Pursue meaning, not ‘more’.

Back in 2015, the story broke. For the last six years, the engineers at Volkswagen had manipulated the system, deliberately fudging the numbers on their diesel engines during emissions testing to comply with US standards. In reality, they were emitting up to 40x more air pollution when on the roads. The scandal ended up costing VW billions of dollar in fines, an immediate 10% drop in share prices, a knock on global sales, and almost irreparable damage to its reputation and credibility.


Over the last week or so I’ve been reading ‘Story Driven‘ by Bernadette Jiwa. She explains her ideas on what drove the engineers at VW to deception:

“The company’s goal was to beat the competition and be number one. […] Innovation, increased sales, increased pre-tax return on sales, and being a ‘top employer’ were listed as the means by which they would achieve this goal.”

According to Jiwa, VW was a prime example of a ‘competition-driven company’ – since 2011 their entire focus was on being a ‘market leader’ and everything they did was geared towards this. As a consequence, the company culture forced honest, smart, and dedicated people to hit their metrics. Meet your targets and you’ll be alright.

The problem with playing to win

When you’re sole aim is to win – to make money, or increase turnover – you’re shaping the culture of your organisation. If you’re not careful, you can create an environment where people start to believe the wrong thing is the right thing to do. The effects may not be immediately apparent, but over time these ‘wrong things’ stack up and the cracks in your identity and reputation begin to appear. And when you’re exposed, like VW, it will all be too late.

Don’t try to matter by winning. Win by mattering.

Meaning Economy

In the 50’s and 60’s, people created value by working with their hands – an Industrial Economy. We then moved into an era where our ‘heads’ or ideas produced value – an Information Economy. Then came the computer and all of a sudden we were designing, coding and connecting through technology. But today, we’re in the age of the Meaning Economy, where the brands that thrive allow their people to work with their hearts as well as their heads and hands.

The Meaning Economy has also produced a new kind of consumer – one who is drawn to the brand who shares their values and vision for the world. We are more likely to part with our money if we feel an emotional connection with the company we’re giving it to.

Pursue meaning, not ‘more’

More often than not business owners eyes light up at the numbers. The balance sheet rules all. Sales figures are King. And thou shalt all be judged by P&Ls.

That world has changed.

If you can take the time to sit down and figure out your company’s authentic vision for the future. A change you want to make in the world, underpinned by a clear set of values you’re willing to champion, that has the power to engage and motivate staff internally and connect emotionally with your customers, you will win. Your ‘why’ and reason for existing *is* your competitive advantage, not the unnecessary meddling of ‘marketing types’.

Don’t make a VW-sized mistake. Pursue meaning, not ‘more’.


You can a previous post I’ve done on ‘more more more’ culture here.

Emotional impact

Every day I drive 1hr15mins round the M60 to work. It’s funny the patterns you start to see by doing the same journey on the motorway every day.

When it’s dark in winter, there’s a game I play. The aim is to try and spot the headlights in the mirror and guess the make of car, judged purely on the way it’s being driven before it comes past to reveal the answer. It’s surprising how often I’m right.

At least 20mph over the speed limit? Mercedes, maybe Audi.

Aggressive cutting between lanes? BMW.

The same but bigger? Range Rover.

I jest, of course. But it is interesting how certain people, all with a tendency to drive a certain way, opt for the same manufacturers more often than not.

Do people buy these cars because they’re angry or impatient? Of course not. Most people who drive them aren’t those things anyway*. But for those who are, the brand speaks to them in a way others don’t.

They tap into human emotions. People’s vision of themselves. The lives they’ve always imagined living. Because BMW or Mercedes or any other brand make them feel a certain way.

Cars, fashion, mobile phones, trainers, restaurants, handbags – they’re all symbols of who think we are and the things we value. They are a very human way of letting the world know something about ourselves. A signal to those whose opinions we value.

The brands that make the biggest impact are the ones that connect most intimately with our emotions. The ones that go on to dominate, back it up with action.

But hey, I drive a Citro├źn C1 so what does that say about me?



*Just for the avoidance of any doubt! Please don’t hate me…