Bud Caddell’s Responsive OS Canvas: A Visionary Purpose

By Bud Caddell. Source: Responsive.org.Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 5.20.45 PM

Nike’s purpose is to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world (and if you have a body, you’re an athlete in their eyes).

Facebook’s Purpose is to make the world more open and connected.

Google’s Purpose is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.

Amazon’s Purpose is to be Earth’s most customer-centric company.

Tesla’s Purpose is to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass market electric cars to market as soon as possible.

GE’s Purpose is to invent things that matter in order to make the world work better for everyone.

Chipotle’s Purpose is to find the very best ingredients raised with respect for the animals, the environment, and the farmers. (In contrast, McDonald’s Purpose is to be their customers’ favorite place and way to eat and drink.)

Over the last 7 years, we’ve studied a cohort of companies which have grown to become the most impactful institutions on the planet. Many of them have a Visionary Purpose and use it to rally employees, customers, and culture at large to their cause. Not all of the companies we study have a defined Purpose stated on their website, but all have an ethos greater than themselves which has an incredible and measurable impact on their business.

As we examine institutions with a complex adaptive system lens (among others), a Visionary Purpose is critical for a few reasons:

  1. A Visionary Purpose can help to synchronize the mental models and goals inside a diverse organization. Organizations are, after all, made up of individual agents, each struggling to maximize their own interests. A Visionary Purpose, when used well, can act as a powerful tool to shape desired behaviors, outcomes, and interests among the collective.
  2. A Visionary Purpose can help attract new networks. Increasingly, we see talent sprinting to companies which serve a higher purpose. We have also seen competitors become collaborators when an organization looks beyond its own immediate self interest.
  3. A Visionary Purpose can also expand an organization’s time horizon and enable it to delay gratification. In a world of quarterly earnings goals and internal fire-drill cultures, this is huge. Jeff Bezos put it best, “If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that.”

There’s no single way to develop your organization’s Purpose, but there’s plenty of great thinking out there to help.

  • Simon Sinek says that, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” So start with Why.
  • As Gareth Kay has said, “Have a point of view on the world, not a position in the category.” So have a perspective larger than your products.
  • Steve Jobs famously said that Apple was out to “put a dent in the universe,” to make a significant contribution to the underlying fabric of reality and people’s lives, not just make beautiful products. So give something to the world beyond a flashy object and a price tag.
  • In a pinch, an outside enemy can galvanize employees and customers – as detailed in Eat Big Fish. This strategy works quickly but if you succeed, you’ll run out of Purpose.
  • My fellow Partner, Mike Arauz, says that, “Strong brands define insiders and outsiders, who’s in and who’s outside.” So give people a way to craft their identity.
  • If you’re in the mood for a long read, this HBR article by Jim Collins from 1996 holds up.

Lastly, you’ll notice that in our Responsive OS Canvas, everything is nested beneath Purpose. We think it’s that important. If done well, a Visionary Purpose acts as a lighthouse to steer talent, process decisions, product development, and platform collaboration. It’s also one of the easier domains to make a quick impact on. Gather together your organization’s leadership and have the most important conversation of your year, you’ll be glad to have done it.

By Bud Caddell. Source: Responsive.org.


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