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How to prototype your purpose

I have developed an in-depth process for helping companies discover or clarify their Big Audacious Meaning or purpose — the profound difference they will make in a life, a community, or even the world. I have tested it with companies of all sizes, refining and evolving it along the way.

The results for the companies I have worked with have been awesome. Nobody leaves the workshop without feeling that incredible sense of hopefulness and excitement that a Big Audacious Meaning brings.

Here’s the challenge. Not every organization is ready to do a purpose discovery. I have had excited Chief Marketing Officers or leaders of business units that wanted to explore what defining a Big Audacious Meaning can do for them. But they don’t have the top leadership on board. Are they just out of luck until they can win over a CEO?

Not necessarily.

This can seem a bit counterintuitive. I’ve talked about purpose as the most powerfully foundational principle that an organization can adopt. That would seem to take commitment. Not toe-dipping.

Hang with me.

A profound purpose can transform a brand. And not just the organizational brand. It can be applied at the divisional level. Even on down to the product level. Just because the organization hasn’t adopted a purpose doesn’t mean a Big Audacious Meaning can’t be piloted at these lower levels. Think of it as an opportunity to prototype the purpose.

The effect it will have on those brands at the lower levels will be powerful. Your brand will go beyond trying to win prospects on your attributes (what you do or how you do it). Your brand will even go beyond focusing on the benefits of those attributes. It will embrace the benefit of the benefit. That profound difference your brand can have on a life, a community, or even the world.

That is an idea that is potent enough to rise up in an organization and become the foundational principle that inspires everything the company does.

Many times, organizations have good alignment between the guiding principles at the very top of the organization (driving strategy and culture) and the principles driving things at the divisional level or even the product level. The organization may not have gone through the process of formally clarifying its Big Audacious Meaning. But, there is a tacit alignment. It is in these situations where prototyping a purpose at the divisional or product level could lead to a Big Audacious Meaning that eventually could spread across the entire organization. But remember. This is possible because that tacit alignment exists.

Say the organization does not have the tacit alignment that I talked about. Is it worth pursuing a Big Audacious Meaning at the divisional or product level? Absolutely.

You will build more powerful positioning for the offerings you oversee. Furthermore, you will build impassioned believers among your team who help you push things to new heights. And they will attract like-minded believers, helping you recruit the best and the brightest to your efforts.

That’s a pretty awesome worse-case scenario for pursuing a Big Audacious Meaning.

You say, “I don’t know if my organization has this alignment you’re talking about.” Again, if the worse case scenario is doing all those great things I just described, what is at risk?

I have helped divisional and product level teams with defining a Big Audacious Meaning. I always recommend maintaining transparency with the top leadership. Announce what you’re up to and keep them updated.

“You want to increase our team member and customer engagement, driving more productivity and revenue without incurring excessive costs? Hmmm…let me think. Okay, proceed.”

Honestly, you won’t get much reaction. Until the numbers come in. And you get called to a meeting to explain what the heck is going on. And you have to explain why you are outpacing your peers in other divisions.

At this point, you’ll discover whether or not your organization has that alignment I spoke of. After you give your explanation, one of two things will happen.

  1. They will nod in approval and encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing.
  2. They will ask you how they can take what you’re doing to the rest of the organization.

If it’s the second one, the Big Audacious Meaning that you have prototyped is ready to transform an entire organization.

Dan is the creator of the Big Audacious Meaning. He is a founder at Will & Grail — a brand innovation company, helping organizations find their unique, undeniable and unshakable sense of purpose and create innovative experiences that bring it to life. He regularly shares his insight here on Linkedin and at

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Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail.

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