Recently, we published a video about how purpose powers business, and this is the 1st podcast in a 3 part series where we are taking 10-15 minutes to unpack that whiteboard session and go a little deeper. These podcasts are based on questions we’ve received, and each will cover one section of the Venn diagram in that video. If you haven't seen that video or need a refresher, you can find a link to the video and an article with the diagram in the show notes.
This brings us to our question for today’s podcast.
What does it mean to utilize means?
First of all, you already hear something that’s different from deploying gifts in our last podcast. Every time we deploy a gift we get better at it and grow.
Means are neutral inanimate objects for the purpose of this discussion. Things like sacrifice can also be considered a means. Jesus’ sacrifice for me was a means for me living forever. That’s true, but in this case — especially as we consider classic strategy — people deploy their gifts toward the needs of others, whereas means are resources that are utilized.
You extract the value of means by deploying them the best they can be deployed. You even exploit them. What’s the best way to use this? I say that in a very positive way. You don’t want to exploit people; you want to take advantage of means.
So in that case, you don’t want to work for money. You want money to work for you. That’s an easy way to say that. And, you don’t even want to invest for means, necessarily. You want to invest to make a difference.
Means vs Ends
It’s not a big deal, but here’s an example where I felt like a means. As Andy Crouch says, “When we treat money as the end goal, we treat people like a means.” I’ve literally had that feeling. When I worked in Jackson, MS for a technology company, we raised capital and some of my friends were really upset with me that they didn’t get in on the investment. Now, the company busted and we lost the money, but, interestingly enough, some of my friends who didn’t get in on the investment were quite happy later but were initially more upset on not getting to invest than the people who lost their money in the investment. That’s because the people who invested were investing to see something happen. They wanted us to serve the needs of people with technology, and didn’t see it as just a means to an end. We were inexperienced and it was an inexperienced technology, but they wanted to see something happen. That’s the difference between investing for the purpose versus investing for the means.
Value Investing – Means Toward Mission
Warren Buffett talks about long term value investing, but he’s picking companies that really serve the needs of the world, even if it’s a funding mechanism. We covered in an article how means can continue to be a cycle of means. If I work for means, I keep working for means. We don’t want to work for means. We want the means to be utilized toward the mission. As we’ve shown, our mission is to serve others.
Then the means of measurement with technology to measure how we’re doing, that’s another example. Measure the mission. We’ve gotten caught up in our corporate world in measuring just the means. How’s the return on investment? That’s important for the public markets because you’ve promised something, but the mission is even more important.
The mission is more important because if we stop serving the base customer and we’re not providing value, the return won’t keep happening. And, you do owe people the return on their money that you promised them, and the maximum return. However, you do that by serving customers and meeting needs.
Put Means To Work
So we put means to work for the benefit of others. Money is the greatest means, there’s no doubt about it. Money is the most talked about means in business; so let’s use that as our example. You can use what we say about money and apply it to any of the means you use in your business — whether that’s technology, animals, natural resources, food, land etc. All these things are means.
Money is able to be utilized in the way it is for 3 reasons. First, it’s fungible. You can turn it into what you want. Second, it’s countable. You know exactly how much you have and it can be measured and compared to others. That’s a problem and a gift. We can compare how it’s doing. Again, it’s easier to compare how the return on investment is than how the value of the customer is. That’s where we get mixed up. Third, it’s storable. You can decide to use it now or later. Is this good timing to use the means or should we store it? You can try to store up the gifts of your employees, but that might not stay neutral and it might not grow because you grow your gifts by using your gifts.
Money has those 3 unique powers. Here’s the warning against money: you cannot serve money. You cannot serve the means, and when we do that we’re way off. This is Jesus talking in the sermon on the mount about money. “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24).
This whole series is about more glory. Well, if I get wrapped up in the means, I get more anxious. I get more worried. Any return leaves me just wanting more return. That’s a problem.
However, as Jim Collins says, money is required. You do need money to operate the business. I do have to create a return and it is a measure of the value I’m producing for the population we’re serving. If it’s a nonprofit, people are giving so they can see people have clean water, for example. That’s one of the biggest needs of the world so that nonprofit would have a lot of value.
But having too much money is kind of like a body that has too much oxygen. Having too much oxygen isn’t good for the body, even though oxygen is required for life. Having too much of a means isn’t good for you or a business. Those are things to keep in mind as you think about means.
The means we set up do dictate things. I go back to the venture capital example. Venture capital was cool and the internet was booming. Everyone wanted to get in on it and those who didn’t felt like they were missing out. Now that things have settled down and 25 years have passed, we see it’s more important to look at the structure of the company.
The business itself is a means. Is it better to be a for profit organization or a nonprofit organization? We see insurance companies, such as BlueCross BlueShield, that are nonprofit and for profit. It really has to do with how you want the organization to be accountable. Who do I want it to be accountable to? What’s the board governance and structure? What’s the funding strategy?
Use Means Strategically
There’s a client I was helping, debating, and working with to determine how to fund a new entity they have. Should it be a “pass the hat” to this entity? Or should we build a fund to funds to do this across the nation? The answer to me was how you decide how much benefit to the world this entity is providing. So first I would do a pass the hat and raise capital with a small group of investors who are committed to it, and then see the benefit to customers and the impact. Once you see the impact, then create a fund to fund to do this across the country or region.
That’s a great example and I’ll give you one more famous one, Dyson. If you want to learn more about this example, listen to the podcast in the resources. It’s a fabulous story of how he hated his vacuum. Eventually, he invented vacuums that are sold throughout the world, but he never wanted to build the vacuums. He saw the experts, like GE, as being more capable of building the vacuum. He wanted to sell them the technology and have them license it. All of the expert companies turned him down, but that didn’t discourage him because they turned him down for the wrong reasons. Those companies were making all their money selling bags — they were focused on means. They couldn’t see their job was to make a better vacuum.
So instead of partnering with GE or others, he found a group of investors and built Dyson vacuums. A few billion dollars later, those companies missed out on those means! By not creating the best vacuum experience they could, they missed out. That’s what happens when you have a means based strategy — you aren’t solving the needs of the world or deploying your gifts in a way that makes things better. That’s not the point though. The point is redeploying our gifts toward the needs of others. All of you with Dyson vacuums, I’m sure you are so happy that you never have to change another bag.
That’s just a small example of how putting means in their proper place and using the gifts of people in your organization toward the needs of your organization is how we’re built. It’s how we’re built for glory, to glorify God and serve the needs of others.
Thanks for listening to this series of podcasts, and please continue sending your thoughtful questions.