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Thinking Like a Toddler with Paul Lindley

Many of our guests are on a journey to social purpose – developing it, finding it, evolving it. What’s rarer are the companies that are founded for a purpose; built from day one to address an urgent social need.

Ella’s Kitchen founder Paul Lindley created his baby food company, Ella’s Kitchen, to give babies a healthy start in life – improving their lives and helping them develop a healthy relationship with food. That may not sound unique, but Lindley’s success can be attributed to his approach: to “put children right at the heart of the company and build everything around them.”

Further, Lindley adopted a toddler’s way of thinking in building and evolving his business. Between ages 3 – 5, 98% of children think divergently, concentrating on one thing, then another, then another, in a non-linear pattern. Divergent thinking is a measure of creativity. By the time those children mature to 25 years old, however, only 2% think divergently. “I argue that we should grow down more to think like that again,” Lindley says. Toddlers are full of self-confidence, ambition, free thinking, imagination, and determination – traits that today’s leaders would do well to embody.

Lindley’s thriving business – which became the UK’s leading baby food brand – went far beyond its products in addressing a social issue. With Ella’s Kitchen, Paul created a platform for the issue of early childhood nutrition, doubling down on critical moments in a child’s development such as the weaning period. The brand and its founder are vocal advocates for childhood nutrition and the healthy development of toddlers, creating reports, commissioning reviews of existing research, convening expert roundtables, introducing legislation to Parliament, implementing pilot programs, and forming coalitions to drive impact.
 Lindley has since sold Ella’s Kitchen, but his work is far from over. He serves on the board of Toast Ale, which makes beer out of bread that would be wasted; helped launch Equity for Good, where investors dedicate their successful investments to social impact projects; serves as trustee and board member for Sesame Workshop to create educational experiences for children across the globe; and a lot more.

What Lindley’s ventures have in common is their drive to unearth new ways to approach old problems. “What drives me every day is climbing new mountains and not believing that the world is limited. It is unlimited.”

Here are a few of our favorite insights from Paul Lindley:

  • Focus on the people your business serves. “The heart of business is people. It’s not money. Understanding what motivates people to invest in you, or to work for you, or to buy from you is the trick to a successful business.”
  • Balance the long- and short-term. Ella’s Kitchen provides nutritious options for children and their parents. But Lindley’s company also exists to support a thriving society: “I started my own business because I had an idea that I thought society could benefit from, in that I found a way that I thought children could eat better, therefore be healthier, therefore be happier, therefore contribute to our society better as adults.”
  • Trust starts from inside the company. Building trust with stakeholders is table stakes. But building internal trust in a company’s mission, vision, or purpose is just as important – if not more. “Any brand works from the inside out,” and having trust in your company and its purpose builds trust with external stakeholders.
  • Invite others into your mission. Ella’s was a relatively small, if not mighty, voice in its advocacy efforts. To amplify and accelerate impact, Lindley challenged a range of stakeholders to join in his advocacy efforts – including government, the food industry, society, parents, and even children.

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Business is an unlikely hero: a force for good working to solve society's most pressing challenges, while boosting bottom line. This is social purpose at work. And it's a dynamic journey.

Purpose 360 is a masterclass in unlocking the potential of social purpose to ignite business and social impact. We illuminate the growing impacts of purpose, from engaging employees and fostering deeper consumer loyalty to inspiring product innovation and increasing market share.