Flying Seraph
The 2400 Year Old Lesson That Works Today

One of the most powerful concepts in modern business – Purpose – is taking hold as more organisations discover its power.

It’s about time, too.

The proof is in. Centring a business on what it stands for and believes in (its Purpose) is infinitely more powerful than focussing on what it makes or does. And it pays back handsomely.

Financially – there is no longer any doubt.

You have only to read the ‘Firms of Endearment’ study (2007) and/or the Jim Stengel/Millward-Brown work of 2011.

The recency of these studies makes Purpose seem like a new concept – which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Purpose was explained pretty concisely more than 2 400 years ago. By no less than Aristotle:

“Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.” [TWEET THAT]

Therein lies the basis for the most elegant and powerful method for defining Purpose:

Your company purpose.

Your own purpose.

The intersection between what you’re good at and what the world needs. Your best self and a genuine need in your society.

Validating the concept is one thing; doing it is well is another…

The simplest (and one of the best) I’ve encountered is illustrated by the story of President Kennedy’s visit to NASA. When Kennedy got to NASA, the first person he ran into was a janitor. And he asked him: ‘What do you do here?’ – fully expecting the janitor to say something like: ‘I help keep the buildings clean’. The janitor didn’t. He looked Kennedy in the eye and said:

‘Mr. President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon’.

How wonderful would it be if all of the people in your organisation had exactly the same motivating clarity of purpose as in this story?

Do guard against the pompous or the overly worthy. Realistically, few brands actually exist ‘for the greater good of God and mankind’.

I often feel that we feel pressured to write something lofty; something at the top of the Maslow hierarchy. Such Purpose statements sound impressive but they aren’t terribly smart at all. The acid test is whether you ever have to say: ‘What I mean by that is…..’ (Failure to communicate)

Imagine if NASA had tried something like: ‘To enrich mankind by engaging with the Universe’. How would that guide behaviour? We should not fall into that trap.

But Google’s: ‘To help organise the world’s knowledge and make it available’ and IKEA’s: ‘To help create a better life for the many people’ are true gems that unite, inform and uplift all their stakeholders.

By the way, the great Stephen King (JWT) wrote in 1985: There is no reason why companies should not have a clear-cut corporate personality and stand for something very specific.”

Australia’s own Reg Bryson was uncovering Purpose for the likes of BHP, Camp Quality and Telstra as far back as 2000 – even slightly earlier from memory.

Given it started with Aristotle in the 300’s (B.C.E). And given it pays back. Don’t you think it’s time you got a wriggle on?

Please follow me on Twitter: @MarkSareff

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