Blog: CEO Melissa Waggener Zorkin
“To what end, Melissa?”
My father often posed that question, whether I was thinking about my next crazy science fair project in grade school, what major I would pursue in college, or when I decided to leave a secure job to start my own company.
He was an engineer. He approached his own job, and indeed his life, with that same question in mind. Although he was deeply technical, he cared most about what impact technology could have for people…what good it could do. He would bring a sample of the mineral sphalerite to the dinner table and explain how it would be used in creating semiconductors. Or he would look at me and say I challenge you to turn this wooden toy block into writing paper for your report. A rock? A block?
I realized along the way that he could look at anything and see what could happen when technology was applied - always working with the end benefit in mind.
That notion of “purpose” became part of my core. In many ways, I’ve dedicated my life to that proposition…technology can help people.
My job hasn’t been to create the technology. It has been to shine a light on the people who were creating it, and what it would make possible for individuals and society.
When I get too far away from this purpose, the spark of why I do what I do, I’m not my best.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s new book, Hit Refresh, reminds me of how important it is to pause and reflect on life, to contemplate your sense of purpose, and to take action. I love the notion of “hitting refresh” because, as Bill Gates says in his foreword, when you hit that button, the screen doesn’t go blank. It keeps the best and builds on it.
So, too, in life we have to keep the values that are most dear to us and build on them.
Even though every day can be viewed as an opportunity to hit refresh, each August I go to a beach in British Columbia and spend some focused time reflecting on my purpose. Who have I truly helped? Where did I fall short? What do I need to do more of? And how should I continue to pivot my voice to stand up for what I believe in?
I relish that time.
This past August, my ruminations felt somewhat weightier. Everything from revisiting my own purpose in the world, what our agency, WE Communications, stands for, and what it means to lose a business partner of 30 years to cancer. I was able to fully experience the loss and really think about the world without her and how I would carry forward the purpose of our company.
The result? I emerged feeling stronger than ever about our focus. For several decades now we have viewed our purpose at WE as shedding light on important stories about the people and technologies that can make the world better. Never has that sense of purpose been more important.
Satya’s book comes at a time of enormous upheaval in society. There are urgent questions about social justice, fairness towards women globally, income inequality, and more.
While his book is a reminder to take stock of our priorities and re-examine our purpose, it is also a siren call to hold fast to our principles, acting boldly and with empathy, caring about one another and the planet we share.
As @rsafian, the editor of Fast Company magazine, wrote in a letter he published about Satya’s book, “In the best case, we take time periodically to step back and assess our actions—and those of others—to appreciate the long-term implications. Only then can we experience the life, the career, and the impact that we want most.”
As a CEO myself, I can say that these are lessons not just for CEOs but for all people seeking to live better lives and to make life better for our fellow humans. And as a communications professional, I believe we in the communications community have a unique opportunity to amplify empathy, the power to promote purpose, and the responsibility to ignite hope.
That is how I will hit refresh for myself and with the people at the company I am part of.
This post appeared on LinkedIn, September 26, 2017