I recently came across an article by the founder of TOMS shoes, a social entrepreneurship movement that had been getting a lot of attention (and growth, too!) since it first started 9 years ago. Blake Mycoskie first got the idea of setting up TOMS during one of his travels to Argentina. He saw how children there had to grow up barefoot – they had not even the very basic necessity of having shoes to be able to go to school with.
Inspired by a woman in Buenos Aires, who was running a not-for-profit organization delivering shoes to poor children, Blake came up with the idea to build TOMS, a for-profit company that would give away a pair of shoes to a child in need, for every pair of shoe sold. His idea caught on so well, that his initial goal to sell 250 pairs (to start off with), very quickly fell short of the 2000 pairs that customers ordered! From then on, the rest was history. TOMS grew over the years to be a hugely successful and inspiring movement, and not just a viable business.
However, in 2012, Blake realized that TOMS had grown unrecognizable to him. He didn’t have the same ‘fire’ and passion as when he first started the company. He then came to realise why. The organization and its management had become too focused on the processes of running the company. They had become more focused on the WHAT and the HOW, and not on the WHY. Blake realized how slowly but surely, everyone seemed to have forgotten why TOMS was started in the first place: to use business to improve lives. Needless to say, what happened after that was a bigger TOMS movement, covering businesses which not only sold shoes, but also bags, eyewear, and even coffee!
Daniel Goleman, in his book ‘Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence’ gave an interesting analogy of comparing two leaders, one focused on getting better than his competitors, and the other focused on greater goals to benefit a certain community. Weeks after leading their teams, employees were asked to evaluate how inspired they were by their leaders. The conclusive results: the first leader had very low ratings, while the second leader scored much higher ratings.
I am constantly inspired by young children. Surprisingly, I draw a lot of inspiration on leadership thinking and ideas from our younger folks. How many of us are surrounded by young children, especially those who have just started schooling, who seem to be so intrigued by everything that adults do. Everything that needs to be done has to have a reason, a purpose. Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense to do it. Children seem to have grasped it well. It seems so natural for them to ask WHY all the time. Somehow, we lost this natural tendency along the way. Probably thanks to all-knowing grown-ups, who just told us to keep quiet and mind our manners (doesn’t that sound all too familiar?)
In our daily ‘busy-ness’ trying to get on with our business of running our lives (whether at work or at home), we seem too easily to get caught up with wanting to do things faster, more efficient, more accurate, etc. We forget that once in a while, we need to relax, take a step back, and start asking ourselves questions that we normally would not. After all, what harm does it do to take a couple of days off, go to some lesser known forest or hill or beach, and ask those questions we never really spent time to think about.
Perhaps, once in a while, we should bring along an unassuming child with us on one of those trips too.
This is my gift to you today, and I hope you have been inspired!