Act With Purpose: Four Factors for Making a Difference

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Last week, I shared five reasons why I’m at odds with the “Change or die!” fear-mongers.  Today I offer an alternate (and calmer) approach: “Act with purpose.”

I’ll begin with another rebuttal to “Change or die”: We’re already changing, without anyone shouting at us to do so.  As people, as teams, as organizations, we’re changing all the time.

Any time we adopt a new habit, launch a new product, or add even one new team member, we’re changing.  But change can be intentional or unintentional.  So the operative question is this:

To what degree do we act with purpose?

I’m not using “purpose” in the way that marketers have recently appropriated it, which usually means attaching your brand to a larger platform, with varying degrees of sincerity.  By “act with purpose,” I mean stepping forward deliberately and intentionally.

Acting with purpose requires that you define what success looks like – in other words, the positive change you’ll create – and that you put that at the core of all you do. 

Four key factors will shape the degree to which you act with purpose.  I’ve captured them in the simplified diagram below.

  1. Who You Are.  (That’s the little factory.)  This is about your strengths, mission, values, passions and goals.
  2. Who You Serve.  (That’s the group of people on the right.)  This is about their needs, wants, challenges, values, motivations and worldviews.
  3. The Bond.  (That’s the two-way arrow.)  This is how your strategy manifests beyond your walls.  It’s the change you create, the experience you deliver and the relationships you build.  It’s usually embodied by a brand or brands. 
  4. The Environment.  (That’s the oval.)  Consider competitive activity, regulatory pressures, shifts in micro- and macro-cultures, and global goings-on.

Fuzzy answers cause problems.  For instance, if you have vague or conflicting goals, it’s tough to even get started.  If you don’t know your consumers well, it’s difficult to serve them.  And if you ignore the larger environment, get ready to be blind-sided.

When you have clarity on these four factors, decisions are easier and better.  To pick a purely hypothetical example, let’s say a global pandemic arises.  In choosing how to respond, you can look to who you are (and want to be), your deep knowledge of who you serve, and the bond you seek to sustain.  This will serve you better than looking only at the financials, or reacting out of fear.

Fluid, Not Fixed

These four factors are fluid, not fixed.  Things change, and much of good strategy is the awareness and diagnosis that precedes action.  This is not a once-a-year exercise.

On that note, there’s a famous Wayne Gretzky quote that’s often seen in PowerPoints: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.”

I get the intent.  But to extend the metaphor: We’re not just in the business of reacting to the puck.  We can also put the puck in play or redirect its path.

This is what we do when we act with purpose.  We lead, not follow.  We shape a little corner of the universe.  We build bonds of trust.  We improve lives.

“Change or die” is meant to scare you.  It leaves you wondering what to change, and to what, and how, and why.  But when you act with purpose, you’re confidently asking a better question:

“How will we make the world a better place?”

About Matthew Fenton: Matthew is a former CMO who helps brands to focus, grow and win.  Since founding his consultancy, Three Deuce Branding, in 1997, he’s helped hundreds of brands to achieve “brand clarity.”  His consulting services and speaking engagements help brands to focus on what matters through positioning, strategy and ideation.  Contact Matthew here.  He’s based near Portland, in Oregon wine country.

Copyright 2020 – Matthew Fenton. All Rights Reserved. You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.