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Purpose + Profit

October 7, 2021 by Twan van de Kerkhof

The world is slowly moving from the industrial age, which was characterized by command and control and maximizing efficiency, to a service-dominated economy, which is characterized by the search for meaning. This book by Rens ter Weijde, a Dutch entrepreneur, fits in that paradigm shift.

The book has three central premises:

  1. Our 21st-century macro environment will present us with collective, humanity-defining challenges.
  2. Organizations are the ideal players to deal effectively with these challenges.
  3. Organizations that succeed in tackling these challenges will be the new successful enterprises of this century. Ter Weijde calls them ‘purpose + profit firms’ because they combine purpose and profit targets. They do good while making money.

The author quotes management guru Peter Drucker: “In modern society, there is no other leadership group but managers. If the managers of our major institutions, and especially of business, do not take responsibility for the common good, no one else can or will”. Individuals remain far less powerful than organisations and governments, Ter Weijde argues, and not-for-profit organizations represent fewer people and have less resources.

The purpose + profit theme starts very late in the book. Ter Weijde first takes a lot of space to describe tectonic shifts in the world, such as rising inequality, the growth of China, population growth in Africa, Islam taking over as the dominant religion in the world, declining biodiversity and 32 others. Although this part of the book is impeccably researched and well-written, it seems lopsided in a book about purpose. I assume they are there because these are the “collective, humanity-defining challenges” that purpose + profit organizations will need to address.

Purpose + Profit. How Organisations Will Shape the Defining Challenges of Our Time. Rens ter Weijde. Warden Press, 2017