Chapter 1: Purpose, Inspiring examples

In the previous extract, I introduced the idea of Purpose of Significance.

Got some great feedback, though I think I need to be clearer: these are EXTRACTS as when I pasted the whole 4,543 words into WordPress it looked shit and overwhelming!!! 🙂

In this extract, I’ve shared 3 of the 7 organisations I’ve picked as examplars, companies that act with real Purpose of Significance.

Feedback desired:

  • Does this kind of content make sense?
  • Can you see how their Purpose has them act in an unusual, positive ways?
  • Do these kind of organisations inspire?
  • Also included in the full chapter: Apple, Google, Grameen, Mooncup or People’s Supermarket – how do these look as a full set?


Who is leading the way?

Let’s look at some examples of pioneering businesses to get under the skin of what is really possible here.

Patagonia, California, USA

Patagonia, the manufacturer of outdoor equipment with a particular heritage in climbing, is a wonderful business. You may have read ‘Let My People Go Surfing’ by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard (if you haven’t, do!). With a long track record in zigging when other businesses zag, and having a consciense that goes beyond box ticking, Patagonia was one of the two original creators of the 1% For The Planet initative – a global movement of over a thousand companies that donate 1% of their sales to a network of environmental organisations worldwide.

In its most recent, and perhaps most inspiring and jaw-dropping move the company has formed an alliance with eBay to actively promote and encourage existing owners of Patagonia equipment and apparel to sell it in a branded shop called the Common Threads Initiative within eBay. It is actively encouraging potential customers to buy second-hand, used equipment. And not just inside eBay: items listed for sale in the Common Threads Initiative are also promoted on the ‘Used Clothing & Gear’ section on In conventional thinking, this is plain STUPID! This will, you’d think, negatively impact short-term profits, limit growth, generally not be a good thing to do.

20th century business goes out of its way to encourage as many new sales as possible. But, driven by a higher purpose and with a clear sense of itself and what it stands for, Patagonia intends to tangibly address the issues of global sustainability itself. This not only addresses one of the greatest challenges our society faces, but also leads from the front: I recently met with one of Patagonia’s biggest competitors and he told me, smiling with admiration, that this move ‘changes the game, changes everything’. Brilliant!

This is truly a Purpose of Significance in action. As Chounaird is quoted in a BusinessWeek article from 2006: “”Every time we do the right thing, our profits go up”. Smart business; 21st century business.

Box copy:
Patagonia in 2005: $260m revenues in 2005, 1,250 employees.

Noma and The New Nordic Cuisine, Copenhagen, Denmark

Have you heard of Noma? If you’re a foodie, the answer is of course yes. Noma was ranked as Best Restaurant in the World by Restaurant in 2010 and 2011. Noma isn’t in New York City, Tuscany, the hills of Catalunya, Paris, London or Tokyo. Noma – famous for  dishes and flavours that celebrate the very best of Nordic/Scandinavian produce – is in Copenhagen, the gorgeous capital of Denmark. When you start to look into the story behind Noma there’s a fabulous and inspiring story of how purpose and meaning can fuel incredible achievement, and simultaneously create and empower a whole generation of likeminded changers.

As Claus Meyer, co-owner of Noma, describes on his website: “Less than 10 months after the opening of our restaurant “noma” November 2003, head chef, manager & partner Rene Redzepi and I took the initiative to organize “The Nordic Cuisine Symposium”. The day before the symposium September 2004, at an 18 hour long workshop, some of the greatest chefs in our region formulated the New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto. The Nordic Cuisine Movement was born!”

The movement that Meyer describes goes much further than fancy restaurants for the few. In 2005 the manifesto was adopted by the Nordic Council of Ministers and their extended national development programmes. You can find articles about The New Nordic Cuisine on the official website of Denmark and Meyer himself participates in a long-term food programme with the Danish government and universities to improve food health including around childhood obesity.

This manifesto is a fantastic example of a group of individuals transcending their own self-interests to put down a marker and describe a Purpose of Significance that inspired and enabled a whole movement.

In doing so Noma created and placed itself in a context of higher meaning. A backdrop that could engage and impassion every would-be employee, every diner, every producer and supplier.

Would this have been possible if it was simply one person’s drive for greatnesss? If it was the same old story about a celebrity TV-friendly chef on their way to millionaire-dom? Ask a Dane what the New Nordic Cuisine has done, and they will tell you: restored pride in our national identity; changed our expectations and habits around eating and food; promoted Denmark to the world. This is what can be done with the power of Purpose of Significance – change that affects millions.

Box copy:
Noma sales, profits, size.

Anonymous, the internet, everywhere

Anonymous is an interesting organisation. For starters, I’m not sure how we’d define or understand it as an organisation, and certainly not as a business – Anonymous is usually referred to as ‘a loose collective of hackers and activists’ or similar. Anonymous is very much of the Zeitgeist: at the heart of recent activism including the Occupy movement; digitally networked; apparently decentralised; powerfully branded; and perhaps most fascinating and relevant here, motivated by a very strong sense of values and justice. And in this very changed world, we need to look at the edges and the radicals to understand how all of our organisations are going to have to change.

At the time of writing Anonymous may have:
•    Hacked the Sony Playstation Network, creating huge reputational damage and heavily impacting the share price of Sony
•    Hacked the Iranian government
•    Threatened a Mexican drug cartel
•    Threatened NATO
•    Taken down 40 child porn websites and published the names of 1,500 frequent visitors to one of the largest of these

It would be easy, thinking with a conventional mindset, to write off Anonymous. What would the old school business person say? ‘Kids, hackers, mindless vandals, people with nothing better to do – lock ‘em up!’. I think that’s missing the point. Anonymous is creating enormously powerful results, and at its core their is this sense of purpose – as they say themselves: “We are fighters for internet freedom”.

If we pay attention there is much the conventional business can learn from this unpaid, volunteer network of loosely connected activists. What Anonymous provides the 21st business person with is an unexpected and powerful example of the real-world results that can be created when people unite behind a shared Purpose of Significance. And Anonymous achieves all of this in a world where there are record numbers of young people unemployed, where technology is increasingly pervasive and disrupting of the status quo, and as Bill Rhodes, the famous banker puts it “new technologies mean that markets move in nano seconds”.
Specifically, how does Anonymous communicate its purpose, its intentions and values? How did Anonymous create these in the first place, or do they just emerge and develop over time? What is that Anonymous does that allows it to transmit its purpose so clearly to the world with so few conventional resources at its disposal? And perhaps what would our organisation look like if it were more Anonymous-like?

Box copy:
Anonymous statistics: unknown!


The final extract from this chapter will be on How to get there!, coming later this week.

Thank you so much for your attention:

Please give me your feedback, comments, suggestions and support either in the comments section, tweet @willmcinnes / hashtag #cltrshck or email

8 thoughts on “Chapter 1: Purpose, Inspiring examples

  1. So inspiring thanks Will. These deep and profoundly significant instances of ‘positive’ Capitalism are groundreakingly original and show just how business can be humble and act truly selflessly and out of a genuine concern for the poeple and the planet. Really moving examples of a higher purpose… whilst getting on with the secondary objectives of making money and growing a business too.

    Your first example showing how vast, amazingly generous, tax deductible donations from an incredibly profitable business who is genuinely unconcerned about raising their profile or green-washing their brand amongst their customer base who clearly care nothing for the environment is a truly moving spectacle. Even more incredible that this hasn’t happened before, really. I should also add that I must take my off to the accountants for being able to swallow this clearly future friendly and unprofitable move.

    Not enough to bowl us over with such generosity you ingeniously include an example from the oh so sexy world of food and the best restaurant in the world. Fantastic that a business traditionally so concerned with making sure that all people actually have enough to eat, even their own customers, and don’t die by their millions every year is also now producing weight reducing food manifestos. And dare I say even more improbable, nay incredible, that a manifesto like this is picked up by a government in one of the most socially fair, healthy, slim, democratic and least unequal societies on the planet. How can that happen? Surely bordering on revolutionary and yet also with so much to say about how important it is that the humble, altruistic, sustainable and socially essential aims of business can and should contribute to policy in democratic societies.

    And finally… it is simply an exercise of genius to appropriate Anonymous into your argument. A move which is a superb example of how the ingenuity, integrity and moral rigour of a business mind can subvert anything to the globally critical cause of business, wealth creation and the greater good of mankind.

    Bravo! You should be proud of yourself.

  2. Great stuff Will, really interesting examples, told in an engaging way. A couple of really quick thoughts, just on what I think you *could* tweak:

    Patagonia – I think you could explain the rationale/purpose behind their tactics a bit more clearly and sooner, maybe after the second paragraph, then follow on with your take on it (the “20th Century business goes…”)

    Nomo – again, it would be great if you could just explain or emphasise the thinking behind/purpose of the manifesto.

    Again, everything awesome, just a couple of thoughts to bring out the important bits for tools like me.

  3. Very interesting stuff, and it’s interesting watching the threads connecting these very different organisations. Anonymous are a great example, and particularly interesting because they are effectively leaderless, as are other protest groups such as #occupylsx and – to a lesser extent – UK Uncut. Another protest group – probably less palatable to many – is EDL, who may have a leadership structure but are increasingly a diffused web-based collective (and are growing faster as a consequence than they would had they opted to be a conventional Political Party). There’s much in that for Business to ponder, both in terms of structure and tactics.

    But how these groups hold together as they develop is of course highly uncertain; leaders emerge whose credibility is called into question (à la Julian Assange), factions divide their clarity of purpose as disagreements ferment, and many groups wax and wane after initially burning brightly. I guess what I’m getting at is if these fast, leaderless organizations – as powerful as they are at their peak – are essentially inherently unstable because of their structure (previously their strength), then how do companies imitate them without weakening their own stability?

    The answer to that question is, I think, much of what you’re working towards in this project.

    Looking forward to the next installment!

  4. Thanks for opening this project up for comment. I’ve come to it via @BomTailey’s comments: Tom used to share office space with us in Brighton, and we had many a conversation around some of the issues you’re touching on. I’d like to offer some thoughts from my perspective: from someone who grew up in the 70s, was a student under Thatcher, started my career in the 90s, and am now watching my children become teenagers against a backdrop of capitalism eating itself.

    Back then, two -isms loomed large over our daily lives. There was communism. And there was capitalism. We veered towards the egalitarian hopes of the former, while benefitting from the comforts of the latter. We toyed with membership of the RCP, SWP or WRP, and protested against cuts, unemployment and unjust wars (sound familiar?). We ended up effectively sitting on the revolutionary fence: fully paid up members of NANAS (the national association of non-aligned socialists).

    The end of the 1980s saw capitalism prevail*. The following decade saw new businesses emerge that were more caring, positive and human-centred: to use the jargon of the time, they were socially responsible. Take for example, the Body Shop: it was of its time, and it worked. But did it change capitalism? Now that the Body Shop has been subsumed by L’Oreal, is the beauty industry no longer based on shareholder profit? The exploits of Virgin were another example: a brand that barged into previously closed markets with a fresh, positive approach towards its employees, and its customers. But did capitalism change as a result?

    Well, it might have, a little, around the edges. It might have made people feel a bit better about buying stuff. But financial capitalism, the stuff that happens in the City, just got greedier. Take this (real life) story as an example:

    A few years back, Mr X was made redundant by a leading venture capitalist. He had worked with them for a number of years and his contract stated that, as part of his redundancy package, he would receive 18 months full pay. After six months, he got another job, for which he negotiated a salary package. After a month or so, it didn’t work out. So he was made redundant and received another redundancy package, this time for the equivalent of six months full pay. So, for six months, he was living on two full time salaries. Two months later, he received a cheque. This was a payout from the first venture capitalist, because of some of the investments he had made for them while he worked there. The money, though, didn’t come direct from the venture capitalist. It came from the small businesses he had been responsible for investing money into: not his money, obviously, but the venture capitalist’s money (or, more probably, money the venture capitalist had borrowed from the bank). And yet, three years after the initial investment was made, he was still receiving a divided from these small businesses. Which meant they had less money to invest into their workforce, equipment or future.

    I don’t think this is unusual in the City. I’ve heard of city workers who’ve gone into the CEO’s office having received a bonus cheque for over £1 million as a reward for their ‘hard work’ during the year and have torn it up and thrown it onto the floor. Because they felt it wasn’t enough. Because they thought the thought they should have got more.

    And here I disagree with Tom’s point from yesterday (if I understood it correctly). I don’t think we, collectively, are responsible for the reward structures of the 1%. They are responsible for that themselves. If we were responsible, and able to influence how their bonus systems were structured, I don’t believe it would exist as it does. I think if more people knew about how their bonus systems work, then they would be greater demands for radical change.

    I want that change to happen. I don’t want to be dispiriting, and to sound like a generational old fart, but are the examples you’re citing here just further instances of playing around the edges of capitalism? Are they really going to make significant changes? Are they going to impact on the greed that underpins the system at the moment, or just act as convenient salvers of conscience, as some might say the Body Shop did?

    I wonder, then, whether there would be some value in not just looking at examples of positive 21st century businesses, but also in reflecting on what has gone before them. What about the Body Shop? What about Ben & Jerry’s? What about the Quaker philanthropic businessmen of the 19th century. What similarities do they all share with Noma and Patagonia? What lessons can we learn from them all? And, having learned these lessons, and been inspired by these examples, what fundamental changes can we then hope to make to the system?

    And, here’s the nub, will this be enough? Can capitalism be saved from itself?

    * – from a Eurocentric perspective obviously (but that’s another discussion)

    1. Hi Matthew,

      Thank for such a thought out response.
      A few responses:
      – I personally do think we are responsible because ultimately I believe that we have the power we need, if we are willing to take it. We are responsible for what we tolerate, in my view. I don’t feel powerless; I feel lazy and complacent
      – I like your questions about ‘will it really change stuff?’ and will ponder and perhaps cover this
      – I also like the idea at looking at previous organisations, although my strengths and preferences aren’t in looking back – so that may not make it into the book

      This is really great stuff, so thank you v. much.


  5. Nice tone in this section – lively, engaging, always have to have examples.

    On Anonymous, the other response of big business is to get one of them working for them. There are plenty of examples where hackers have been co-opted (and paid lots).

    Typo: conscience

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