Gedanken Experiment: Your Purpose

I love making my clients go through thought experiments to help them better assess a certain scenario and also as a way to accelerate decision-making. I’ve shared before about one for making your day-to-day more productive by holding the vacation thought experiment. This time, let’s consider one you can do today to better flesh out your purpose in your organization and help you become the best leader you can be.

The Experiment

Ok, so picture this: one night, aliens abduct you. Fortunately, they are mainly interested in testing their new galactic beach resort. Nevertheless, you’re gone for six months, and no one knows what’s up. After the first week or so, when people might still be waiting for you to show up with a crazy story, things will eventually have to keep moving forward, right?

For this experiment, we’re just going to be focusing on work. Let’s assume your family’s aware, or perhaps they’re with you testing out the resort’s low-gravity kids club. What do you imagine will end up happening in your organization? What gaps are now created, and how will they likely be addressed?

Types of Impact

When I ask people to think about this, different things seem to come up. First, there are the very tactical issues. Are you worried about the projects being implemented or the next deadline? Unless you’re in a very small team, that might signify that you’re not operating at a strategic enough altitude. You’re an executor and not a leader. As crucial as milestones are, if you’re mainly going to be missed because you got them to happen, you are not creating a great team but likely operating as their crutch.

Others seem to worry more about the implications for specific people on their team. These are the coaches who can see how their help is crucial to help people grow and make things work. I believe this ought to be a considerable part of any leader’s focus. However, if this is your main concern, I would like you to consider whether you’ve taken things too far and created a co-dependency. Will people miss you because you’re helpful or because you were so overprotective and coddling that they just don’t know how to operate without you?

Of course, especially when working with founders, there are concerns about strategic matters. Sometimes they might be worried about the consequences on their next funding round, a pivot that has to happen, etc. These are probably those leaders who are the most high-level. That’s probably great, so long as it doesn’t mean you’ve become detached.

And as a last example, though there are others, I’ve seen cases where the executives seemed to believe they would not really be missed. You might think your people will do just fine without you because your team is so autonomous or you suffer from imposter syndrome. Everyone’s replaceable, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be missed. However, if you genuinely believe that, you should take some time to consider what your purpose really is. Can you be replaced with ChatGPT?

Getting Out of Bed

For me, the most important thing in my work is to help executives crystalize their raison d’être and this gedanken experiment is all about that. After all, life’s too short to aim for average or just let the years slip by. If you spent a few minutes reading this and thinking about what would happen in your company, I hope you now have an idea regarding areas you can improve or how to change things up.

I’ve written about creating a solid strategy for R&D orgs in my just-released book, and you can get help to distill your purpose by consulting peers on the Leading Edge Club, a free community for startup executives. Apply here. Happy gedanken-ing!