You now know what purpose is, and why it’s important. So how can you acquire it? Well, purpose takes four forms, each of which stems from ethical traditions that have developed through the work of different philosophers from Classical Greece to the modern era. Let’s start with the purpose of discovery.
This purpose is tied to the work of Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard and the existentialists, and their powerful arguments for the ethic of choice. Kierkegaard asserts that it’s simply not enough to hide behind rules and conventions, and blame them when things go badly. Instead, individuals are responsible for the choices they make.
Kierkegaard uses the biblical tale of the sacrifice of Isaac to illustrate this principle. As you may well know, Abraham intends to sacrifice his son Isaac after hearing the voice of an angel encouraging him to do so. Abraham claims that it is God who tells him to do this, but ultimately, it’s Abraham’s choice – he is the only one who can be held responsible.
In the same way, it is only we who can be held accountable for what we do. So what does this idea have to do with making new discoveries? Well, French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre builds on this idea, and proposes that since we are responsible for our actions, we ought to constantly question things and decide what is best for ourselves.
By using the purpose of discovery as our guide, we should always be ready to question, to create something new and to explore the best decision open to us.
This is exactly the attitude that kept Tom Watson of IBM on a quest for that which is “beyond our present conception.” Watson’s purpose for discovery led him and his co-workers to consider situations from different angles, just as existentialists prescribe.
THINK became IBM’s slogan, further emphasizing the importance of doing away with conventions and tradition to find new ways to solve customers’ problems. IBM even chose to predominantly recruit freshly graduated college students, ensuring that the status quo was constantly being challenged.