By Nora Rosati
Arthur is a Co-Founder of Imperative, the company that “transforms work by empowering everyone to work with purpose.” Imperative creates tools and programs to help teams uncover their purpose and implement practical steps towards finding daily fulfillment. Read on to learn more about his philosophy on building a purposeful career and the importance of following your own "north star."
NR: Thank you for making time for Second Day! Diving right in, I’d love to hear about your early days: Would you say college prepared you for your career?
AW: From a cultural perspective, yes— I resonated with Georgetown’s cura personalis. From a vocational perspective, I felt like you had one of two options: you either follow the herd and get a job in finance, or you’re on your own. I had plenty of friends taking the consulting route, but found myself not wanting to go down that path.
NR: What led you to launch your first organization, Social Impact 360?
AW: I found early on that your values should be reflected in what you do everyday. In fact, the workplace is the most meaningful place to create impact, because it's your full-time focus.
So that was the impetus behind starting my first company. I got more into social entrepreneurship when I realized that other people had great ideas without a really strong support group. So we launched a nonprofit called Social impact 360, which is all about fostering strong community around social entrepreneurship.
NR: Can you talk about how you and Imperative co-founder Aaron Hurst joined forces to launch Imperative?
AW: He was writing The Purpose Economy and was articulating what I was thinking and feeling about the workplace. He was saying we need a tool or capability that helps people answer the deep question, “what is my purpose?” That resonated with me. We shared the same values, and wanted to develop an informational approach to build a strong community around purpose.
Since then, it’s been a wild journey. We’ve got 100 companies we’re working with— from Sony and Campbell to Airbnb— companies of all walks of life that are all committed to this journey. Our goal is to shift how organizations empower people, and give them tools to help their teams feel purpose in their work.
NR: Your mission is explicitly inclusive: “To transform work by empowering everyone to work with purpose.” Can you talk about how Imperative makes purposeful work accessible across so many industries and capacities?
AW: Part of the challenge in the whole 'work with purpose' space is it can seem like privileged or elite work. For us accessibility is a really important point. It’s part of our mission to make sure that we democratize purpose in the workforce. It shouldn’t be a luxury that only some people get. We want to make purpose accessible to everyone, to make a shared language around it.
NR: You’ve mentioned one common myth about purposeful work is the belief that you have to work around a cause or in a certain field to be fulfilled.
AW: A lot of people believe you have to leave your corporate job to find purpose, but when they do, they move to a nonprofit job that ends up not being fulfilling. Those kinds of ideas really haunt the space, and it’s pretty important that we get that right. So we point out that there is a difference between purpose and cause. Purpose should be something that’s available to everyone, not job dependent.
NR: What’s the difference between mission-driven work and purposeful work?
AW: Mission and purpose are sometimes easily confused. Your mission is your current goal: It’s your current objective. Your purpose should be what is always there: It’s your north star, regardless of what your mission is. Your mission of the moment could be to eradicate poverty or to create action in a certain program, but your purpose should be something that is there for a lifetime. In a perfect state, that purpose should always exist. So I think of mission as your current directive and your purpose as that north star that guides you.
NR: What advice would you give to someone who is pursuing a purposeful career?
AW: Try to answer this question: What drives you? Our approach at Imperative is to break down that big question into smaller bits, like “how can your purpose impact you on a daily basis?” Then the question becomes less of “Where’s the best place for me to find fulfillment?” and more of “How can I bring my purpose to life wherever I am?”
That’s counter to what a lot of people have been taught. It’s more about your mindset about the job than it is about finding the perfect match. If you start to think about careers as journeys, you’ll find you can go in and out of for profit and non profits, but our purpose should stay the same.
What stays the same as you change your jobs and industries throughout your career? That should be your purpose.
Arthur Woods is a social entrepreneur named on the list for Forbes 30 Under 30, a keynote speaker and advisor to leading brands around the world on how to help people grow and realize their potential at work. He is the Co-Founder of Imperative, a breakthrough learning and development platform that has pioneered the way we measure and grow purpose within organizations. Imperative has powered the largest global research on purpose in the workplace, working with a wide range of organizations from LinkedIn and MetLife to Sony. Arthur is a three-times TEDx speaker, World Economic Forum Global Shaper, a New York Venture Fellow and sits on the Boards of the Georgetown Technology Alliance, Social Impact 360 and Out in Tech.
Arthur came from Google where he led operations for YouTube’s Education division and oversaw YouTube for Schools. Arthur co-founded Social Impact 360, the leading collegiate social enterprise education program and co-founded Out in Tech, the largest global LGBTQ technology community. Arthur studied Operations and information Management at Georgetown University and Project Management at Stanford University. He contributes to Fast Company's Purposeful CEO series.
Related Content: Arthur speaks about the importance of working at a workplace driven by shared purpose. Read How A Shared Purpose Fosters a More Effective Workspace by Basma Humadi to learn more about the research and benefits of this approach.