Howard Mann’s sparked some interesting debate with his post purpose before brand prompting me to add this comment:

The question that interests me is this: do organisations need to have a purpose or do they simply need to have purpose? This may sound pedantic but I don’t think it is. The “a purpose” route risks taking us towards the Big Idea fallacy.

The “purpose” route might admit that any organisation is a dance of many stakeholders, many of whom are not after the exact same thing. So you may not need to bother so much with agreeing some always dubious explicit statement of mission, and worry more about whether, day-to-day, people are engaged in something that means something to them..

Or maybe I am being pedantic after all.

Which generated this interesting riff by Pat:

I think this is starting to flesh out something that has been bugging me. Johnnie, I think you are correct that there is a difference between a purpose and purpose. The Big Idea and A Purpose seem dangerous because they start to feel like Mission Statement. It seems there is a huge gap between coming up with a short statement that represents the organization’s purpose and the actual gut feeling and Purpose-filled Gestalt that is the real driving force. Apple may say “Think Different” but that barely begins to capture the force that makes them attractive to so many people.

Is it fair to maybe compare it to the effect and affect that a great piece of art creates? Everyone who views a great painting sees it through their own eyes. The viewer’s life and interpretation are all part of the experience. The great artwork works on many different levels. To say that “The Scream” has A Purpose is to miss the whole point. Maybe the same is true for an organization. Different stakeholders, different interpretations, multilayered purpose. And like great art, trying to describe it properly is difficult if not impossible but generally we know greatness when we see it.

BTW, Pat’s running a fascinating bit of “Open Source Marketing” for his PezMP3 idea.

3 thoughts on “Purpose?

  1. Aleah

    Johnnie, great thoughts. I don’t think your are being pedantic at all. I believe there is a valid argument to be made, especially when boards are split on what ideology to embrace. I, too, believe that unless you are a charitable organization = mission driven, you should be expected to “have a purpose,” and that is the driving force behind what your company provides. Otherwise, you’re just another big talking, jerk off company with an agenda. These types of companies sink quickly.

  2. Riccardo (Bru) Cambiassi

    Yeah, two great thoughts indeed.

    I reckon this is quite true when the brand is sold to the outside world.

    I wonder if this is true also when it has to influence and move the actual “work force” (at all levels). That is, I wonder if well defined shared common goal is to be found.

    But then again, what is a shared common goal? Different levels of stakeholders will see different aspects of this goal, so in the end I think I agree with the “purpose” route.

  3. Rob

    I think highly successful companies are the ones where those two overlap. They “have a purpose” and it means something to all the stakeholders involved.


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