The Importance Of Purpose (for brands and organizations in search of a larger mind share)

By on April 30, 2013

The people who are doing the work are the moving force behind the Macintosh. My job is to create a space for them, to clear out the rest of the organization and keep it at bay. …Steve Jobs

If there is/ was one person in recent times (in an organizational context), that came across as a man with ‘clear purpose’, it must indeed be Steve Jobs – for he made ‘purpose’ as the central thing at Apple by defining the same as delighting customers first – while benefits to other stakeholders, including shareholders as secondary. What did Apple and Steve Jobs see in this purpose that most know and acknowledge, but are unable to live up-to?  

Great brands and great organization (like Apple) have not become great just because they have wanted to. Behind every such brand lies an organization defined by leader(s), who help shape and charter that purpose — very much in the likes of how some select individuals go about defining their own purposes – so ‘that thing’ evokes a feeling like our life matters, work matters – and they somehow matter more in the day-day lives of millions of people, touching, helping and influencing them along – that’s what great brands and organisations do.

Lead examples of this can be found via iconic brands like Apple – led and inspired to purpose driven objectives by the legendary Steve Jobs (who just seemed to know the purpose better than anyone else – be it the purpose of a graphic card, mouse functionality, enabling ecosystems or just font faces – and they all seemed to be nested in a larger/ meta purpose of Apple Inc or Apple brand of delighting customers. There has been no compromising here with purpose – none what so ever and to the point that if need be ‘time’ can/will be sacrificed, but not purpose, ever – making Steve Jobs, as possibly the toughest ceo to ever work with. Result – a mind blowing aspiring org for millions of brilliant graduates and a business establishment built on unparalleled technology and brand achievements creating the most profitable enterprise in history ever – touching, helping and influencing millions of lives.

Another great example of an organization that has recognized the immense importance of purpose is p&g – Purpose at p&g is truly inspirational at every step – be it defining product charters, technology deployment and/.or creating inspirational brands. Result – a truly global organization from where +100 iconic brands have emerged over the last ~100 years, touching, helping and influencing millions of lives. And not to overlook the millions of employees who have found meaning in such purpose to celebrate their achievements, be it via new molecules discovery, patents, superior consumer understanding, superior advertising, superior manufacturing, superior fiscal management and the like. And there are many more significantly purpose driven iconic examples (of the like of MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Tom Cruise, Dalai Lama, Adi Shankara, Steven Spielberg, Google, Microsoft, Toyota, Mcdonalds, Colgate, Walmart, Nike, TATA, etc.)

So in effect purpose impacts powerfully, but how? To elaborate:

  • Purpose is the foundation to shape the vision and direction of any organization, brand or individual. It is not just a mere calling or an activity, but a platform to do inspired work to innovate, outdo competition or simply to create something that could have never have been done or even imagined at times.
  • Purpose has in it the power of nurturing, developing and creating new vistas, new avatars or just that something new that was just not there before. It brings forth, new forces of concentration, leverage and mental faculties that enable power of minds and power of organizations to surface.
  • Such purpose enabled power of minds and power of organisations fosters permanency. Such companies or cultures never disappear or fade away even long after the people who helped shape such a purpose are no longer at helm or are alive.
  • Such purpose(s) than ensure and enable brands, organizations and individuals to constantly recreate themselves to stay relevant and inspiring to many. .Many a giant brand or organisation of yesterday has disappeared or lost relevance today (as their purpose had no charter for resuscitation nor for re-creation. Brands like IBM have nearly died and come back in a radically different avatar- who could imagine a journey from main frames to services and to become more vibrant than before. Why and how…at the core is likely a reconnection and redefinition of purpose
  • Purpose seems to have its roots in discovering truth as many individuals do. Here in many individuals than deep dive spontaneously be it via the realms of science and technology or deep consumer insights, invoking their science, engineering or liberal arts skill, while prompting answers for such questions, as who am I/ are we?/ what do I do/ we do? Why Buy Me? How am I differentiated, what makes me superior, permanent etc… All questions that help for truth an purpose to emerge better, while delineating the irrelevant along the journey
  • In purpose led organizations, brands and such purpose driven people, integrity is more a way of life and in effect is a table stake. The brands never short deliver nor the organizations dilute their standards, and the people passionately seek new learning’s. Their purposeful work is seemingly based on trust, teamwork, collaborative efforts, insights and often is nothing but innovative.
  • Purpose seemingly gets bolstered in the presence of right values and principles, for it enable the means to justify the end. Many a big organization and big brands that miss this, invariable have the opposite effect when the ends justifies the mean – resulting in short lived directions and fatalities etc (enron, satyam, etc).
  • In purpose defined and led organizations, many a worker, scientist or manager gains the motivation to excel and lead. Their contributions in effect neither dilute nor threaten the intra-competitive forces. In effect they eulogise the contributions to the larger journey of creation and higher order definitions of the infinite possibilities under the umbrella of brands. Absolute excellence is experienced inside the organizations as way of life and such excellence touches the consumers absolutely too in their everyday lives – be it via Google, Apple Ariel,Tide,IBM etc.

In sum, purpose is the deepest dimension within us that tells us who we are, where we came from, why we’ re here, and where we’ re going. Purpose fills us with passion, drive and direction. When all else seems uncertain, unsettled or impermanent, purpose gives us the absoluteness not just to live, but to create and excel. No wonder, great organizations go the full length to recognize the importance of purpose and sharply defining, communicating and living the same – For nothing is as more important in the journey of ‘building to last absolutely’.


About Subba Rao NV

Subbarao is an entrepreneur, management professional and a hands-on business leader with +20 years exp in consumer goods, tele-communications, wireless applications/ solutions and retail sectors, where he has handled large teams and multi unit businesses. Earlier he held VP- Sales & Marketing, COO/ CEO/ Apex positions at TATA Docomo, Bharti Airtel, Tanla Solutions and Conagra Foods (India). Having started at P&G as a management trainee, he has worked and led over 25 brands. Over the years he has lived and worked in different geographies including US, Japan and Vietnam, while holding p&l and growth responsibilities for market & value share leadership. In 2012 Co-founded Reboot Systems (India), a refurbished computers business - set up the brand, business and retail/ franchisee store model. After successfully exiting same (03/2015), is working to launch and establish his next start up - ( a platform based integrated 'jobs-skills one stop portal - presently in development stage'), to find a way out of skill-gap issues and to address the problems of skill-divide. Subbarao is also a member of Hyderabad Angels and a charter member of TIE and in his spare time runs a blog called best matters. [ email: ]

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