track.  Even my studied organizational behavior I did a mathematical PhD. So, for me to go into this land of purpose and to write a book about – even five years ago – I would say you’re crazy.”

So, what is purpose?

“Anybody who doesn't know, please look up William Damon's definition of purpose, which is a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at the same time meaningful to the self and consequential for the world beyond the self. Damon is a Stanford psychologist, and this is a great definition for organizations. But what does it mean and how can I translate this for myself and my organization? I think purpose is an ideal. Right? It's an idea: a unifying idea about how you want to solve commercial and social problems profitably.”

You talk about how your father kind of taught you about purpose.

“My father, used to say this to me a lot, when I was a kid - he had after translated into English - it was saying. he says, ‘Your idea has to be to do good deeds and then put them in the river.’ It doesn't translate perfectly well, but the idea is when you do good deeds - you're not doing them with some kind of a quid pro quo calculus in your head - it's about you do a deed and you put it in the river.”

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