The Bullseye of Purpose

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Inspiration December 1, 2016

The Bullseye of Purpose

Adam Fridman
Adam Fridman is a seasoned entrepreneur who enjoys the challenges and excitement of startup companies. He founded AdvisorTV, a Chicago-based advice and mentorship community for entrepreneurs, and Mabbly, a digital marketing agency.

Simple. Genuine. Aspirational.

We have entered the age of brand beliefs. In order to connect and engage with our audiences, we need to look beyond a gimmick, even if being humorous and entertaining seems to get more short-term attention. To build a lasting relationship rooted in loyalty and mutual admiration, organizations must put themselves on the line and express their beliefs via a clear and concise purpose.

Moving toward this “north star” assumes you have made a conscious choice to pursue purpose and have fully accepted that organizations must communicate what they believe versus what they do or sell. If not, we suggest re-reading Believe since we are building on the philosophy and foundation presented in that transformation stage.

After we completed the first 100 interviews (of the journey to 1,000), we came to a few clear realizations:

  1. Simon Sinek is widely recognized. Approximately 60% of the interviewees were familiar with “Start With Why,” either Simon’s Ted Talk or book.
  2. 90% of people familiar with Simon’s philosophy, whether already familiar or we introduced them, agreed with his approach. In fact, most felt compelled to act. The energy and the desire for meaning is innate and witnessing the magnetic effect of a simple question was transformational.


What happened next was a surprise. As we continue to reflect on it, it was always right in front of us.

We asked every person who agreed with finding their purpose to explain why this seemed important. Three camps emerged:

  1. Extensive stories. Every person would deliver a 2-3 minute story about how they connected with the organization. Their conviction was typically beyond reproach, but each individual story from the same organization deviated substantially. Each person’s stories were unique based on their own experiences and individual history within the organization.

Challenge: If your organization doesn’t know and can’t communicate your essence, how can it coexist with the world? Every mind you are trying to convince to care about your organization is busy, and this busyness is accelerating at an unprecedented rate.

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The statistics are staggering and point to a very, very busy mind. What are the chances to ask people to stop, listen to a story, interpret it and then figure out how and why it matters to them? We do not think it is possible, in fact, less is unquestionably more when you are reaching for the ultimate ask – access to the mind and heart.

  1. Forgot my homework. We had some fun with this group. Typically their organizations attended a facilitated retreat and one of the required take aways was to create a mission, vision or brand story. The response here was typically that they didn’t know it was needed for this meeting.

Challenge: Words on a piece of paper filed in a cabinet or collecting virtual dust in an email folder accomplish nothing to further organizational goals. No matter how fancy and lengthy your statement became, without immediate recollection it is meaningless for your everyday decision-making. And every-day-front-and-center is where it belongs, to have a meaningful impact on the direction of the company as each individual person goes through their day.

  1. Cliché Armageddon. In our interviews with small to medium size companies, especially professional services in the B2B space, leadership teams have latched on to something rather conventional. “Build lasting relationships,” “commitment to service,” or “desire to help” are of few of the repeating sentiments. There is nothing wrong with this approach. In fact, interviewees projected a firm and uncompromising commitment to these goals.

Challenge: Clichés usually do not feel fully genuine because they lack vulnerability. There is a great risk of them coming across as salesy. Let’s dig a bit to understand how someone would interpret.

 


  
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Simple

“That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

– Steve Jobs

And you want to move mountains. Reaching for meaning and pursuing meaning are instinctual human behaviours. Without simplicity you can’t have focus. You can’t have recollection. You can’t expect to resonate and to engage in the mind of the audience.

From philosophies to political candidates to technology, the power of simplicity is undeniable. Consciously or subconsciously, once we hear a statement that connects in a smooth and unobstructed way, it sticks. We feel it. “Make America Great Again” and “Stronger Together,” used in the 2016 Presidential Elections were more than slogans. They were simple yet powerful visions for the future of the country.

From politics to culture, examples of the power of simplicity are consistent. During our book interview with the Lyric Opera, we all experienced a magical moment. We asked for their purpose and during a story response (they were part of Group #1), the words they used led us to suggest a simple purpose – “We believe in igniting transformation through art.”  We all felt the world stop for a second while reflecting on the magic of the words. Lyric Opera is not a “place” or a “group.” Lyric Opera stands for a cultural movement bringing people together with a desire to transform.

 


     

Genuine

When asked the one lesson learned during his days running one of the fastest growing successful media outlets in the US, the Founder of EliteDaily.com quickly responded:

“Millennials can smell B.S. a mile away.”

The TV show, Mad Men, received countless awards by introducing viewers to the world of 1960’s advertising agency. Cognac drinking, affluent advertisers came up with slogans and taglines that moved society. It is that simple. Their newspaper ads and billboards created demand for products, services, political candidates and more.

Somewhere between propaganda and manipulation, advertisers had a captured audience and media consumption was limited. We have entered a tech-inspired brave new world. According to Statista, 2.3 billion people are on social media and 78% of the U.S. population has a social media profile. Democratization of information is here, and it is moving forward at an accelerated speed.  The age of Mad Men-like manipulative advertisement is quickly ending now that people have access to information about companies beyond the stories they tell.

Let’s examine another phenomenon: reality TV. We are not here to judge how real reality TV is.  The observation and lesson is clear: the success of these shows demonstrates that audiences want more and more authentic experiences.

Building the individual purposes of employees into the organization’s purpose will fulfill employee’s “need to belong” and will foster a shared identity and unified direction. Abraham Maslow suggested that humans need to belong, which is one of the primary needs required for self-actualization.

If your tribe is going to contribute blood, sweat and tears to hit company goals, they need to identify with the unified greater purpose. More importantly, if your tribe feels that they contribute to a shared purpose, then their employer has helped them find meaning in their own lives. When the employee, brand and client align on purpose, everyone can be emotionally compensated by the organization’s successes and progressions toward their individual purpose. A shared, inclusive purpose will make employees feel that their physical and emotional effort in serving the organization is rightly rewarded or reciprocated.

Person-organization value congruence studies have shown us that transformational leadership relies on followers perceiving consistency between their own and the organization’s values (e.g., Hoffman, Bynum, Piccolo, & Sutton, 2011)

 


    

Aspirational

In our perpetual quest for meaning, setting goals beyond ourselves and for a greater purpose inspire us.

“Purpose (which should last at least 100 years) should not be confused with specific goals or business strategies (which should change many times in 100 years). Whereas you might achieve a goal or complete a strategy, you cannot fulfill a purpose; it’s like a guiding star on the horizon—forever pursued but never reached.” – David Packard, Founder of Hewlett-Packard

This should not be confused or disqualified as a mandate to turn all organizations into not-for-profit, or just socially-minded ventures. This approach does not belong under a Social Responsibility corporate mandate, which typically results in grand gestures rather than the hard daily work of building better cultures with inspired individuals.

Aspiration, as a characteristic of bullseye purpose, speaks to where progressive companies reach. We see aspirational greater purposes as unconnected directly to organizations products or services.