From Purpose to Strategy … turning “inspire the world” ideologies into practical, purposeful and profitable business strategies

December 6, 2019

Mark Zuckerberg isn’t everyone favourite philosopher, or business leader, but recently he was back at Harvard talking about purpose, and made a lot of sense.

“Today I want to talk about purpose. But I’m not here to give you the standard commencement about finding your purpose. We’re millennials. We’ll try to do that instinctively. Instead, I’m here to tell you finding your purpose isn’t enough. The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose.

One of my favorite stories is when John F. Kennedy visited the NASA space center, he saw a janitor carrying a broom and he walked over and asked what he was doing. The janitor responded: “Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for. Purpose is what creates true happiness.”

Another person who I largely admire, not always, is Philip Kotler, sometimes called the godfather of modern marketing. He recently updated his 4P model of marketing to include purpose:

“I’ve added to the 4P’s a new P. You know the 4P’s is what marketers put together in a marketing plan; they have to describe the product, the price, the place, and the promotion. So the fifth I’ve added is purpose. 

So why is purpose so important that it got included in to the Marketing Mix? Why is it important in marketing? Why is it important in business? In short, purpose drives business performance. It delivers business results.”

Roy Spence, a little known guy, who was the creator of much of Southwest Airline’s journey to become one of the legends of customer service, describes purpose simply:

“Purpose is a definitive statement about the difference you are trying to make in the world.”

Of course Simon Sinek, and his “Start with Why” circle, is perhaps the best known descriptor of purpose and why it matters. Here’s his logic:

“All the great and inspiring leaders and organizations in the world, whether it’s Apple or Martin Luther King or the Wright brothers — they all think, act, and communicate the exact same way and it’s the complete opposite to everyone else. All I did was codify it. It’s probably the world’s simplest idea and I call it the Golden Circle. Why? How? What?

This little idea explains why some organizations and some leaders are able to inspire where others are not. Let me define the terms very quickly.

Every single person and organization in the planet knows what they do 100%. Some know how they do it, whether you call it your differentiating proposition or proprietary process or USP. But very very few people and organizations know why they do what they do. And by why I don’t mean to make a profit — that’s a result. It’s always a result. By why I mean, what’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist?”

From Purpose to Strategy

The real question most people then struggle with is, is how to turn an inspiring but fairly intangible purpose statement into something which is a meaningful strategy for the business. The key is to turn the aspiration into something practical, her called a concept, before going on to define business priorities and activities.

Step 1: Define your inspiring purpose

The framework start with purpose — the WHY. For example, Starbucks’ purpose is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit”. 

As the core of purpose are three questions we need to answer:

  1. Who do we serve?
  2. How do we help them?
  3. Consequently, how does that transform those we serve?

Step 2: Interpret it as a practical concept

What is the practical concept that will enable your inspiring ideal to become real?

This is more like a brand concept as it governs what you do for people.

Keywords: What are the core ingredients of the business and brand that will deliver your purpose? For example, at the core of Starbucks’ strategy are human connection and coffee.

Explanation: This is where you get practical – defining the who, what, where, how, and why.

Statement: Like an elevator pitch, or a tweet, or maybe even a brand slogan. Starbucks has a great one-liner, the third place. MUJI explains their concept as — living as part of a community, simply, conscientiously, and in harmony. They capture the explanation in a simple one-liner in Japanese: kanji-ii-kurashi.

One last example. Union Square Ventures is a investment company and they call their strategic focus an investment thesis. Here’s their thesis in 140 characters: invest in large networks of engaged users, differentiated by user experience, and defensible though network effects

Step 3: Develop your purpose-driven strategy

A great example of this is the transformation agenda Starbucks created in 2008 to turn the company around. The agenda stated seven big moves:

  1. Be the undisputed coffee authority
  2. Engage and inspire their partners
  3. Ignite the emotional attachment with their customers
  4. Expand their global presence-while making each store the heart of the local neighborhood
  5. Be a leader in ethical sourcing and environmental impact
  6. Create innovative growth platforms worthy of their coffee
  7. Deliver a sustainable economic model

Learning from this example, a good way to articulate strategy is to come up a list of bold moves for your project or business.

Another great reference for strategy is Elon Musk’s Master Plan for Tesla. (Part two of their master plan is here.)

  1. Create a low volume car, which would necessarily be expensive
  2. Use that money to develop a medium volume car at a lower price
  3. Use that money to create an affordable, high volume car

The Master Plan provides a clear road map (a series of steps) on what needs to be done.