On January 24, 2009, it dawned on me that I’ve been at this business of marketing, evangelism, investing, and entrepreneurship for more than twenty-five years. That’s because on January 24, 1984 Apple introduced Macintosh, and I was part of the Macintosh team.
The most important lesson that I’ve learned about business through all these years is that the great companies are founded on the desire to make meaning—and not necessarily to make money. The fundamental benefit of such a foundation is that you attract people who are romantic and naive who want to make the world a better place. They don’t know what they don’t know, and that’s good because if they knew how hard it is to change the world, they would never try.
The fundamental flaw of a focus on making money is that you attract the wrong kind of people. Specifically, you attract folks who want to make a quick buck or build their resume for their next job. Usually, these people neither make history nor make money. Instead, they simply make trouble and overhead. The salient question is, conceptually, how can companies make meaning? These are the four primary ways:
1. Enable people to do things they could not do before—and they may not have even thought about. This usually happens at the start of “revolution” like personal computers. Desktop publishing, for example, enabled people who could have never published a book before to do so.
2. Enable people to do things they were already doing but now in a much better way. This usually happens as a revolution reaches the mainstream—for example, using the Internet to sell used stuff via eBay.
3. End bad things like violence, pollution, oppression, and evil by creating a new product or service. This is another beginning-of-a-revolution phenomenon such as the invention of solar panels as a source of power.
4. Perpetuate good things that foster emotions such as enlightenment, joy, mastery, and fun. This is the other side of the "end-bad-things" coin. Meaningful products and services make good things last longer.
A very good test for your company is to ask, “Are we making meaning in any of these four ways?” If you are, you’ve significantly increased your attractiveness to the right kind of employees to build a great company. And now you may be wondering if this means you’ll be stuck in a life of poverty. The answer is “no” because if you make meaning and truly change the world, making money is a natural consequence. It just shouldn’t be the over-arching goal.