What’s your purpose for doing what you’re doing?

5 reasons for doing what you do and why you should forget about 4 of them.

Tim Wade

Why do you really do what you do in the way you do it? Let's talk about purpose and motivation and what drives you.

Today I was listening to some insights from Derek Sivers (, the guy who created CD Baby, sold it for $22 million and rolled all of that into a fund that would support education for musicians after he died. Cool.

He asked, why do you do what you do, and then suggested to pick from one of these 5 reasons:

  1. Money
  2. Prestige
  3. Fame
  4. Legacy
  5. Freedom

And he says choosing any is okay, just be true to yourself and then optimise your career for that: focus on that, make that your measure. But it may mean NOT focussing on getting the others too, but some of them might come as a by-product. So, for example, if you choose to go for Money, then you might let someone else take the spotlight (Fame) while you focus on the money. Like being the movie producer instead of the star actor.

If you want prestige, then focus on the circles that you wish to be acknowledged for and give up some of the other stuff.

If you want the limelight, be everywhere.

If you want legacy, put your name on everything and create something that will last beyond your life.

If you want freedom, then systemise what you do so someone else can do it for you (outsource).

When I look at how I am, I’m clear on the freedom part. While more money is always nice, I seem to choose freedom over being a slave to getting more money. It wasn’t always like this. But it’s increasingly obvious to me that this is what I want, how I live, and why I do what I do. And it’s not just freedom for me, it’s also freedom for others. So even though I have a program that teaches people how to get a promotion (prestige) and a payrise (money), it is really geared to helping them grow and transform so that they’re not stuck in a job at a level that they think they should have moved from by now. And stuck is the opposite of freedom.

My programs are geared to help people maximise the value they create and thereby help them develop their characters, perspectives, and behaviours.

Beware of business plans based on not really knowing the future.

If you’re creating the future, that’s different, but if you’re building a plan for something that relies on an unknown future to turn out a specific way, then your plan is not really robust or relevant.

Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur Steve Blank says: “No business plan survives first contact with the customer.” If you acknowledge that, then you tend to listen more and adapt to what is actually happening rather than trying to stay the course to some plan you created when you didn’t know what was happening. It also means you start asking more questions (in order to listen) and learning more (instead of tell people what’s happening based on you not knowing).

Simply do one thing well.

When starting a business or creating value in someone else’s business, keep it simple: do one thing well. Sivers understood that his business model was essentially a record store online. He wasn’t called revolutionary until he was successful, and before that he was someone doing something a little quirky. He calls it uncommon sense. Do the simple things well. Everyone is looking for the next big thing, but they miss the simple sense of doing the simple things well.

If it’s not a hit, switch.

Don’t persist with a strategy or product or service that no-one wants. Persist in trying new things until you find the one that works. Keep creating. “Success comes from persistently improving and inventing.”

The vision is version 100.0 and what you’re going to do today is version 0.1, or incrementally adding version 0.1. Launch whatever you have NOW. Because then you’ll start talking to real people, getting real feedback and you’ll either tweak to improve and make it better, or realise it ain’t gonna happen.

Value = idea x execution… so if you’re not executing on your brilliant idea, it’s worth nothing, and executing brilliantly on a crap idea could cost you a tonne (ie what it cost to execute brilliantly).

The 5 most successful things they did at CD Baby

1. They answered their phone – that impressed customers because they are real people, you can reach them, you can visit. Treat your customers as you would treat your friends. Be accessible.

2. Personalised email headers: TO: “CD Baby loves Tim” <> (a bit of PHP code) – worked wonders because it was OUTRAGEOUSLY personalised

3. “Changes need pizza” – humanising your business – don’t dehumanise… be a person! Remind your customers that you are a real person. Their response to a change request was that a pizza needed to be ordered – details supplied – and the change would be done. Weird. Quirkly. Cool. And free pizza. It reminds them that’s there are people in your business. And a good thing too! And makes for a cool talking point. Makes them advocates too. Because who does that these days?

4. Customer comments made on site about artists’ work were sent to the musicians. This connected customers with musicians and often helped both. But again it personalised the business, brought buyers and sellers together, close together, and some gigs for the musicians came from those connections. Also caused a talking point.

5. Special request box at end of order saying you could request anything. Usually no-one entered anything, but one person asked for some cinnamon gum, so they sent it, and another guy jokingly asked for a rubber or real squid because the CD cover had a cartoon with a girl with an octopus on her head. It turns out that sometime earlier, a Korean artist had sent some CDs and a vacuum-packed a hot-roasted squid. So they had that hanging on their “Employee Wall of Service” with a bunch of other weird stuff. So they sent the squid along with the guy's order and he was so impressed he made a video of it and posted it on YouTube.

The lesson? People remember you more for the stuff you do that makes people smile over all the business school stuff you could do. That's because these unusual remarkable things differentiate you, make you human, and make you likeable. So, find tiny ways to make people smile.

So... why do you do what you do? And whatever your why, optimise everything around being able to achieve that.