Harvard Dropout Mark Zuckerberg Gives Commencement Speech At Harvard on the topic of “Purpose”

Posted by Allan Steinmetz on 5 June 2017

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Two weeks ago, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg delivered the commencement address at Harvard, ironically the school where he dropping out to start Facebook. He spoke about - PURPOSE. He said,

"The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose."

"Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for. Purpose is what creates true happiness."

The concept of defining why you do what you do, or your “purpose”, is not new. In 2002, Rick Warren published a book called “Purpose Driven Life” which unpacked the question of why we are here. In October 2009, Simon Sinek published his book “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action". His TED talk is listed as the third most popular TED presentation of all time. I recall in my early days as a marketing professional that a brilliant strategist once asked a group of leaders a powerful question. He asked them this: “If we wake up tomorrow morning and your company does not exist, how would the world be different?” So before the word “purpose” started to become commonly used with marketing and business strategists, he was asking about the company’s purpose or why they did what they did.

Zuckerberg, in his Harvard address, laid out three points for creating a world in which everyone finds purpose in their work and lives.

"First, let’s take on big meaningful projects."

"The second is redefining equality to give everyone the freedom they need to pursue purpose."

"The third way we can create a sense of purpose for everyone is by building community."

At Inward, we have been promoting the concept of “purpose” for many years. When companies and employees embrace purpose in their careers it is transformational. Higher performance. Higher wellbeing. Stronger relationships. The list goes on and on.

There are three primary reasons why it’s important to focus on purpose when defining your organization.

1. When you define the organization by “why” you do what you do, instead of “what you do” or “how you do it”, you create a sustainable strategy that is not subject to being irrelevant as technology and product offerings change in the market. That is where real innovation comes from.

2. Millennials will constitute over 50% of our workforce in the next five years. With that in mind, many organizations are spending a significant amount of time and resources identifying ways to attract, develop, and retain this important segment of the workforce. So those organizations who take the time to define and communicate their purpose are much more attractive to this important segment.

3. There is a significant amount of empirical evidence that proves that a highly engaged workforce outperforms one that is disengaged in significant ways as it relates to about every business metric you can imagine, including EPS, growth, turnover, customer satisfaction and loyalty, and shareholder value. When employees know, and understand a company’s purpose, they are more engaged, innovative, and confident in the company’s growth.

Below are some of the key findings from a study conducted by Deloitte in 2014 on culture and core beliefs.


Was Mark Zuckerberg’s commencement message groundbreaking? Maybe not. But it is indeed relevant and important as we recruit and address new talent. Take his advice on his three factors to heart, whether your workforce are millennials or not.

1) Make work meaningful and give what people do a purpose by attaching their menial activities to the bigger picture and strategy of the organization.

 2) give your employees the freedom to be creative and innovative in what they do - don’t stifle them with comments such as “that’s not the way we do things here.”

3) build a community to support shared interests of peers - give people recognition and encouragement to collaborate, work in teams and have abundant mentality around work