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The Soul of a Startup: Going With Your Gut

How entrepreneurs can get away from doing business as usual.

Submitted by: Danielle Lanyard

Posted: Jun 14, 2012 – 09:20 AM EST

Series: Soul of a Sustainable Startup

Tags: corporate social responsibility, business ethics, sustainability


Though it appears unlikely that 2012 will bring on the Apocalypse, it does appear to be the year that the line in the sand has been drawn and with which business as usual is over.

Or at least that's what billionaire-entrepreneur-philanthropist Richard Branson declares in his most recent book Screw Business as Usual. Millennials the world over are now looking for jobs at businesses that are, well, better. Meanwhile, the white noise in the background continues: that the earth has reached a perilous state, for little reason other than the unending growth and machine of the industrial complex or business as usual.

The Earth is roughly four or five billion years old. Human beings are 200,000 or so years old. Industry is a few thousand years old. The modern industrial complex?  It's just 400 years old.  

We've been busy in the last two centuries conducting business as usual, but now the collective wear and tear of recent generations is starting to show—on our planet and our souls.

That is why today’s sustainable startup must have soul, with primary focus on the root, the radical, the deepest parts of what it takes personally, professionally, and collectively, to change the game through business.

How to Change the Game Through Business

air pollutionThe first step is to go with your gut. And don't get mired in the many ways this phrase is tossed around – from following your instincts and tapping into your intuition, to listening to your inner compass. If there is one single silver bullet that I know to be true in both business and life, in changing one’s world, and in turn changing the world, it is that you’ve got to go with your gut. Successful startups—I've launched or helped start nearly a dozen mission-based initiatives in my lifetime—driven by soul and succeeding with sound financial strategies, are most successful when their leaders are fueled by a deep sense of purpose and a willingness to be guided by both their minds and their hearts.

They let their gut lead the way.

Today’s triple bottom line startup requires serious heart, as will any enterprise that seeks to be a vehicle for true change, for lasting positive impact.

Fortunately, our world today is filled with unbelievable testaments to frontiering founders of triple bottom line businesses driven by wildly ethical, socially responsible and environmentally impactful missions, along with serious sales. What’s consistent among them is a sense of true purpose: a leader who knows how to go with her gut, an effective organizational process to integrate mission and purpose with profit and impact, and then the ability to get it done.  More often than not, the more purposeful these businesses were, the more profitable they became, and the more transparent they’ve been with the world in sharing their story.

What Going With Your Gut Looks Like

The most popular story in recent times of course is Steve Jobs and his famous graduation speech at Stanford's 2005 graduation ceremony, where he set the souls of the graduating class on fire with a rousing tale of how he followed his intuition to the unlikely place of studying cartography. As the story goes, this wacky move gave Jobs exposure to print and font design, which ended up playing a key role in the design of the first personal computers.

MergerThe important lesson beyond Jobs' inspiring success with Apple is that when passion is fully integrated with an environmental and social mission, the results can be profound.

Another example is Dr. Bronners, who set out to change the world by selling ‘mind-body-spirit-solutions’ that would guide humans through their journey on Earth. In Bronners' case, the bottle his product came in proved to be the vehicle through which he spread his message.  With the mission and product integrated in singular alignment, the more unconventional the Bronners went, the more their sales skyrocketed and the more impact they made.

Dr. Bronners' story also teaches us that there’s definitely a bit of serendipity in launching a startup with a soul, and in following one’s gut to get there.  You not only need a picture perfect vision, but the resilience and knowledge to actualize that vision. There’s hardly a better example of this than Ari Weinzweig, founder and CEO of Zingermann’s Community of Businesses. From idea to multimillion-dollar franchise filled with as much integrity at scale as it was from day one, the secret to Zingermann’s success is exactly what I started with: following your gut through thick and thin.

 How do they do it? Start with a vision. Use your gut to fill it with as much soul as you can, and then get busy achieving the vision.

Remembering a Preschool Dictum

The only other thing? Something we are taught right from the time we begin preschool. Learn to share.  

But these words are easier said than done. Letting your freak flag fly is no walk in the park. It takes a village—Jobs, Dr. Bronner and Zingermann all needed committed teams, skilled partners and sharers of their vision to see their ideas take fruition. So, I'd like to begin this monthly blog series by sharing my vision with you. I'm following my gut, and asking you to create and share yours, so that we can co-create a sustainable earth together.

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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