The Value of Purpose: Recommended Reading

Spence, Jr., Roy M. and H. Rushing (2009). It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business Is Driven By Purpose. New York, Portfolio.

Everywhere you turn today, there are “nice” stories about the power of purpose. Roy Spence is a seasoned marketing and advertising executive who is very serious about the success of his business and those of his clients like Southwest Airlines, BWM, Wal-Mart, and the University of Texas. It is because he takes their success so seriously that he and his team have researched what leads to consistently stable success. He finds that a key driver is purpose, and taking that purpose seriously is what differentiates the most successful groups. “Human beings are a passionate species. We want to engage in meaningful work” (p25). Having this purpose helps organizations “attract ‘a certain kind of energetic person'” (p25). “Imagine what the culture of your organization would look like and feel like if everyone had knowingly and intentionally signed up for the purpose at hand” (p27).

The continuous practice of that purpose matters. “As human beings our minds easily wander off track. It’s easy to lose focus. A strong sense of values, beliefs, and purpose will keep everyone on track” (p22). We found a process that supports this in the Institute for Strategic Clarity’s global research of high-performing groups in 126 countries. We call it the “O Process,” which we describe in a case study in the book Ecosynomics: The Science of Abundance (2014). The O Process focuses a group, whenever it gathers, on its purpose, as a group, and how that purpose relates to the organization’s deeper shared purpose. Spence and Rushing found that what seems obvious is seldom done well–“the company has to have something of genuine value to offer to consumers…When you have a purpose at the heart of the company, it will drive the business and ensure that something remarkable is happening with the product or service” (p23).

Spence and Rushing provide a very practical guide, with lots of examples from their work with leading organizations, to discover and articulate your purpose, then build an organization and leadership around the purpose, ultimately engaging your customers with that purpose. They provide examples of how this works for businesses, membership organizations, nonprofits, universities, and sports organizations. I highly recommend this practical book.

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