Purpose: a powerful business tool

“Purpose is a powerful business tool. Both for the business you want to grow and the change you want to make. Purpose allows you to know why it matters. Why your time on this crazy thing isn’t wasted. Which reduces stress.” (The Stress Report – Do)

Saying that purpose is a powerful business tool seems too obvious given last weeks post – which you can see here if you missed it. Purpose is about Being. The change you make is what you want to do and have, and flows directly from it.

We know the importance of being clear on our purpose. The big question I’m often asked is “how”.

Simon Sinek has written and spoken extensively on the subject, so I’m not going to regurgitate that, other than to reiterate his main point as I recall it: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. While he’s talking primarily about marketing, consider for a moment someone you know who has a clear personal purpose.

Are they not easier to either engage with (or not) as a result? If you don’t sense alignment with their purpose then you won’t engage with them wholeheartedly, and that is better for both of you. When purpose is vague, other people don’t know whether to go all-in, and consequently may sit on the side-lines. And we too, suffer. An unclear direction makes doing anything seem sensible - and yet be a waste of time, pointless, and thus never build traction or motivation.

Three ways to a clearer purpose

Here are three approaches, in ascending complexity and effort.

First, and most simple of all, use a picture.

Not a ‘mood board’ (personally, I’ve never found these helpful) but simpler. This idea came from a conversation which I had with a colleague at HP many years ago. With a bit of paper in landscape format, add a frame around the edge of the page and a title of a date some time in the future. Then draw images that represent how you want life to be on that date. 

The only rule is you can’t include any words. Use stick-people, stick cats and dogs, houses and so on. As you draw, notice the thoughts that arise as well as your inner dialogue. A host of useful ideas will bubble up as you get drawn into your picture. When it's completed, explain it to someone you can trust, and refine as necessary. 

Then (following the idea from the previous post) ask yourself “What kind of person achieves this picture?” There’s your purpose.

Another alternative route to purpose.

The second alternative is to draw on memories of past peak experiences – times when life or work were particularly sweet, or enjoyable.

Find three such times, and for each, search form 3-5 words that express it for you. Repeat for each memory in turn, remembering them in as much detail (see, hear and feel) as you can muster. Make sure you break between them somehow so that they don’t end up blurring together to an indiscriminate blob! 

Take the resulting list (which will be 9-15 words) and reduce it to the essential 5 in whatever way works for you. Then craft a purpose statement along the lines of :

“My purpose at work (or life or whatever context you were thinking of) is to A, B, C, D, E.”

Final alternative: The pyramid of performance

A more extensive version of this would be to consider each ‘layer’ in the pyramid of performance (see left).

Taking 3 peak positive experiences as in the previous method, find 3 words for each layer in the model, starting at the base of the pyramid. In this case, the break between each memory needs to be very clean and thus more substantial – make a coffee, have a short chat with someone, for example. 

The final wordsmithing will take longer, as you first have to get to 3 words for each layer and then build the sentence, which has a similar structure:

My purpose at work (etc) is to be 1A, 1B, 1C; thinking 2A, 2B, 2C; with skills 3A, 3B, 3C and achieving (or delivering?) 4A, 4B, 4C."

If you feel this is too heavily dependent on past experiences, then use an imagined future experience as the third peak experience.

Whichever way you choose to try, it's not going to take long and is easy to refine afterwards. For a while I carried a slip of paper in my wallet with my purpose on. Just try it and see what it does for you.

If you’re in doubt about the value of all this, consider research of Jenny Campbell. Working with 100 CxO’s, she found that those with a clear personal purpose were more resilient. Which means they’re less stressed by day-to-day events. 

So what are you going to do now? Leave a comment below and let me know...

That's all for today. If you've questions or comments, drop me a line below or get in touch.

About the Author Jonathan