Can a thing have a soul? I believe the answer is yes. The greatest products, services and organizations all have a soul, one that is representative of the people that create them. In a world of great competition, me-too products and similar service offerings your soul is the only thing that truly differentiates you. It determines why someone picks Nike over Adidas or Coke over Pepsi. Why they watch Leno instead of Letterman or Fallon instead of Kimmel. It creates the special emotional connection with the audience, customer or employee. Some people call this brand essence, personality or voice (Fred Wilson has a great post on Minimum Viable Personality). I prefer to call it soul since I think it is a combination of these things that makes something special.
Soul is defined as 1) the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life, 2) the spiritual principle embodied in human beings, all rational and spiritual beings, or the universe, 3) a person’s total self, 4) the moral and emotional nature of human beings.
While these definitions focus on soul being tied to a person with the use of words like, “individual life” or “rational beings” I think you can argue that things can inherit the soul of their creators. Below are some of my favorite examples of this.
Soul in Product – iPhone 4S: This phone clearly has a soul. It is a symphony of wonderful features, technology, services, design and utility. The brand clearly stands for something and it attracts a certain person.
Soul in Service – Southwest Airlines: Every aspect of this service screams soul. They have a deep love for their customers and it shows in their overall brand personality. On-time flights, bags fly free, bags rarely get lost, cheerful crews.
Soul in Organization – Zappos: Delivering Happiness. A poster child for great culture. CEO, Tony Hsieh outlines his process for finding happiness. What are you passionate about and what is your purpose? If you answer these questions the profits will come naturally.
What are some of your favorite examples of soul in products, services and organizations?
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. ~Steve Jobs
As I embark on this new phase of my life I am taking the time to do some deep soul searching. I am asking myself those very familiar and tough questions. What do I really LOVE to do? What am I great at? What kind of work makes me happy? As I think through my answers I also ask the question what if I could make this my job? Would it really feel like a job? Probably not, it would feel more like I was doing what I was made to do. It would feel like I had found my purpose in life. I have been to this magical place a couple of times before and they were the most creative and productive periods of my work life. Everything seemed to just flow, ideas organically turned into features, features evolved into products and a symphony of perfectly timed products became a business. Another wonderful by-product of this process was the discovery that the journey truly was the reward. The day to day triumphs, happy customers and great moments working with people you like and respect was all you really needed as compensation for your hard work. Anything after that would just be gravy on top.
A Perfect Storm – Finding Purpose & Meaning
Finding your purpose can happen very early in life (rare few people) or it can take a really long time, years or maybe decades. It took many years and a perfect storm of events (Dot Com Bust, September 11th, a new job and reading The Power of Focus) for me to find my purpose but it was well worth the wait. So in 2001 I made my purpose to “help others help themselves”. I wanted it to be broad enough yet specific enough to impact as many people as humanly possible. I am able to touch millions by leveraging technology, the Web, online communities, video (the power of story) and apps for all platforms. It has stood the test of time and to this day it serves as the compass for what I do and where I spend my time. It defines the soul of my working life.
I have always wondered how I could share all of the lessons, stories and feelings of this journey and thought I would write a book about it someday. Instead of waiting to write a book I am going to just start chipping away at it through this blog. Over the years I have learned that every product, service and organization that I truly love and obsess over has one thing in common, a Soul. In an era of low barriers to entry, commoditized features, super competition and incredible abundance it is hard to stand out. The only thing you can call your own is who you are and what you stand for. Your distinctive personality as a brand, the unique combination and symphony of your features and that special essence that makes you, you. I call this your soul.
Can something like a product, service or organization have a soul? The answer is yes, by inheriting the values and ideals of the people that create them.
Soul*spotting was created to find those great stories of soul. Stories that will teach, inspire and motivate us all to make what we love what we do.