How’s busyness?

I read a story recently about a guy examining where he stood after 20 years in business. He had made decent money. Doing what his upbringing had taught him. Filling his days with activity.

As he stood at the two decade mark, he came to the conclusion that he wasn’t sure what he had been so busy doing all those years. And he was wondering if there was something more.


The value illusion

We see it throughout the business world. People wearing busyness like a badge. It’s how we measure our worth. We must be valuable – after all, we are so very busy.

It doesn’t help that many a manager affirms the illusion. Busyness = value. Do you want to be seen as valuable? Well then, maybe you should take on a little more. Maybe you should work a little longer. None of us wants to be seen as not valuable. Fear is a powerful force.

That sucks. One study shows that more than half of Americans are burned out and overworked. And by the way, busyness is a lousy metric. Sooner or later, someone will come in and engineer a solution that will automate or streamline what we do. Our busyness will decline. and so will our sense of value. In short, busyness is an illusion. An illusion we buy into. Because we have our families to think about. Mortgages to pay. And groceries to buy.

But it has to be that way, right? I mean, what’s the alternative?

The alternative

First of all, we need to ask, “Is this really the kind of organization we want to be part of?” Chasing the numbers. Desperately trying to squeeze just a little more out of the team?

I don’t think anybody as a kid ever said to themselves, “One day I want to work with an organization full of overlord-like middle managers who drive a workforce through fear and anxiety."

I also don’t think anybody ever said to themselves, “I want to work for 20 years and then wake up one day and feel like I really haven’t had a purpose to my work over these past two decades."

We all want to have purpose. We all want to feel like what we are doing each day is contributing to making a difference for someone. We all want to feel like we are making this world a little bit better place to live. Rather than just feeling like we are just trying to keep the wheels from falling off.

This is a powerful distinction. The companies that recognize this are harnessing the power of purpose to inspire team members, customers and prospects. They’re also outpacing their competitors in growth and profits.

Why? Because they understand this crucial point. Meaning and money are inextricably tied together. Purpose drives profit.

So, how’s busyness?

I’ve worked for over three decades. When I started my professional career in the mid ’80’s, purpose wasn’t really a thing. Business was business. Finding your purpose was some sort of quasi-spiritual fluff preached by leftover hippies. It had nothing to do with corporations and the churning of the wheels of commerce. Busyness was a measure of value.

Today, our hyper-connectivity is game changing. We are examining a broad spectrum of issues –  from the transparency of our organizations to the interconnectedness of everything. It’s changing our view of how things work. We no longer view ourselves as just another cog in a machine that we really don’t understand. We’re seeing the bigger picture. And it’s creating a new expectation.

This is changing the drivers of success. It is tilting the advantage toward those forward-thinking companies who understand the powerful potential of harnessing purpose within their organizations. And for each of us individuals, it’s creating the opportunity for us to ask what difference do we want to make with all that time and effort we spend during our working hours.

It’s time to reexamine our organizations. It is no longer busyness as usual.

Dan Salva is a co-founder of Will & Grail, with more than three decades of experience in brand marketing and developing and implementing go-to-market strategies. He can be reached at

PurposeDan Salva