Unity Lab is an innovative new platform which launched in 2020 to create cultures of purpose and belonging, and in the process, heal the great divides in our nation.
Leveraging the latest research and best practices in purpose activation, social learning, psychology and neuroscience, they serve organizations by bringing their diverse people together, to activate purpose and belonging, transcend perceived boundaries, build friendships and find common cause.
I caught up with Founder Brandon Peele to find out more about his journey and what the platform does.
Afdhel Aziz: Brandon, welcome. You’ve had an incredible career in purpose, please tell us about your journey to date?
Brandon Peele: Great to be talking with you, Afdhel. I grew up in Illinois in the 1980’s and there was no talk of purpose. There was an unspoken agreement that work was hell, and if the Chicago Bears didn’t fill the purpose-sized hole in your chest, then you were SOL. But something cracked open for me when my brother was killed in a car accident at the age of 16. I got that my life had to be about more than 40 years of Bear games and then keeling over on some golf course.
I was surrounded by good people, but they didn’t seem enlivened by their work or happy outside of it. So, I thought my journey might lie on the coasts, in the fast-paced worlds Wall St. and Silicon Valley. I was wrong. All I found was meaningless impact, long hours and hard drugs.
Luckily I took a self-awareness program in business school, and began my purpose journey. I came to see that purpose is not only a fulfilling, enlivening, and redeeming way for my life, but a human right that should be available to all people. It’s the key to our shared humanity and prosperity. Since then, I’ve devoted myself to activating purpose and belonging through my books, programs and speaking.
Aziz: Thank you for sharing that Brandon. Please tell us about your book ‘Planet on Purpose: Your Guide to Genuine Prosperity, Authentic Leadership and a Better World’ and what led you to write it?
Peele: In 2014, I realized that purpose was a movement and it needed to start acting like it. Most practitioners didn’t know each other and there was no vision for where we were headed. So my friends and I began aggregating the purpose research, building a global community of purpose practitioners and writing the book.
Especially seeing what was out there about purpose, there wasn’t anything pointing to a future worth fighting for. Much of it was stories about purposeful people, career advice, or why-washing extractive businesses. I was looking for what was possible when all 8 billion souls are activated, fulfilled, alive and connected. So Planet on Purpose is my Holy Grail in a sense – we surveyed best practices, defined the 10 aspects of purpose, related them, outlined the stages of the purpose journey and purpose-driven leadership, and articulated what kind of political economy and culture are required to nurture a planet on purpose.
Aziz: Please tell us about your new venture, Unity Lab, and what prompted you to go on this new journey?
Peele: After the book came out, I saw that in order for purpose to take root, we need a fertile garden for it to grow. I came to see that it has to happen at work – where we spend 2,000 hours a year, and where the incentives can align – purpose, people, planet, profit. Purpose can’t be just an app or slapped on a wall. It has to arise first within each person, be shared in conversation, and be developed over time. I also learned that purpose is the key driver of not just retention, productivity, innovation, and higher margins, but the missing element in other pressing priorities, e.g. hybrid or remote culture, inclusion, social and emotional health, etc.
Aziz: What insights have you discovered as to how companies can tackle diversity better?
Peele: First, we can’t keep punching resistant white folks on the nose with mandatory bias and anti-discrimination trainings. It doesn’t work and never has. The 2016 Harvard Business Review study of 800 organizations revealed that the DEI field as a whole has produced neutral to negative outcomes. That’s $8 billion and millions of hours a year down the drain. And given that we forget 90% of what we learn within 7 days, it’s fair to say that much of the $450B/yr L&D spend is also wasted. What actually works is experiential learning: placing people in small, diverse learning groups of 4 to develop power skills together over time and in the flow of work. In each module, they reflect on their purpose and values, learn a concept, practice it on the job, and have a 1-hour peer facilitated video conversation about their experiences.
A colleague and I validated this approach in a study with Golden Gate University revealing that 85% of folks took new actions, 76% developed new daily habits, 96% experienced empathy from their diverse peers and 94% felt comfortable sharing their struggles and fears with their diverse peers.
This is the heart of inclusion – people discovering their deeper purpose and values, taking action at work, and sharing their experiences. We’ve found that these small diverse groups of people, who work all over the country and who have never met in person, continue meeting well after their Unity Lab programs complete.
Aziz: What is the hope you have for the future of how companies can help drive diversity by partnering with Unity Lab?
Peele: Imagine completing 3 of these journeys each year, activating your purpose in new ways at work, and gaining 9 new diverse friendships across your organization. Imagine that you leave nothing at the door, that your purpose and whole self are valued and welcome. Imagine the increased fulfillment, belonging, productivity and innovation that result.
Given that 97% of us value having a sense of purpose, that two-thirds of us are unfulfilled at work, that remote or hybrid work is here to stay (only 20% want to come back to the office full-time), that most new hires haven’t met their peers in person, there has never been a better time to activate purpose and belonging across an organization. My hope is that the 20 largest employers in each city activate purpose and belonging. My greatest hope is that together, we can heal, enliven, and redeem our troubled nation.