Meaning scales, people don’t.

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Business leaders and marketers are obsessed with Seth Godin. Rightfully so. He’s a pionner, a genius, and leads by example to execute strategies that he teaches in his books. I’d heard interviews with Seth and read some of his content before I finally gave in and purchased one of his recent best-sellers, Linchpin. Amazon delivered on a Monday and by Wednesday afternoon I was a bit disappointed. But I stuck it out and struck gold in the last few pages. Seth included a graphic from artist Hugh MacLeod that portrayed ideas from the book. My favorite – ‘Meaning scales, people don’t.’ Right after I read this, I saw the perfect illustration of this principle at work:

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Last fall our two-year-old company had eclipsed the 100-employee-mark. We were scaling quickly. We had just hired a new class of internet marketing agents who would do all the heavy lifting for our small business clients. One day there was a tall guy in jeans, tennis shoes and a frumpy button down shirt walking around. He stopped at one of the newly-occupied cubicles to chat with a recent hire. For half an hour they talked about where she was from, her education, her family and why she was so excited to come on board. They had never met before and as the pleasantries wrapped up she said, ‘tell me your name again?’ ‘Michael.’ ‘Good to meet you, Michael.’ Once he continued on, she turned to someone to find out who this anassuming Michael character was….founder, owner and CEO. Gulp. She let out a gasp and an embarrassed laugh as she realized she had no idea she was talking to the man who had essentially created her new job.

This event illustrates my biggest Takeaway from Seth Godin’s Linchpin – ‘Meaning scales, people don’t.’ She was there alongside 100 other employees who had taken a risk, made a move, quit a steadier job or believed in a vision. And they did it for themselves! For the meaning they saw in the company that aligned with their own; not because of any one person or the owner. Any start up or company that is looking to grow, have a large impact, or rally a number of employees around a cause must realize this distinction from day one. Meaning scales, people don’t. I was one of the very first people in sales and business development; we’ll have over 100 team members in that department alone by January. And they come aboard because of meaning. Not me or Michael or anyone else. And we will lose great people should they ever lose connection with that meaning.

I read Godin’s book around the same time our company started to look less like a startup and more like a market leader. It made me ponder what meaning we had intentionally or unintentionally rallied behind to spur our growth. Small business, entrepreneurship, innovation, an underdog mentality? I was also reminded of other businesses such as Love Grown Foods, Toms, and Patagonia – companies that represent so much more than their products. Since then, I’ve been reminded of the inherent need to focus on and promote our meaning as an organization. Individuals and personalities are fickle and finite. Chances are if you’re trying to do something massive, a human ego needs to get out of the way.

This week as you try to tackle something big and awesome, remind yourself that meaning scales, people don’t. Define it, cultivate it, share it. Then scale it.

Thoughts? What are the meanings or brands you stand behind? Have you read Linchpin or any of Godin’s other books? Feel free to comment, disagree, ask questions, or get your #hashtag on.

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