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« Finding the inner saboteur | Main | small Change News Network »

September 24, 2004


Lisa Spagnolo

Your post made me think of something thrown around in library school: Gregory Bateson's definition of information as a "difference that makes a difference" and knowledge as "a difference that makes a difference that makes a difference". By extension, librarians were/are vital participants in this difference-making, and for me, knowing that I'm making a contribution matters very much to me, whether it's process improvement, improving staff morale, or negotiating better terms or services with one of our vendors.

The definitions of "making a difference" would certainly vary if one talked to a watch repair person or a public policy maker, but each has a contribution to make. If I encounter stagnation or impediments to improving things (political roadblocks or a status quo mentality in an organization) it would certainly dampen my passion for work.

Despite budget problems and some interesting staff issues, I love being a librarian (in a university) because there are always changes and challenges.

Acquisitions Librarian
(who used to live in Seattle but is now in CA)

Matt Vance

I can't speak for everyone, but in my experience, knowing that I am making a difference does make my work feel more rich and fulfilling.

I didn't really give the idea much thought, until I read an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review recently (Nash, Laura. "Success That Lasts." Harvard Business Review. -1 Feb. 2004: 102-109.). The article implies that to be successful, you need to incorporate "legacy" and "significance" into the goals for your different areas of life in order to achieve overall success.

Once I read that and gave it more thought, I realized that when I've been able to do that, is when I've been most fulfilled.

Curt Rosengren

Matt, I'm curious. What exactly did "legacy" and "significance" mean in the context of this article? Did they define the terms?

Dean Fuhrman

How about thinking about this from the reverse side of the equation? How would our world be if we did not have a purpose ... and by purpose I mean that this is like what Peter McWilliams describes in "Do It! Let's Get Off Our Buts" which is that a purpose is a direction for our life.

A purpose in this sense is something that we are always fulfilling in each moment we live. To me this flows with the sense of the purpose you discuss above (and that the other responders write about). Without this sense of purpose I think people (me) have a tendency to drift off and do things that are not satisfying. that is to say our goals, outcomes, results (activities that have an end in sight vs the endless purpose). They do not square with our essential sense of self as expressed by our purpose.

Without the sense of satisfaction that an overall purpose gives our activities there is that lost feeling that things don't fit together quite right and there isn't the passion to do our best. This is not to say that you cannot do well and be good; it does say to me that you will not have the edge necessary to be at your best and then feel like what you spend your time is worthwhile.

The purpose is like core values you might hold and how they help you relate to your world. The activities, goals, results that you we individually contribute by our daily affairs will all be different because we have different things that we can contribute but purpose is the common thread by which we can rope our diverse activities together to make it meaningful.

So back to my question at the beginning: What would it be like if we had so purpose? Could we funtion at our best? Would we be satisfied? Would we be able to find meaning in the things we do? I think the essential spark would be missing. Your thoughts?

"The only true happiness comes from squandering ourselves for a purpose." William Cowper


Curt, I believe "making a difference" is part of what everyone wants. The questions that are unique to each person are:
a) WHO do you want to make a difference to -- the whole world? your family? one person? your town? your profession? the people at your job? your neighborhood?, women in your church, etc.
b) WHAT do you want to make difference in? e.g. their standard of living? their beliefs about something? the way they live out their days? how they spend their time? their attitudes about something? use of the environment? child care? improving the local school system, etc.
The difficult part is finding a way to make the difference you want to make in the job you have -- or finding a way to make the difference you want to make and still earn the salary you require.

Rauno Saarinen

I've joked that the first thing I'm going to do when I start a company is to come up with a way of defining our cult: We're Apple, we're going to change the world by building... We're eBay, we're going to change the world by ... We're Netscape, we're going to change the world by... We're Firefox, we're going to change the world by...

I'm starting to think it shouldn't be a joke, it really should be the first thing I do when I start a company :)

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