Let’s get the whole staff together and go down to that playground in the rundown part of town and paint the swing set. We’ll take along the cameras and show our folks (all in matching t-shirts) with paint brushes in hand. Giving us the thumbs up.
Then we’ll go back to work the next day at our embattled cable company where we’ll take all the frustrated service calls. And we’ll charge people outrageous amounts until — that is — they get so frustrated that they finally decide to cut the cord. Then (and only then) will we offer them some sweetheart deal to get them to stay.
But, we’ll run that 30-second public service announcement of us painting that swing set every once in awhile so that we can tell the world we really believe we have a larger purpose.
What a bunch of B.S.
Purpose is not something you invent
The scenario I just described is a real one. It is a great illustration of a fundamental truth about purpose that many organizations simply don’t get:
A purpose is not something that you pick and promote. A purpose is something that exists in who you are. It is something you clarify and amplify.
This is why this cable company fails at purpose. They didn’t clarify the profound difference that they make in a life, a community or even the world (the definition of purpose — or a Big Audacious Meaning as I call it.) They want everyone to believe that they are good guys. So they glom onto something that they believe will tug at people’s heartstrings with the hope that it will make us forget that we constantly feel like we are being taken advantage of.
We deserve better. Quit trying to feed us purpose propaganda. It sucks. And we can see right through it. Shows us that you really took a hard look at who you are and the difference you are here to make. Then live it in a way that gets us excited about engaging with you. We want to believe in purpose. But you have to believe in it, too.
If you’re interested in understanding how your organization can clarify and amplify its unique purpose, drop me a line.
Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the forthcoming book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. 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.