If Vision is our sense of destiny; a sacred understanding of where we are going, then purpose is its more meaningful partner. Like yen and yang, these two ideas are each other’s greatest compliment. Neither can stand alone very well without the benefit of the other. Of course, you can have “vision” with no purpose, but there won’t be meaningful results. We need to have a compelling reason to engage in any change of behavior. “Purpose” is most often defined as the anticipated result that guides decision making. That’s right when you are moving with purpose; you are simultaneously anticipating an outcome. You’re thinking about your end game with some reasonable expectation. Your results can be either positive or negative but the results are inevitable.
Purpose quite often has two characteristics: it provides meaning and simultaneously answers the question “why”. It’s easy to decide on a destination that you want to reach in life. The hard part is providing a sense of contextual meaning or reason to that destination. Without a good compelling reason, it’s harder to accomplish anything. Yes, often we find ourselves engaging in thoughtless activity simply because someone in whom we have a great amount of respect for, asked that we do so. I would submit that keeping up with this course of action, never having a clue as to why your mother, for example, wanted you to bath five times a day would be difficult. Eventually, you’ll have an understanding of how other people behave and begin to question why they can get away with only one or two cleanings a day! You may even begin to resent your mother as you use up more and more body soap in your quest for absolute germ-free cleanliness. Anger and disappointment will soon give way to rage and disgust until you simply cease to comply.
But, what if you found out that you carried a highly contagious skin rash that would disappear for exactly four hours after a bathing. You could otherwise lead a very normal life but you simply had to bath every three to four hours to keep everyone around you from experiencing grave illness. Well, purpose does put a different spin on things, doesn’t it? In fact, if you told everyone that you loved that you needed to bath all of the time to keep you from passing on infectious disease your birthday basket would be filled with, “you guessed it”..soap! They might bring the stuff to you in truck loads. I know this is a far-fetched analysis but it does hit quite a few points.
The foundational aspects of purpose and the true reason for any real vision are an absolute thing of beauty. We always know when we are acting from our purpose-driven ideas. There is an abiding sense of satisfaction knowing that our deepest convictions and values show up in our everyday behavior. Our sense of destiny is fulfilled and we are aware that every time we experience harmony and balance we are not just “on task” but “on purpose”. We know exactly what we are doing and why we are doing it. This is that absolute perfectly aligned balance between thought and action that leaves no lingering questions, no nagging notion of value. It’s simply good.
“Purpose” has a concrete nature about it. There’s firmness about “conviction” that helps others relate to and trust new ideas. Enduring relationships both personal and business is made of this kind of stuff. If you’ve ever had a really good friend that never seems to know what they are doing or why you may find this idea useful. Ask your friend to engage in a conversation with you around the idea of ‘ meaning’ in your friendship. Ask what he or she expects from the relationship and why. Try to create a mutually beneficial system of personal growth that propels you both. If your friends aren’t willing to work with you to help you grow in some way how useful are they, really?
It’s true that vision works to direct a company’s efforts and opportunities but without purpose, it’s just meaningless activity that no one really values (see our vision illustration). In fact, without either clear vision or compelling purpose positive change is simply impossible. Imagine moving an entire organization forward on a mission that no one really understands or accepts. How hard will people really work? How much creative energy will subordinates actually expend to just blindly follow an organization that seems to be going the wrong way for the wrong reason? Not much. Leaders have to communicate and create purpose along with vision to inspire others.
The funny thing to me about purpose is that it can actually come from anywhere. The creative mind can look at almost any finished product and assign a purpose to it. Imagine a child’s tricycle in a front yard. From an engineering perspective, it’s clearly a machine that was designed to propel a small child that hasn’t quite yet mastered the subtle art of balance. If you dip this same machine in cement, let it dry and then paint it in vibrant colors, it can be a yard ornament or sculpture of some type that reminds the passer-by of the fun they had in their own childhood. Add a plant box on the handlebars and you’ve got a wonderful gift for the now adult that use to ride that very tricycle. Pass it down from generation to generation and it becomes a symbolic family heirloom and every two year old in a family can have a picture with it on their birthday. Can you imagine that scrapbook project? See, once a project or strategy is actually finished it can and often will take on as many meanings as people will assign it.
Often when a leader designs a new strategy for a group or company, others will attempt to change its purpose even before it’s been implemented. As a leader, you then have to ask yourself if your project that clearly can have at least a dual purposes is useful. Will people be able to rally around it with so many different uses or will the message that you want to deliver get so watered down that it loses its power to compel? Will you be able to embrace these multiple purposes and still keep moving forward? If you are the type of person that believes there is only one way to do something or only one reason why it should be done at all, then let me know immediately. I’ll create another blog about listening just for you.
Here are a couple of exercises that can help you embrace new initiatives within your teams or committees. Create a list of everything that a new strategy will allow you to do. Who will it affect most positively? How will it move your group forward? When will you experience success? How will you know you’ve arrived? Why is this important to you? What will your group have accomplished as a result of finishing the project? What other groups will feel supported as a result of your success? Add to your list every day and try to contemplate the questions for fifteen minutes each day for at least two weeks. When you are sure that you’ve exhausted every possible notion that you can think of, then take another few days to have some close contacts evaluate your list and have them add their thoughts. Now you are ready to spend about an hour really prioritizing the best ideas. Use your collection of ideas to write brilliant a statement of purpose about your new initiative. I guarantee you will see your vision come to light in a new way. You’ll discover real purpose and drive your own excitement. Finding purpose is the greatest self-motivator. Come on in the water is fine!