As part of my transition from agency executive to consultant, I’ve been doing a lot of purpose work (as they call it in the coaching world). It was easier when I could lean on the structure and momentum of a 20 year old organization to define my professional purpose and priorities. Recently, my challenge has been to transpose the skills and experience I’ve acquired into something of myself that people will believe in. In part because Simon Sinek’s advice from his powerful TEDTalk resonates with me: “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
I realized I was in trouble when I couldn’t capture an underlying and marketable value of all the things that I love to do: connecting ideas, solving problems, writing, leading teams and projects. So much of what I do comes from innate abilities, but how do you sell intuition to the business world?. So I asked a few mentors and colleagues who know me well “what happens when we work together?” That’s when salt started to enter into the picture.
One person told me I have an innate ability to crystallize ideas into action, “to distill the essence of what’s most important in a sea of information and open the critical path to a positive outcome.” Another helped me connect that idea to the effect of helping people self-organize under my direction. He also introduced me to Nancy Duarte and her post What Does It Mean to Resonate, where she describes the phenomenon of salt grains self organizing into beautiful patterns when exposed to certain sound frequencies. I connected strongly with this metaphor and started to focus on helping companies crystallize their communications and resonate with their audience.
The salt metaphor resonated with me and I even thought it would be a great, pithy name for my new venture. I started to research the symbolic importance of salt and to talk about it gingerly with friends and colleagues. To my great surprise, a dear person immediately gave me Mark Kurlansky’s “Salt: A World History” and signed it “For Shannon, changing the world one tiny grain at a time.” I loved that thought.
The book isn’t gripping but it is a wonderful history, and quotes like these made my mind run wild with possibilities:
- Salt has made a glittering, often surprising, contribution to history.
- Salt has had great economic importance, a substance so valuable it served as currency for centuries – hence the expression “worth your salt”.
- Salt is associated with longevity and permanence, it prevents decay and protects from harm.
- In some cultures, loyalty and friendship are sealed in salt because its essence does not change.
Meanwhile, I was still continuing my purpose work and it was starting to get heavy. I assumed that my professional purpose wouldn’t have much to do with my personal purpose; and honestly, I’d never really thought about either, expect maybe for my responsibilities as a parent. After lots of thinking, I realized that my ultimate purpose is to use the forces of language and interaction to help people realize how much they matter. Professionally, this translates into helping companies create communications, strategies and interactions that resonate with their audience. All of a sudden I had a more meaningful context in which to position my skills and services.
Even the most dynamic organizations and their people are stifled by beliefs, process and interactions that limit their ability to adapt and thrive. These limitations adversely impact strategy, communications and the ability to execute smartly and swiftly – and ultimately prevent a team or a company from being able to resonate with its audience. In the way that salt is essential for all living creatures, I hope to be an essential ingredient to the people and companies I work with by distilling the essence of how to achieve their goals, crystallizing their communications and helping them matter more to their audience.