Living the Purpose Economy: How Businesses Thrive by Making a Difference

 Why do you work? To pay bills? To advance your career? Because it’s what you love to do? According to author, entrepreneur, and CEO Aaron Hurst, we’re in the midst of a new economic era, one that is driven and organized around the creation of purpose for people (not just information, goods, and services). The key to thriving in the rise of this “Purpose Economy” will be finding purpose through your work and providing opportunities for your employees to find purpose in theirs.

“I’m not an economist, a sociologist, or a psychologist. I am an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs look for emerging trends, and what these trends point to is a shift driven by the pursuit of purpose,” wrote Hurst. “We have a need for purpose in our lives, which we gain by serving needs greater than our own in ways that enable personal growth and build community.”

The impact of purpose

Hurst’s Purpose Economy is human centered and focuses on the well-being of people. The companies that thrive in the context of a Purpose Economy create solutions to address the desire for purpose in their clients’ and employees’ lives. Examples include, Good Eggs, PACT, and other companies that often undertake major societal and environmental challenges.

We have a need for purpose in our lives, which we gain by serving needs greater than our own in ways that enable personal growth and build community.

Hurst came upon this realization first through his own work. As founder and active advisor to the Taproot Foundation, a nonprofit that engages thousands of professionals in pro bono service and builds pro bono programs for companies, Hurst noticed that he found pro bono work to be much more rewarding than a paycheck job.

“Through conversations with hundreds of professionals and reading applications from thousands more, I discovered they were all driven by the need for purpose,” wrote Hurst. And often purpose had nothing to do with the size of one’s paycheck or the prestige of one’s job. Rather, it has to do with how people tailor their job to fit their purpose.

Finding purpose every day

Consider this: one-third of Americans work because they have to, one-third work because it’s part of their career-minded identity, and yet another third work because it adds value to their lives. Of all those reasons, it’s the final third, those who consider their work to be a “calling,” who have higher work and life satisfaction and better employees.

This breakdown holds true across most industries and job levels. Hurst, however, highlighted one strange anomaly—hospital orderlies. One study showed that of all the employees in a hospital, the orderlies were consistently the happiest. It made no sense considering they’re often treated poorly and stuck with the dirtiest of jobs.

When interviewed, many orderlies said they considered themselves just as important as nurses and doctors because of their daily interactions with patients. Many reported joking, singing, and dancing to cheer up patients, none of which is required in their job description. According to Hurst, it’s because these orderlies recrafted their jobs that they were able to find purpose in what many others might regard as an unrewarding profession.

Purpose: big and small

1/3 of Americans work because they have to, 1/3 work because it’s part of their career-minded identity, and yet another 1/3 work because it adds value to their lives. 

How do you work with purpose? According to Hurst, it helps to start small: “Take two minutes each day to think of one purpose moment you had that day. If you do this for a month you will find that you are doing more things every day that bring you purpose and that you also come to appreciate them more.”

To learn more about the economic shift afoot, read Hurst’s The Purpose Economy: How Your Desire for Impact, Personal Growth and Community Is Changing the World. To find out your personal Purpose Pattern (or, as Hurst calls it, your “purpose DNA”), log on to and take this short quiz. The rise of a Purpose Economy means a great deal of change for businesses on the organizational and individual level. Start by learning what it means for you.

This post is part of our ongoing coverage of Microsoft Research and its Visiting Speaker Series. Microsoft Research supports its mission to educate and foster innovation and growth through inviting authors and speakers that inspire big ideas, spark new ways of doing things, or help people see things from a new perspective.