How Purpose Can Help Conquer Work Fears

Best-selling author Dan Goleman says people and organizations with a keen sense of purpose will be able to excel in the new and uncertain AI era.

Daniel Goleman is a senior consultant at Goleman Consulting Group, author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence, and host of the podcast First Person Plural: Emotional Intelligence and Beyond. He is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. 

ChatGPT – this revolutionary new AI tool hasn’t even been out for a year yet and already, it’s changing the way we work. Research that took months, now takes minutes. Recruiters who spent hours sifting through resumes and writing job descriptions are now getting the job done in just a fraction of the time. People are both excited and scared – entire industries are bracing themselves, unsure of what this rapidly developing technology means for their future.

While it’s unlikely AI will replace human beings, what we can expect is that it will drastically alter our lives over the next five years.

Like climate change, pandemics, and market volatility, AI is testing our ability to adapt and think outside the box. In this time of disruption, innovation isn’t just “nice to have” but an imperative for doing business. “Innovate or die,” wrote Disney CEO Robert Iger in his 2020 book The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company. “There’s no innovation if you operate out of fear of the new or untested.”

All well and good. But how do we go about mustering resilience and tapping into our creative thinking?

In 2019 the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) surveyed 1,000 senior decision-makers across three global industries to learn how they were responding to disruption. Almost 64% said that having a sense of purpose was pivotal to their ability to innovate– that aspiring for something beyond their day-to-day commercial mission made them better able to act in the face of disruption.

Among the many reasons why purpose is important for innovation, a few stand out:

●       Our brains are wired to want meaning: As driven as people are by money, metrics like revenue and stock prices don’t resonate with people in the same way that purpose does. In order to achieve groundbreaking outcomes, people need to see the “big picture” of why their work matters.

●       Purpose powers collaboration. Inequality, climate change, healthcare, cyber safety: such problems are too complex for any one leader or industry to solve on their own. When driven by a mission, people and companies – particularly those in different or unrelated sectors – are more likely to come together.

●       Purpose evokes a willingness to try. Peter Drucker, the great pioneer of management theory, argued that for innovation to sustain itself — for people to keep taking creative risks and coming up against the potential for failure — they need passion. Our sense of purpose directs how we strategize and the risks we are willing to take.

When we look at a disruptive technology like ChatGPT we see that six months in, some 13 million people are already using it daily.

The question isn’t how do we resist it (impossible), but how do we work with it in a way that has meaning?

Korn Ferry’s CEO Gary Burnison recently described the role of a leader as one of transporting people—emotionally and sometimes physically—from where they are to where they need to go. “The fact is—from place to place, season to season—the landscape always changes,” he wrote, “But the destination—embodied by an overarching purpose that literally moves people—remains the same.”

The World Economic Forum has estimated that while AI may replace 85 million jobs by 2025, it will create 97 million new ones. While we can’t be sure where technologies like ChatGPT will take us, what we do know is that having a sense of purpose is pivotal. Not only do passion and a sense of deep meaning separate a human from a computer, but they inspire us to think more creatively about what the future of work could look like.

When it comes to AI, the most optimistic and forward-looking leaders see a larger opportunity—the chance to leverage this technology in reaching a better future. The future-ready organization is one that knows what it stands for: oriented around a sense of purpose, it is willing to learn, strive to think outside the box, and is quick to implement good ideas, no matter where they come from. These organizations recognize that purpose propels their creative thinking. They see how a sense of meaning motivates people, even in the scariest of times, to go beyond their own fear and think towards what’s possible. 

Co-written by Elizabeth Solomon

Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence.