Chapter 1: Purpose, Introducing Purpose of Significance

OK, here goes..

The whole chapter was too wieldy at 4,543 words so I am dividing Chapter 1 into 3 extracts that I’ve reduced down and will blog individually through the week:

  1. Introducing Purpose of Significance – below
  2. Inspiring examples – tomorrow/Weds
  3. How to get there! – Weds/Thurs

The kind of feedback I’d value:

  • Does the idea of Purpose of Significance work for you?
  • Are the two bulleted lists missing anything, or even over-stating things?
  • Comments on style
  • Typos, grammar stuff
  • Does this approach work for you – or would a PDF or shorter extracts be better?

Also: I plan to write the Intro at the very end, so this may start with a jolt – just imagine you’ve read some cool uplifting stuff about how we’re all changing the world!

———————————— <— the line of no return…

Chapter 1: Purpose

Last century we in the world of business lost sight of higher meaning, of purpose beyond simply profits. People – many of us – went to work every day without a sense of a more meaningful contribution beyond the monthly pay packet, the sense of responsibility, slaving away working for the man, for anonymous, financially-driven shareholders, in businesses large and small. The trudge, the wear and tear of everyday business and the bad behaviour of many corporations turned business into a dirty word.

So what do we do now?

This is the opportunity we have before us. To guide our organisations, our teams, our projects towards higher meaning. To be part of the movement that demands a greater contribution from business than just profits. To discover and share real purpose.

A Purpose of Significance

An organisation designed to thrive in this radically different century before us has a very clear purpose that creates meaning way beyond financial results. A purpose that solves big meaningful challenges and opportunities in society. Something that really makes sense. This is a Purpose of Significance.

Why does A Purpose of Significance matter?

The simple truth is that today the accepted wisdom is that the purpose of a business is to increase shareholder value. Purely and simply. This is what is ingrained in business schools and boardrooms, in the minds of so many of us – it is very hard for any of us to stray from this path.

Increasingly we’re realising that where this gets us to isn’t such a pretty place. As the inspiring Umair Haque tweeted: “Making shareholder enrichment the basis of an economy is probably an idea that belongs up there with Cheez Whiz and Donald Trump’s hair.”

Why will a Purpose of Significance make a difference?

In practical terms a clear purpose helps in the following ways:
•    Attracting and then retaining the very best talent in your workforce – see People
•    Unlocking the highest levels of engagement – see People
•    Acquiring and retaining customers in an environment of ruthless competition and the ever-present threat of commoditisation
•    Providing both a compass and a motivation for innovation
•    Gaining competitive advantage from very diverse (and often otherwise disruptive) stakeholders by framing the organisation in a context that truly matters and contributes to society

What does A Purpose of Significance look like?

The thing is, the idea that Purpose really makes a difference in business in not new.

Then what is different with this movement of 21st century businesses? Today, it is the Significance bit.

We can put a man on the moon, we can invent better mousetraps and sell a bajillion plastic bottles of mineral water. To be ‘compelling’ in today’s world, we must work towards the urgent, the difficult, the pressing problems of our time.

The enlightened shareholders, employees, partners and consumers of the 21st century demand a Purpose of Significance.

A Purpose of Significance: the checklist

Here is how to think about how to design a purpose that fits:

•    Does this Purpose address a fundamental problem that is caused or excarcebated by this businesses industry?
•    Does this Purpose lead to decisions which can surpress or limit short-term financial gains for longer-term achievements?
•    Does this Purpose inspire a community to develop?
•    Does this Purpose address a fundamental injustice in the world?
•    Does this Purpose disrupt and positively revolutionize a whole marketplace?
•    Does this Purpose fundamentally make the world a better place?

This is our job. This is how to make business better. This is how business can help to solve the big problems of our time.

Please help make this better through the comments or by email to 🙂

The next extract will be published tomorrow: Chapter 1: Purpose, Inspiring Examples. And then later in the week: Chapter 1: Purpose, How to get there! And we’re off…

14 thoughts on “Chapter 1: Purpose, Introducing Purpose of Significance

  1. Loving this Will. The terms Purpose of Significance works for me, though clearly (and stating the bleeding obvious) it will mean something unique for every organisation. Another phrase I’ve been seeing recently is the ‘for-benefit’ business – i.e. different to a not-for-profit and certainly not solely a for-profit, but a business which is happy to earn income/profit but which has a clearly-stated benefit objective (see here for example:

    Nice. M.

    1. Ah, thank you Mark – this is a great bit of research for me to check out, and I’m pleased the Purp of Significance works for you.

      Thank you man. Muchly grateful.

  2. Nice one Will I didn’t know you were penning…

    This is right on the money and you join a band of great people trying to make a global difference, born into a generation fortunate enough to embrace the change that social media has brought to us.

    However I’m not convinced that it’s business schools and boardrooms where we need to start. I do agree teaching needs to change to help this transition which I am behind, but I believe something more radical needs to happen first, and that would be a ban on advertising.

    My son is growing up as any normal lad but is bombarded by aspirations for new, for more, for the next best thing, either directly or through his friends. Surely a decision like this has to be made for the sake of a whole generation to shake themselves free of this legacy.

    It’s strange to find myself in the fringes of marketing, so closely linked to advertising, but I feel that what you and I are doing is different and I hope we share scruples even though we only ever seem to meet briefly on the Aldrington line. However maybe Bill Hicks was right and it’s time for advertising to suck a tail pipe!

    PS Love the Umair quote 🙂

    1. Tim! Love the radical approach to advertising. I think I need to mull whether the problem starts with say shareholders, boardrooms and the organisation’s purpose, and leads to advertising, or vice versa.

      Writing this response, I’m starting to think that the problem is the purpose but a pernicious symptom is advertising. Hmmm. Lovely contribution, thank you. Will think more…

    1. Oooh, interesting idea Alex. Thinking about it, what I worry about is multiple sources of contributions (which is a good problem to have). I might try it on a future chapter actually, just to see, but for this chapter will probably stick to comments and tweets to start simply 🙂 Really appreciate your attention and thoughts man.

  3. Will great work and very good start.

    If you want some ideas or even constructive feedback I am happy to do that.

    Keep up the good work and I might even use some of your ideas to share with my staff (But only after you have finished and published).

    1. Dani, thank you man. Thanks for the offer of help, and definitely start implementing the ideas as soon as you want to – the goal is to change stuff, so the sooner the better 🙂

  4. Hi Will,

    Very interesting to see your new book project and the whole feedback / real-time appraisal mechanism you have opened up. Commendably transparent, and brave. Will be really interesting to see if it gains traction as you move forward.

    I find myself increasingly interested in this whole area but perhaps less framed in the context of what it means for ‘business’ – and more what it means for us as human beings. Business / commerce / Industry etc is, afterall, a pair of glasses with which to examine the human experience. Therefore, at their core, these ideas present massively wide ranging questions about sense of self, contribution to a wider society and era, feeling of value and worth, a sense of meaning in our lives. These are fundamental, existential questions and I think it’s important to acknowledge this.

    It’s not hard to see why the pursuit of profit as the key performance indicator, on an individual, organisation, industry, international, and global (mostly) level, is seductive. In these increasingly secular times the pursuit of wealth, profit and growth offers a simple moral and behavioural code against which to measure the value of our contribution, where once this was offered elsewhere. Incidentally, this is why we should be wary of passing judgement on those that are viewed to have committed wrong-doing. For example, it was our collective system that laid down the reward structures and (lack of?) boundaries seen in international finance. So it seems perverse to then blame the ‘bankers’ when it goes wrong. As individuals we might find their motives distasteful – but fundamentally they are just seeking the validation we all crave by pursuing the goals defined by their model / context.

    That is not to say that this model isn’t horribly wrong. In the context of the global financial crisis, the increasing marginalisation of our political systems, the findings of research into subjective well-being, and the adverse effects of inequality across our societies, along with an increasing appreciation of the ecological implications of continuing ‘business as usual’ – it’s becoming more and more clear that the model is no longer fit for purpose. As you point out, the times (they) are (a) changing.

    One significant challenge is finding a space for debate about the issues and discussion about possible alternatives in a society where the current system permeates and dominates our collective forums so completely (for example via pervasive advertising – as above). What’s interesting at present, in our relatively newly hyper-connected world, is that the debate is diverting around the traditional forms of collective discussion offered by conventional media. At one end we are using the new and transformative communications channels offered by digital communication technology / social media, and taking the discussion online– as you are with this project. And interestingly, at the other end we are seeing an age old technology employed in the Occupy camps and public protests across the world: face to face debate in the public realm.

    I personally believe that the challenge ahead and scale of change required is much more radical than many imagine. The fundamental flaws to our system are so numerous its hard to know where to begin- we have an economic system which depends on a constant state of growth to offer stability – which when faltering, leads our politicians to encourage increased spending against a background of raising unemployment, huge personal debts, and increasing costs of living. Our key measure of economic health (in GDP) has no means to measure the value of many things which are just so obviously integral to a functioning society (for example parental childcare or private care of the sick or elderly). We see the huge economies emerging across the world founded on similar economic principles and (completely understandably) demanding our lifestyles and our successes defined by material abundance – and an understanding that they must aggressively compete to maximise the size of their piece of the pie. And all this set against an increasing appreciation of the not-to-distant ecological limits of our planet and the implications for international stability as the pursuit of resources becomes an increasingly frenzied affair – assuming of course that your country is still above water.

    It’s all so crazy that one almost can’t take it seriously – perhaps this is part of the reason we struggle collectively.

    This is a fantastic book written by Tim Jackson, who by all accounts is a serious economist, and who outlines the fundamental nature, scale, and complexity of the problem in (frightening) simplicity: He also has a TED talk but in trying to cover too much info in that 18 minute slot some of the gravity of the situation is lost.

    So, I’ve gone off on one haven’t I? And I really must get on with something… What is my comment in essence? For the sake of a complete picture I hope that part of your book explores the possibility / likelihood / requirement for a radical shift in the whole paradigm of what we understand ‘business’ to mean, along with the role it might play in the future.

    Good luck going forward. Certainly got my brain buzzing!
    Catch you soon

  5. Purpose of Significance sounds like jargon. I’m guessing you’ve already considered a Significant Purpose?

    I think there is value in polemic but I can see people picking you up on the narrow view of business – slaving, trudge (drudge right?), purely and simply increasing shareholder value? All this seems like a caricature of fat cat pinstripes crushing noble workers. Many businesses put their employees first, but often in businesses that are not helping society.

    That last point on your checklist: Does this Purpose fundamentally make the world a better place? is fundamentally a political question. Arms manufacturers can make a good argument to satisfy this.

    1. Paul, I really need this kind of feedback because I do err to the rose-tinted and the polemic. Definitely going to take your feedback on board about giving a more balanced view. Thank you man. MORE PLEASE.

  6. This connects with an old fashioned idea that I wish would come back: the idea of duty. It feels like you are saying that having a purpose of significance should the duty of a corporation, that creating, refining it and upholding it should be the duty of the stakeholders – shareholders and employees primarily, but also non-execs, suppliers, partners and even customers.

    Today I saw Martin Sorrell speaking at a Forrester event. CSR – ugly and awkward phrase though it is – is taken very seriously by most businesses now – being good is good business, he said.

    But CSR is a nod to being good too often, the lipstick on the pig of clumsy, greedy businesses.

    Purpose of significance works well for me, because it is about putting the goodness at the core of what the organisation is, how it thinks about itself…

    It also occurs to me that when complexity and rapid change are, and will be for some time, defining features of the cultural and commercial world we live in, that a Purpose of Significance would be a competitive advantage. This is because strong principles – and a PoS (sorry, have to) is a kind of uber-guiding principle – are the best things to have in a unpredictable, fast paced marketplace or society, because they allow you to make decisions faster. When principles are absent, spreadsheets, bureaucracies and inflexible processes fill the void and slow you down…

    Anyway – will be following the writing with close interest. Hope some of the above is useful and thanks for giving me a small corner of the web to have a long-form rant this evening…

    1. Hey Antony – thank you so much for this. Tis a confidence boost to know that it works for you, plus I like how you see introduce a link I hadn’t thought of at all: Duty. Really like that and will be thinking about how to introduce that thoughts. THANK YOU 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s