Are you ‘Selling Sugar Water’ or Changing the World?

by Joe Barnes




Date: Feb 8, 2013

Are you ‘Selling Sugar Water’ or Changing the World?

 “Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?”

– Steve Jobs

This is the line Steve Jobs used to lure then President of PepsiCo, John Sculley, to work with him at Apple. It worked. Sculley recalls in an interview for the Bloombery Game Changers the impact this appeal to the ‘bigger picture’ had on his decision. 

He left behind what many would consider a fantastic job. President of one of the world’s most recognisable brands, his marketing work had been instrumental in stealing market share from Coca Cola in the late seventies and early eighties. He had vast wealth, control over his working life and the satisfaction that comes from knowing his performance was having a direct impact on the company’s success.

So why change? Why take the risk of leaping into the unknown when you’ve already got a winning ticket?

Job vs Mission

In answering this question, we must engage in a deeper analysis of Jobs’ appeal to Sculley. Sure, by the system’s definition, Sculley was fantastically successful but at the core of his job, what was he doing?

Selling sugar water.

As bluntly as Job’s puts it, he was right. Sculley had a job and a product to sell. Nothing more. No matter how a marketing team might have tried to dress it, selling cans of Pepsi was NOT changing the world. However, what Steve Job’s was offering did.

He wanted to create technological advancements that pushed the boundaries of personal computing and altered the way people worked, communicated and had fun. It was a mission and this was the key. 

Changing the World

The difference between a job and a mission is vast. At its core, a mission will always be driven by a desire to create change. This quest can often become all consuming. Work doesn’t feel like work, the hours spent on the project seem irrelevant and the satisfaction gained from success is vast. And then there’s the crowning glory – people actually benefit from the work you do.

Look at Gandhi – his mission was to achieve Swaraj (independence from British rule) and by working towards this goal he helped ease poverty, increase economic self-reliance, build bonds between Hindus and Muslims and provide inspiration for civil rights movements around the world.

Look at Bruce Lee – his mission was to become the first oriental film star to rival any of the big Hollywood names. In doing so, he brought endless hours of entertainment to the homes of millions, inspired many to improve their health and fitness by learning martial arts and broke down racial stereotypes over what a Chinese American could and couldn’t do.

Men and women with missions advance the cause of humanity. Whether it’s by fighting oppression, creating scientific or technological breakthroughs or simply inspiring others with their seemingly limitless abilities. What greater indicator could there be that your life had purpose and meaning than in the pursuit and fulfilment of mission?

Contrast this with having a job and it becomes clear why Sculley left PepsiCo. Jobs tend to be self-serving. You’re out to make yourself, or more likely, somebody else, money. Financial reward, security and status are the main motives behind seeking a job and fear tends to be the driving force. Whereas people with missions are driven by a love of what they do or a burning desire to right a wrong, the person with a job has one because they fear the possibility of poverty, homelessness and ridicule.

Don’t believe me? Take away the financial reward and how many people would remain in their present line of work?  

Added to this, jobs rarely benefit anyone. Take Pepsi for example. Job’s description was right. At best, people working for Pepsi could claim they provide the world with a tasty drink. At worse, (and probably more accurately) they’re destroying health and contributing to a massive global obesity problem.

This may seem controversial but the amount of worker dissatisfaction in society today demonstrates that something is missing from the modern job. It’s not too much of a stretch to realise that this X factor is a person’s need to feel their work is making a difference to other people or having a positive impact on the planet.  

Your CV

Talk of having a mission and changing the world may seem daunting. I hope that by using the examples of Steve Jobs, Gandhi and Bruce Lee I’m not scaring you into believing that you could never find your own. Ironically, it may exist in your present line of work. 

A lawyer desperate to defend the innocent and serve the cause of justice rather than taking on unscrupulous cases just to make money and develop reputation.

A sports coach determined to find and develop the next champion athlete at the expense of getting in the numbers and packing his sessions with a poor coach to student ratio.

A mission can exist anywhere. You just have to make sure that whatever you are doing fills you with such a sense of joy and drive that it almost becomes an obsession. When this level is attained you can guarantee that your contribution, no matter how small, is changing the world.       

(Image taken from Sally M’s photostream

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