Pizza and Purpose

On this newsletter, we talk a lot about the ambiguity and uncertainty caused by technological change, and the resulting feeling of anomie and being lost. This means a lot of people are looking for a purpose, and almost always doing so through their work. How do you find your purpose? It's quite simple. Find your people. Specifically, what I call your pizza team.

"Purpose" is one of those rare "deep" life questions that actually has a simple, practical answer that works for almost everybody. I didn't see this for a long time because I happen to be one of the minority for whom this simple, practical answer DOESN'T work. So this is one of those "do as I say, not as I do" issues of the breaking smart newsletter.

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Pizza and Purpose

1/ Several big, anchor ideas in Breaking Smart Season 1 revolve around small teams.

2/ The idea of a rough consensus around a direction of maximal interestingness assumes a small team.

3/ The idea that most effective teams can be fed by two pizzas assumes a small team. Let's call such teams pizza teams.

4/ The importance of pizza teams goes far beyond mere effectiveness in pursuing the specific work you're doing.

5/ For whatever complicated reasons, small teams don't just effectively pursue a direction in the outer world, they induce a sense of inner purpose in members

6/ This sense of inner purpose is crucial for psychological health for most people, and is what makes the specific thing you're doing meaningful.

7/ What you do may make an impact on the world due to how tens or hundreds or millions of people react to it.

8/ But it will make an impact on YOU because of at most 11 other people. This is is your meaning-creating pizza team.

9/ Solitary individuals struggle to find purpose. Equally, groups larger than about 12 struggle to catalyze purpose in their members

10/ You may depend on larger groups -- your "tribe" say, or strangers providing critical services, or your ideological "people," be they liberals, conservatives or libertarians.

11/ But they aren't going to create meaning for you. Only your pizza team can do that. Purpose is personal and social, not institutional or impersonally cultural.

12/ This effect can be seen in many domains: military units, science collaborations, sports teams, business turnaround teams, and startup teams.

13/ Finding purpose and finding your pizza team are a chicken-and-egg pair of problems, but it's generally easier to start the loop by looking for your pizza team.

14/ This is necessary, not sufficient. Whether your pizza team decides to create a great product, make a movie, or plan a terror attack depends on many other things.

15/ Business teams, and startups in particular, unlike sports teams or military units, have a double jeopardy situation: they have to find external AND internal purpose.

16/ A sports team has its external purpose defined by the sport: win the big tournament. It just needs to find the inner purpose/meaning.

17/ But a startup has to find inner purpose by discovering its pizza team at the same time as it pivots around looking for a product-market-fit in the market.

18/ Mature organizations have a weaker version of this: a historical purpose and an existing senior executive team that may have become maladapted to current reality.

19/ The "bus principle" proposed by Jim Collins ("get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, then decide where to go") is the big-corp version of (re)discovering your pizza team.

20/ Occasionally a really powerful and charismatic leader can start with a one-person purpose and attract a rallying around his or her flag.

21/ But this is rare. Most often, fertile, high-bandwidth personal relationships form first, and great external missions start to emerge as inner purpose starts to gel.

22/ When such relationships form, they create one of the most scarce things in the world: collective attention from two or more people.

23/ Collective attention is MUCH more powerful than the attention of a single person because it allows for shared meaning creation through communication.

24/ When only one purposeless person sees something to possibly latch on to as a purpose, not much can happen. And they are more at risk of chasing delusions caused by ambiguities.

25/ When 2+ do, they can talk, validate each other's perspectives ("no, it's not all in your head"), learn from differences ("you're missing this part"), and make great things happen.

26/ So if you find a relationship that seems to catalyze meaning and purpose in your life, make sure you immediately begin investing in it. Your life depends on it, not just your current project.

27/ Even if you are most effective alone (like me), you likely have a pizza team of (possibly dead) people you relate closely to through their writings or loose collaborations.

28/ But don't rationalize the social situation you may have adapted to out of necessity. It's far too easy to believe that the life you have is where you'll discover purpose.

29/ Until you've tried a variety of trust relationships of various intimacy levels, in groups of various sizes, you don't know what kind of pizza team you need.

30/ So go forth and eat as much pizza as you need to, until you find your purpose. There's all sorts these days: gluten-free, vegan, low-carb. So you have no excuse.

_Feel free to forward this newsletter on email and share it via the social media buttons below. You can check out the archives here. First-timers can subscribe to the newsletter here. You can set up a phone call with me via my Clarity.fm profile page. _

Check out the 20 Breaking Smart Season 1 essays for the deeper context behind this newsletter. If you're interested in bringing the Season 1 workshop to your organization, get in touch. You can follow me on Twitter @vgr

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