Purpose is a Fad
4 August 2023

This line from Dave Snowden has niggled me no end since I read it. Given that everything I’ve encountered of Dave’s thinking has proven to be remarkably useful in my work on sustainability integration, as well as pretty much everything else I do, ignoring it was not an option. I am also fairly intuitive and there’s nothing more irritating than knowing someone is right without knowing why. I have spent years telling my clients that one of the reasons that their integration process is hitting snags is a lack of clarity on their purpose.

I finally sorted out my problem. Things become fads because they have an energy about them; they carry some truth. They hold enough energy to modulate the system. Fads pass because they are only a facet of a truth. They are not seen sufficiently in context. It’s like falling in love with someone because they are smart. They may well be smart and I find smart attractive, but being smart is only one facet of how they think and that might not be enough to warrant my continued attention. When we recognise that what we see is only a facet, our attention moves to the bigger context and – if that can not hold us – we’ll find another attractor.

An organisation’s Purpose is a facet of a deeper truth. Vision is another facet of the same truth. We might call this deeper truth its ‘founding impulse’. This insight comes from Stephanie Hartung who is the founder of Constellations International. I am presently attending her course called #OCATO and it is undoubtedly the best full picture organisational training that I have ever attended.

The founding impulse is what gave birth to the organisation in the first place. Of course it will carry energy; it is creation expressed in a new organisation. When an organisation loses its connection with that impulse, it lacks something that informs its ability to be in the world. When an organisation is clear on what brought it into being, it has a strength. That’s why Sinek’s ‘Find your why’ is so popular. But that power comes from initial conditions, not a sudden surge of social conscience (or something more cynical) that leads an organisation to declare its purpose as some variation of saving the world.

The past matters because it brought us to where we are now.

Where we are now is all we have to work with.

What we call it doesn’t matter as much as what it is.

How we express it might change.

Take a deeper look at what it is and decide whether your current purpose is useful.

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