Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Living the Organisation’s Purpose

Man, first of all, is the being who hurls himself towards a future and who is conscious of imagining himself as being in the future – Jean-Paul Sartre


The Veracity of Purpose

For both organisations and individuals, a clear (higher) purpose that is bigger than ourselves can provide us with direction, stability, motivation, meaning and a sense of belonging. It informs our behaviour.  Builds our reputation.  Any organisation or individual truly executing its or their purpose authentically, coherently and passionately are alive and well.

Without purpose and meaning we suffer the disease of ennui, are jaded, lacklustre, aimless, feel unsatisfied. “The human brain cannot sustain purposeless living. It is not designed for that. Its systems are designed for purposive action. When that is blocked, its systems deteriorate, and the emotional feedback from idling these systems signals extreme discomfort and motivates the search for renewed purpose, renewed meaning”.(1)

So finding and following our purpose is work of the utmost importance.
“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds; your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be”.(2)

Purpose encompasses being, then the doing that results, with any achievement or outcome of lesser concern. To the extent that we are attached to the results of our work, we rise and fall with our success and failures, which is a path to burnout. Failures are inevitable, and successes are not the deepest purpose of our work. This requires a deepening of faith in the intrinsic value of our work-

beyond the concrete results. To the extent that our actions are rooted in pure intention, they have a reverberation far beyond the concrete results of the actions themselves.  As Gandhi emphasized,   "The victory is in the doing", not the outcome”. (3)    Purpose evokes a passion about why we exist.

Employees should be able to identify with and support the organisation’s purpose although their own individual purpose may be different, and this is sufficient ‘alignment’.

Finding our higher purpose has been the subject of previous papers:

This document now explores how we might, at the organisation level, follow a decided purpose.

Living your Purpose using the ‘Purpose Sphere’ and its Dimensions

Steering the organisation to deciding and fulfilling its newly stated purpose requires considerable effort, especially in the kick-off phase, in order to build and maintain momentum through to completion. 

This is not simply about fixing a few things but about embracing new possibilities, entering a new way of relating to the community being served, becoming a different entity, with a different culture.  Naturally a new way of leading is required.  A number of dimensions need to be leveraged in the interests of this transformation. Hence what I term the ‘purpose-sphere’:


Some background to explain this visual conceptually:

  •  Somatics attempts to go beyond cognitive knowledge to embody, and generate.  Centreing from thinking to feeling happens along four dimensions.

       LENGTH - from spiritual to pragmatic (Be and Do),
       WIDTH -  being ‘wide’ open and beyond self into community (relational space), 
       DEPTH is the space between what’s behind and what’s in front (or the depth of one’s inner  
       The 4th dimension then becomes a centred purpose.

  • The Whirling Dervish dancer is connecting heaven and earth, embracing all, symbolising the way the universe and all within rotate and connect

               When particles of dust
               Are touched by the sun
               They spread their arms and start whirling
               To a music no one can hear

               The sun, moon, and stars
               Keep turning around the sky:
               We’re in the middle
               Turning around the centre
              What should I do
               If love seizes me
               Start dancing of course! (Rumi)

  St Patrick (born around AD 414):

               Christ with me
               Christ before me
               Christ behind me
               Christ in me
               Christ beneath me
               Christ above me
               Christ on my right 
               Christ on my left

Ephesians 3:18: “And may you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is      
The ‘purpose sphere’ visual may be viewed as a journey to integration. Interestingly, the Christian cross is a symbol of becoming whole, attaining equilibrium. It has both dark and light connotations. It is “a double see saw with the two axis crossing at the centre. It provides the framework for balancing right and left and also the high and the low” - Robert Johnson

Width, depth and length factors contribute to the totality of purpose and need be integrated in order to gain and maintain momentum, in order to reach the purposeful being and doing foreseen at journey’s ‘end’:

  • WIDTH in the sense of an open-ness to the needs of the community.  Think in terms of willing, wide open arms, to serve and give in order to to make our purpose explicit.

      And also as a balancing factor, that is, a balance between ‘left brain’/’right brain’ thinking,    
      non-duality (‘And’ rather than ‘Either/Or), masculine and feminine, positive and ‘negative’
      opportunities.  A good metaphor is that of steering a boat – with only one oar one goes
      around in circles. Utilising both oars ensures sound guidance towards the chosen direction.

    Integrated (systemic) thinking when making a decision, solving a problem, formulating   
    a  plan 
      -  taking account of the impact of and on the interconnected capitals available to business
      (human, social, manufactured, social, intellectual, natural)(4) to which we could add 
     ‘spiritual’, is an important balancing mechanism. The integrated thinking model goes hand in 
      hand with stewardship: an eco-centric approach to the environment, ushering in a circular 
      economy and enabling sustainable, cohesive communities and society.

  • DEPTH is being focused on and moving towards bringing purpose to fruition - fully engaged, assuming a presence in the community, having a sense of wider inter-connectivity, and a clear scenario of your future, being ‘in the flow’. Being pushed by wonder, awe, curiosity, compassion ….  -  but also being held back or restrained / constrained by past experiences, limiting beliefs, attachments, false logic,  lack of capacity, a non-growth mind-set, self-deception .…

      We are often unaware of the unconscious forces pushing, pulling or constraining us, our
      built in, hidden impulses and drivers.  An illustration:

      Dr Gabor Maté interviewed by Tami Simon of Sounds True on Tues Mar 21, 2017 told of  
      being in Budapest a day after the WWII German occupation, when he was 2 months old, his
       mother called their paediatrician: "Would you please come see my son?  Because he's            
       crying all the time". And the paediatrician says, "Of course I will come, but I should tell you 
      all my Jewish babies are crying".
      And so that anecdote told by my mother speaks to the very essence of childhood experience,  
      which is to say that what happens to the parents happens to the child.

      Sometimes we have to push and push until purpose and vision pulls!  Key to this is being   
      aware of what is propelling or preventing our forward momentum, through disciplined
      external and internal sensing, and building or leveraging what is needed.

  •  LENGTH is about having a raised consciousness and being practical; about being part of, and inspired by, a higher calling, belonging, having faith and a transcendental view, being values- based, operating from the inside out while at the same time being alert, grounded, practical, mindful, effective at decision-making and problem solving, and at bringing about lasting change through sound, courageous leadership.  Integrated thinking is applied. There are reflective, relational and resilience aspects to this dimension. 

       The ‘Length’ dimension can be viewed as a contemplatives-in-action dimension. Spirituality
       promotes and fosters:

o   an internal focus and an outward execution
o   a meaningful, transcending, pervasive world view that calls forth a higher purpose, and rises above religion, culture and ethnicity
o   a deep appreciation of our interconnectedness as a context of existence
o   an other-orientation. The desire to serve others, society and the environment. An awakening from self- consciousness to a wider, deeper consciousness
o   the development of positive principles and character virtues, a mature ethics and morality in action (purity of heart) along with a recognition that love is the highest virtue, but reachable
              Spirituality is about the whole person. When we’re spiritual we think, feel and act differently
               and congruently. (I am acutely aware that there is a mystical, mysterious, inexplicable inner
             – experience dimension to spirituality which defies easy explanation and definition).

A Moving Force-Field and Container

Think of the ‘purpose – sphere’ as a powerful force field, designed for you to succeed at implementing your purpose statement.  The sphere is also a container: Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach  -   Clarissa Pinkola Estes

We are reflective, relational and resilient beings.  (“At the heart of resilience is a belief in oneself - yet also a belief in something larger than oneself” – Hara Estroff Marano, Editor at Large, Psychology Today)

Reflecting periodically as a group on the transformation journey to is a bonding, growth experience. A creative pause in our hectic daily activities - that yields clear ways forward to gain and to keep momentum. 
Has the journey improved our stability, ‘anti-fragility’ and who we intend to be as we’ve moved into living our clear purpose and direction?  
Have we sufficiently leveraged the length, width and depth dynamics of the ‘purpose sphere’ to this end? 
These two questions raise the issues of feedback and measurement, and here I love the simple eloquence of what drives Menlo Innovations, a highly successful IT services company based in Michigan.

Their CEO and Chief Storyteller, Richard Sheridan, is focused on JOY as a value, a purpose and a description of their culture. When I asked Richard how he measured joy, his response was that he produces statistics, metrics and improvement-outcomes for the cynical and disbelieving, but essentially his real measure (the one that counts!) is the extent to which Menlo’s successes and advocacy travel as anecdotes by word of mouth.(5) 

When contemplating progress towards a higher purpose, compose story of a future possibility, how things will look when you overcome existing blocks, challenges or traumas. Allow yourselves to enter   Neil Gaiman’s world of “not yet(6), asking and then answering one or more of these three questions:

“What if … ?
If only …
If this goes on …”

© Graham Williams 2017


1. Cooper, Mick Presentation: Tree of Desires citing Klinger The search for meaning in evolutionary goal - theory perspective and its clinical implications. In P. T. P. Wong (Ed.), The human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (2nd Ed)  New York: Routledge  2013
2. Rutte, Martin (2006) The Work of Humanity: project heaven on earth citing Patanjali (in Seeking the Sacred: leading a spiritual life in a secular world. (ed Mary Joseph) ECW Press, Toronto, Canada
3. Will Keepin’s Principles of Spiritual Leadership
4. The international Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) (2013) The International ‘IR’ Framework, December 2013
5. Sheridan, Richard  Joy, Inc.: how we built a workplace people love Portfolio/ Penguin  2013
6. Gaiman, Neil  The View From the Cheap Seats: selected Nonfiction  Headline  2016