I have never had a rant. And perhaps this isn’t either. But close it. Direct and to the point on something I am passionate about, which is Purpose.

Purpose in business is in vogue. Many talk about it. Some provide advice. Only a few understand. The complication is that Purpose has two aspects. One can be understood. The other cannot.
Let’s start with what can be understood. To understand something it must relate to something. To be understood by everyone it must relate to everyone.
This aspect of Purpose includes love, compassion, collaboration and core traits that define the evolved side of humanity. Exploring a common Purpose is an opportunity to involve all employees in meaningful conversations. Which provides many benefits such as team and morale-building.
This is good and can translate into productivity improvements. But it doesn’t differentiate. A nice purpose statement doesn’t differentiate. Happy employees don’t differentiate. And that is why Purpose has remained irrelevant until recently. In a world where change is slow and predictable it is not needed. There are many methods of business improvement that yield better results than Purpose.
The game-change is the digital disruption. Digital speeds everything up. Exponentially. And as it infiltrates life and business it makes everything go faster. Much faster. Which creates a key business challenge. Noise. And an incredible amount of it. To then point where loudness alone makes little headway. And where only uniqueness cuts through because it stands out.

uniqueness is the only true differentiator jesper lowgren

This is the reason why Purpose is becoming important. Because the second aspect is uniqueness.
  • Sameness is what everyone shares and can relate to. It is the baseline of life and business. It is the lowest common denominator of Purpose.
  • Uniqueness cannot be shared or related to (if it could be shared it is no longer unique). But it can be diluted and become the baseline for differentiation. It is the highest unique denominator of Purpose.
Purpose has a second benefit. Sameness and uniqueness are change resistant. This makes Purpose the ideal platform to manage change and disruption. By providing the glue to hold a business together and the differentiation to compete.
But this requires greater understanding more of uniqueness. Which cannot be understood. Which is a paradox to the Western mind. But normal to an Eastern mind used to meditations and koans. Let’s do a quick deep-dive into Eastern philosophy and see how it can be applied to the challenges of change and disruption.
To begin with, Western and Eastern have different concepts of truth. In the West, truth is absolute and codified into morality. It is prescriptive in its nature because it needs to be understood by everyone. Purpose is treated in the same way and defined to its lowest common denominator, making it understandable to everyone.

Purpose or Perish jesper lowgren

In the East, truth is relative and not codified. It is based on a subjective right and wrong. It is descriptive in nature because it needs to describe a truth that can be understood by only one – you. And because only you can know your own truth, Eastern philosophy describes the path for you to find it, rather than trying to tell you what it is. Purpose is treated in the same way and defined to its highest uncommon (unique) denominator, making it understandable to you.
Uniqueness provides a new lens to examine and draw advantage from Purpose. And this lens sheds new light on the current Purpose conversation. Let’s examine some of the common views and statements about Purpose.
  • Purpose and Culture are the same things. They are opposites. Culture is a common set of beliefs and attitudes among a group of people. Purpose is an aspiration and a desire to make a difference. Culture is best understood as the current state and starting point. Purpose is the future state and ending point. Transformation is the journey from Culture-led to Purpose-led.
  • Purpose is a journey not a destination. They are both essential because they are polarities and define each other. The destination is not about a final stop but to set direction through clarity. Purpose can be defined through employee engagement and workshops. Successful organisations do not create a lowest common denominator purpose, but the opposite. Successful organisations have powerful founders or CEO’s in their DNA. This nucleus is grown by attracting like-minded and like-hearted employees.
  • Purpose is overrated and not needed. In the digital world everything can be copied. Purpose is analogue and the glue that will hold a business together when change and disruption intensifies. New successful enterprises all have a strong Purpose in their DNA, used to attract and retain talent, collaborators and customers.
  • Purpose is fluffy and just another piece of paper. Anything that remains unintegrated will be ineffective. To make Purpose effective it needs to be codified into Guiding Principles and connected into the business and operating model.
This article has been about outlining the case for Purpose and why it is growing in importance.  In my next Purpose article, I will talk about how to define a purpose, how to use it to develop guiding principles.
JL
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Jesper Lowgren

Jesper Lowgren is a published author, keynote speaker, member of board of advisors for Enterprise Transformation 2020, and a business & digital transformation thought-leader with Telstra Limited, Australia’s largest telecommunications provider.

He is a published author of two books on transformation. Both are available on Amazon.

- ON PURPOSE – The Path to Extraordinary Business Transformation.
- FROM ORDINARY TO EXTRAORDINARY – How to Re-Imagine Yourself and Re-Define what is Possible.

Jesper is Swedish and apologises for any Swenglish creeping into his writing.
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