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Power of Intentions: A Tool for Innovation in Business


Editor's Note: This the second installment in a two-part post on the power of intentions. In case you missed it, you can catch the first post here

By Darcy Hitchcock

In my last article, I explained the problems with goal-setting and showed how intention setting can be a useful alternative when you want to tap into people’s passions or invent a future in an uncertain world.

My former business partner Marsha Willard and I experimented with corporate intention setting, what we referred to (a little tongue-in-cheek) as ‘strategic planning by wishing.’ And our track record for getting our big wishes for each year was much better than for all the goals we set (e.g., specific revenue targets), although the wish sometimes manifested in an unexpected way. We came to trust in the process.

"You've got to believe. Never be afraid to dream." — Gloria Estefan, singer-songwriter

Intention setting seems to fit well when goal setting doesn't. Earlier I said that goal setting works well when you know what the end-state should look like. Intention setting can help you discover an end-state. (For example, in 2000, Marsha and I wished to become clear about what role we could play in the sustainability movement ... a wish that you can see came true.)

I also said that goal setting works well when you have a lot of control over key variables. Again, intention setting brings with it a philosophy to let events unfold. It embraces the mystery of serendipity and invites you to explore the potential meaning of situations as they present themselves. Whether you believe in a spiritual force or not, this practice of reflection helps you see relationships that you might ignore if you were narrowly focused on your goal.

In his book "Wishing Well," Paul Pearsall argues that collective wishes have stronger power than individual wishes. What would it be like to make a collective wish with everyone in your organization? Imagine the process of discovering your shared wish, of voicing it together, and then periodically reflecting on the bounty that wish evoked. What an interesting ceremony that would be!

In "Wishing Well," Pearsall presents a five-step cycle, which I have laid out below in linear form so you can compare it to our typical approach in business on the right:

Wishing versus goal-setting

 Wishing involves... Goal-setting involves...
Purpose Mission statement
Meaning Goals
Compassion Tasks
Serenity Accountability
Delight Rewards


The two lists have a completely different feel to them. Both start with what you want and end with the natural consequences of achieving that. But the experience of living through these two lists is entirely different. How would you like to live in an organization that did more of the list on the left? Of course, you probably need a bit of both.

How do you set an intention?

So, what do you actually do? What would a business process for intention setting look like? In the following process, I am blending practices from intention setting (which we have discussed at length) and visualization (which is used a lot by Olympic athletes and cancer patients).

  1. Uncover your passion(s): This involves both knowledge about yourself (who am I? what am I passionate about?) and the world (what needs are there that I can fulfill?) In "The Cathedral Within," Bill Shore, the founder of Sharing our Strength, says the main event that propels people to act on their passions is discovering that they have something unique in themselves that can contribute to a solution. So you cannot discover this in isolation, on a mountaintop. Discovering your purpose(s) in life comes from the interaction between who you are and what is going on in the world. Most people are aware of themes or threads that connect most of their life, making them who they are: a love of nature, a passion for figuring out how things work, a love of teaching, a passion for music. Quiet your mind and discover who is behind the chatter. In "Callings,: Gregg Levoy counsels us to not look for one calling but many. Ask, "In how many ways can I..." 

  2. Discover your intention: Next you have to figure out what you want to have happen. This may seem like an easy step but it is often not. Examine your motivation. Why do you want this? Be aware of the deeper need behind your intention. Sometimes this process takes minutes, sometimes a lifetime. 

  3. Visualize it manifest: If your intention has a clear end-state, it can help to visualize it in some detail. What will it look like, smell like, feel like? What will you be wearing when you do this work? What will your customers or clients do? Where will your intention show up in tangible form in letters or policies or purchasing decisions?

  4. Create an icon: Create some visible, tangible artifact that symbolizes your vision. It might be a collage, an object, a phrase. Place this where you can contemplate it daily. One governmental agency in New Mexico summarized their strategic plan into a picture and printed it on mouse pads for every employee. For years, I posted directly in front of my desk a sign I made that read, “Sustainability isn’t just your work; it’s your life’s work.”

  5. Put your intention “out there”: It seems to help if you take tangible actions, do something to stir the universe. Many consultants talk about "serendipitous marketing." If you just sit in your office, no new business comes your way. But if you get out and talk to people, work will come your way (but usually from somewhere else, unrelated to your conversations.) So talk to people about your intention, take some action toward it. You don't need a detailed action plan but invest some energy into your intention. Make a verbal commitment. Say, "I am ready and am willing to take whatever is next."

  6. Reflect on what happens: Finally, be observant of what comes next and how you feel about what happens. View obstacles as part of your journey. Stay firm in your intention but flexible in your means.

"Yet, in this state of intention we must have the integrity, as Francisco Varela puts it, to stand in a 'state of surrender,' knowing that whatever we need at the moment to meet our destiny, will be available to us.

"It is at this point that we alter our relationship to the future. When we operate with this kind of intention and in this state of open commitment, we see ourselves as an essential part of the unfolding of the universe, of life itself and we seek to bring an unborn possibility into reality as 'it desires,' to serve humankind, not to serve our own narrow selfish desires." — Claus Otto Scharmer, MIT Sloan School of Management

NOTE: This is excerpted from Great Work: 12 Principles for Your Work Life and Life's Work. Quotations are from BrainyQuote.com unless otherwise noted.
Image credit: Flickr/Randy Heinitz

Darcy Hitchcock is the author of a number of award-winning business books including The Business Guide to Sustainability (now in its third edition). In her latest book, GREAT WORK: 12 Principles for Your Work Life and Life’s Work, Darcy shares what she has learned about finding a calling, making a difference and leading organizations. It’s available in print and also three e-books: “Finding Your GREAT WORK,” “Designing Organizations for GREAT WORK,” and “Leading Others to GREAT WORK.”

Learn more at https://DarcyHitchcock.wordpress.com.

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