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The Profundity of Purpose

Excerpts from Lean Construction Institute (US) Congress 2022 Opening Keynote:

Why are we here? Why were we born in this place and time, with certain natural skills and tendencies? Why were we born into a certain family, and had the experiences that we have had, the positive and the challenging, the revelations and wake-up calls? We each have had our unique path through this life. But what are we meant to manifest in the world? What are we meant to manifest within ourselves?

I doubt that anyone truly believes that they are not meant to fulfill some greater purpose. At a minimum, there must be an inkling, a sense, and for some - a passion and a rock-solid conviction that there is a better way to move through life. Whether through integration, efficiency, intentionality, or grace – there is a better way. You wouldn’t be here reading this if you didn’t have that belief somewhere within you.

So how do we manifest that greater purpose?

Well, that is what our "work" is for.

“Work” is defined as “being engaged in physical or mental activity in order to achieve some purpose or result.” For the engineers, the physics definition is force applied over a distance or duration. If I had to guess, many of us probably think of our work as something we do that transforms others or the world at large – we work to change something external.

However, this is only half of the picture (and arguably the less important half). In that physical, mental, and emotional exertion, we too are changed by our work. That force applied over some duration transforms us as well. And this is a much more powerful concept. Here we have 100% agency and the results stay with us, they are part of us, and benefits anything we do and anyone we come in contact with from then on out.

When intentionally lived, life is this perfectly crafted journey for us to become the person we were destined to become. And our greatest challenges are our moments of greatest potential.

This is the path that is laid out in every story – every fairy tale, every myth, every legend, and even every modern tv/movie storyline – the testing of the hero (however unlikely) and the transformation that results. Every single story that captures our imagination is based on this concept. Why is that? Because it is our own story as well.

1. We start as unconscious beings (oblivious to who we are and what we are here to do but authentically ourselves).

2. As we develop, we become aware of some of our strengths and interests (some which get affirmed by our family, friends, and society and some which don’t). So we gain awareness and sophistication, but become dis-integrated, compartmentalized, siloed. Kind of like our industry has over the past century.

3. At some point, we are thrust into a challenge. Sometimes willingly, sometimes kicking and screaming. In the process, we have to let go of the things that don’t matter and redouble our commitment to that which does.

4. As a result, we become more fully aware of who we really are and our purpose - We grow in integrity, clarity, and authenticity - and can bring that to anything we do.

So, through our work, we better ourselves and the world around us. This is the essence of lean thinking. Lean provides a great framework for navigating the challenges of life with eyes wide open, relentlessly battling the things that no longer serve us, so that more and more of our energy can be put toward what truly matters most. For those engaged with lean transformations in our teams and organizations, this is the beauty of our work. We are engaged in an alchemical process that transforms each of us into champions in service of some greater purpose. Our dragons and monsters of today are complex problems – they require clarity, effective action, integrated teams, rigor, and discipline to overcome. Our swords and arrows are techniques that cut through ambiguity and confusion. Our maneuvers drive teams of uniquely skilled individuals toward common and ambitious goals. But all of these take practice to master. This is what life’s challenges are for – they are our proving ground.

More on this next week…..


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