When asked where his big break came, the comedian Michael Jr. says it was at a club. Now, don’t start thinking this was some place where talent scouts were known to hover and look for the next big star. Rather, it was an unassuming place where the comic had an epiphany of sorts that changed the way he approached his work. And this change in approach made such a difference that his work built a momentum that landed him in places (think Tonight Show) where his career made big steps forward.
So, what was this epiphany? In the moments before going on stage at the club, Michael Jr., finding himself in a kind of funk, had a flash of insight. He had always believed success in comedy was all about getting laughs. In other words, if you got more laughs, you were destined for the big time. But Michael had started seeing this way of thinking as unfulfilling. He felt there had to be more meaning in it than that. It was then that he had his life-changing insight. “What if, instead of trying to get laughs, I begin giving people opportunities to laugh?” While it might not sound earth shaking, it was.
This shift was not just a change in thinking, it was a fundamental change in purpose. Where once his purpose was focused on a more selfish motive of getting laughs, this new purpose moved to a more selfless focus on giving to others and improving their lives. This change motivated a new direction. Right after the club show, while signing autographs, Michael Jr. spotted a homeless man across the street. Given his new-found purpose, he decided to give that gentleman an opportunity to laugh. He crossed the street and spent time with the man and gave him many opportunities to laugh. He made a difference, and that difference was born out of a focus on giving before any thought of getting. And this difference was felt in his shows. Crowds grew and so did his career.
Today, Michael Jr. applies this giving-focused purpose not only to his profit-making events but in volunteer efforts where he gives battered women, abused children, and convicted prisoners opportunities to laugh. And in doing so, he gives them hope and diversion from their day-to-day struggles.
What does this mean to us in our workplaces?
Think about your workplace. Imagine what would change if your culture shifted its thinking from “What do we get?” to “What do we give?” What would people do differently? How would the experience of your customer and co-workers change?
I know, it sounds nice but ultimately impractical, businesses have to profit to stay in business. However, I am not proposing an end to profit, I am just proposing a change in priorities. Instead of first thinking about what will be gained, thinking about how much value will be delivered. I am suggesting businesses start thinking about how they can make their products and services as beneficial to their customers as possible before considering every way they will see returns.
When we consider that all businesses are in business to help people get things done, this whole line of thinking makes great sense. It simply puts that fundamental purpose of service front and center. But too many have gotten bogged down in profit making and trying to compete, they have believed in the lie that they can win something and that winning is defined by profit. Well, wake up call, there is no winning. And that’s because there are no criteria defining a “win.” All there really is is growing more opportunities to share the value you deliver. The more you can do that, the more you succeed.
So, the lesson? Shifting your purpose from getting to giving can and will lead to greater success. Don’t believe it? Well, try it and see. You may be surprised. You may just see profit in ways you can’t measure or put in a bank. How nice would that be?
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