The Process To Discover Purpose

Discover, Science of Story December 16, 2016

The Process To Discover 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.

One of the most frequently asked questions we hear from purpose curious companies is how long will it take to find it. Our findings are clear: there is no single path. In fact, the best way to explain the pattern we found is to bring it to a human relationship level.

Let’s take a short detour. Bear with us – this is an important self exploration exercise that allows the opportunity to reflect on the magnitude and potential world-changing outcome of this entire journey. Remember, it is not about just you, whether you are a marketing manager or the CEO, it is about everyone you touch, from your internal team and your community and subsequently the planet.  

By picking up this book and allowing yourself the freedom and the opportunity to be curious, you have accepted the responsibility. You are the champion of purpose. The road ahead is not easy or clear; it is not a task assigned and completed. It is an epic road of transformation. If successful, you will move mountains and change lives in the process.

No pressure.

Now, let’s reflect on a time in your life you felt most passionate. Let’s talk about falling in love. It doesn’t have to be romantic. In fact, it could be love for your sibling, child or pet. Perhaps it is a special connection you feel for your religion, politics or a cause. Or it may be your bond with creative endeavors or the zone you enter when you are working on your hobby.  

It’s that moment when your heart is racing and goose bumps are forming – a feeling that transforms your state of mind and allows for your best self to shine freely. That moment you don’t think about yourself and allow your thoughts to rest kindly on the object of your passion.  

That is a special feeling. It doesn’t happen when you meet “any” person or engage in “any” activity. It happens only when there is a real and genuine connection. And it is truly remarkable.

The Science of Story started as an exploration of the unknown, uncharted territory, but with continued openness to embrace our discoveries. Our search for the “right stories” led us to the inevitable but fully logical question: what is the source? The stories you share are as good as your organization’s soul. Soulless brands will drift with storytelling and will continuously look to pivot based on what their customers want to read. Rather than pave the road, these brands will follow the masses for signs of being relevant and shapeshift endlessly to fit in.


The journey to find an organization’s essence can be accidental. Perhaps someone in the team shares a tweet and it rallies the entire ecosystem. But that is not the norm. Most companies follow a process to harness the many opinions of their worlds. It is often a hard journey that requires real feelings to come out; a journey that challenges the organization to rise above clichés and endless sales cycles. It is a journey of awakening. The average cycle depends heavily on multiple variables:

  • Size of the company: smaller is easier. It’s not a surprise that in our conversations with 40k+ employee organizations, it is clear that when you have a huge organization scattered across multiple countries, and that rebooting a larger organization will require more energy. However, successful transformation will impact more lives. Smaller organizations have fewer variables, but it’s never an easy journey.
  • Existing Culture: agile and innovative organizations are easier.
  • Industry: When it comes to purpose, people come first. We find that this pursuit is unique to each organization and its people, not to the industry. Several organizations in the same industry may have completely different purposes.
  • Age of the team: Millennials (Gen Y) have meaning in their DNA and they fearlessly demand it. They expect purpose to be a core pursuit of companies where they work and brands they support.
  • Leadership mindset: nimble and conscious leaders create a fertile ground to nurture the purpose journey.
  • Reason to begin this journey: immediate challenges which are perceived to span from lack of purpose, will create urgency. A disconnect with customers, inability to excite prospect team members or leadership fatigue can all create pressure to change. It is important to note that in order to accomplish the vision we set in this book, companies must reset to Chapter 1 and make a decision to communicate what they believe versus what they do.  If a company moves to solve a temporary crisis with a tactical plan to create a feel-good tag line and bandage the problem, it is not a holistic purpose transformation.  
  • The role of the Champion (or Inspired Committee): more trust leads to faster progress.

Now, some good news. Most companies who truly embark on the purpose transformation by allocating necessary mindshare and empowering the process find what they seek. It may not be perfect the first time around, and that’s ok.

In fact, iteration may be the new perfect.



Inspired Purpose Champions

How do we start? That’s a great question. In fact, our research shows that those who simply have the courage and curiosity to ask this question will succeed.

We believe that putting together a team to lead the efforts is step one. “Inspired Purpose Champions” (IPC) will facilitate the process from nurturing feedback, establishing organization wide buy-in to radiating throughout the organization. For the time being, IPC will become the temporary heart of the organization until the Purpose Thesis is developed.

IPC —–> Purpose Thesis —–> Validate or Iterate —–> Purpose

Let’s discuss IPC selection and characteristic process:

  1. Size of IPC group: three to nine people depending on the size of your organization. With larger organizations, the sheer magnitude of stakeholders requires enormous bandwidth for continued communication. We recommend an odd number to avoid stalemates.
  2. Cross-functional: ideally, IPC will represent different areas of the business. Marketing, finance/accounting, HR, and operations should be included to offer different perspectives of the business.
  3. Empowerment: either through inclusion of a senior leader, ideally the founder or CEO, or through mandate, it must be clear IPCs are on a mission critical initiative within the organization.
  4. Deeply Engaged: it would be beneficial to include experienced and engaged team members to ensure they have a positive outlook toward the organization.
  5. Unleash Creativity: this team is tasked to find the organization’s true purpose, it is not a structured or linear process. To unlock creativity, this team should explore different locations for meetings. From casual jams at coffee shops to retreats, we see best ideas require a paradigm shift from location to thoughts.
  6. Stakeholder Mapping: before IPC begins, make sure you have completed the stakeholder mapping exercise and the organization is in alignment to all the stakeholder groups. From an internal stakeholder perspective, consider your team and, depending on the size of the organization, you may subdivide into seniority, experience, areas of responsibility or other characteristics. This could include ownership, investors and the board. From the external stakeholder perspective, consider customers, supplier or vendor partners, communities you impact, the environment and the world at large.


Purpose Jams Purpose Jams

Purpose discussions require an elevated, almost transcended, state of mind. Remember when our parents said, “You can be anything you want to be when you grow up”? We didn’t have context at the time to understand the power and unlimited possibilities of this question. We do now. How epic is this feeling? Your organization is about to find the real reason for its existence, and through a domino effect, the energy will propagate through every cell of the organism and ecosystem.  

Purpose Jams are for internal stakeholders only. Ideally, the majority of the organization would go through the process and the results would be documented and cataloged for inspiration toward a Purpose Thesis.  Crowd-sourced purposes will have the highest chance of enduring and the lowest amount of iterating.

Where is the connection between individual purpose and organizational purpose? How does an individual decide if they belong in the organization? We believe there should be a strong connection between a person’s and organization’s reason for being. This is what forms the bonds of unity in a team. Once an organization finds and communicates its purpose internally, the following are become more likely:

  1. Spark: team members who resonate with the purpose and trust its legitimacy, will realize a personal transformation. Call it “getting wind under your wings,” their transformation will be from within and they will find themselves living-to-work instead of working-to-live. In fact, “work” as a concept takes different meaning when we believe in what we do. Our chemistry changes. This is covered further under the Believe Neuroscience section.
  2. Evolution: many organizations will experience team attrition once purpose is rolled out. It is simple reality for people. We are all different and what creates immense fire in one person may scare someone else.  This group will feel disconnected and displaced. In fact, with every escalation in intensity toward the newly found north star, this disconnected group will feel more and more lost. Our research suggests it is perfectly natural and should be anticipated and embraced. It’s a sign that they weren’t a good fit for this team and you should celebrate helping them find their own team.



The IPC team should conduct a Purpose Jam and once they understand the process, IPC individual members would benefit from conducting Purpose Jams throughout the organization. Here is the suggested overview designed to inspire the facilitation of the Purpose Jam:

  1. Environment: pick a space that encourages creativity. It must have write-on areas to give participants a clear visual of the progress.
  2. Time: allocate at least one hour of focused and uninterrupted attention. It doesn’t serve anyone to have the speed chess mindset when participating in this session. A relaxed, soul searching state is optimal. Remarkable ideas have been found when an agenda is dispensed. You may also wish to start with a simple breathing exercise or meditation to set the right energy in the room.
  3. Craziness welcomed: establish, at the onset, no one knows what the outcome will be. In fact, it is perfectly ok if this session ends with more questions than answers.
  4. No Seniority: it is critical to level the playing field for this session. Any seniority-dominated pressures will hinder participation and subsequent outcome.
  5. Inspire: it is recommended to pick a few of the case studies from the Discover section of the lessons to open the session. Showing examples will break many paradigms and unlock the universe of possibilities.
  6. Personal Purpose: at this stage, go one by one and ask “What gets you up in the morning?” and “What gets you most excited in your day?” Track 2-5 word summaries of each person on the board with their name. It is very important to encourage open flow and for the rest of the group either to stay silent or assist in asking follow up questions. Depth here is very beneficial.  
  7. Insight: once everyone finishes, let’s pause and evaluate the responses. Our research indicates that most of the responses at this stage will be inward-facing rather than an aspiration to impact the world at large. Do not bias the results by acknowledging this idea with your IPC group. In other words, without an established greater purpose, your IPCs will typically respond within one of the following categories:
    1. Team: appreciation for team’s work, collaboration, ideation, family-oriented environment.
    2. Customer-centric: enjoyment in helping the customer, building relationships, solving challenges, making an impact.
    3. Personal growth: being challenged, making progress, personal development from technical to interpersonal.

Sharing this insight  will help everyone in the room to reflect on the difference between having greater purpose and not having it. Without a reason for being, that expands beyond your organization’s walls, you will likely focus your attention on your everyday experiences at work. There is nothing wrong with that. During the industrial revolution, even this focus would have seemed out of reach.  However, we don’t think that settling for this inward focus reaches the ultimate and transcendent state that unifies and ignites the type of inertia that is capable of changing the world.

  • Purpose Thesis: IPC group is now ready to go after the question, “Why does our organization exist?” It is important to explain what the bullseye purpose looks like. If time allows, play a two minute tutorial around “Simple. Genuine. Aspirational.” Now, let’s unleash the brainstorm. Emphasize that no idea is too big and there are absolutely no limits.

The output of the Purpose Jam will include individual Why’s and a brainstorm toward the organization’s Purpose Thesis. The results of each session should be consolidated by IPC into a master document such as a mindmap that is all inclusive. Ideally, these sessions would be conducted across the organization and results will include insights that represent the majority of the organization.  

In addition to having the possibility of getting to the answer through this team-sourced process, the inclusion in the process itself and the participation in each session begins to build ownership of the vision. Every team member will leave the session feeling uplifted and in deep reflection of their own meaning and company’s purpose.  

IPC members should exhibit boldness to take a leap of faith and begin to explore different patterns as thesis candidates establish a “purpose thesis.” It is much easier to examine an existing option than to start the meeting with a blank canvas. We recommend beginning a journal to document ideas and reasons for pivots as you embark on the most important journey of your brand.  

Once the top thesis candidates are identified, it is time to share them and see how they resonate with more team members. In our experience, presenting a Simple, Genuine and Aspirational purpose without a story that’s inspired is incomplete. Your audience will not have the context or the anchors to fully appreciate the vision. Best practice would include preparing a one-minute elevator pitch accompanied by visual, design or video, to deliver the vision of suggesting greater purpose. You are now ready to put your thesis to the test and take the next step: validate or pivot.