In reflecting on one of the key reasons collaborations & organisations fail to make progress, a recurring theme - usually in its absence is the importance of purpose. Over the years whenever I've enquired re. the organisation/collaborations understanding of purpose what usually emerges is not the reason for their existence but what they do or how they do it. Holding groups to stay with the question of purpose is hard, people get irritated and push back, preferring to jump into action and focus on the 'doing' to get "real" outcomes. We need to take action but action without clarity of purpose leads to duplication, wasting resources and ultimately limited impact. In the ever increasing complexity and change we operate in - purpose is the anchor.
To tackle complex, adaptive challenges requires us to work together to create a shared purpose. This question lifts us to our higher vision - to imagine the future world we want to create, before we focus on what we do to get there. Without exception regardless of sector, in response to the question of peoples purpose or vision for the world, I hear the same things- we want to live in a fairer, just, equitable, sustainable, healthy, connected society. We may disagree on how to get there but our desire for this higher vision is ubiquitous. So why is it so hard to focus on? Asking ourselves and each other what are purpose is can be challenging as:
- It feels unattainable
- What if we're not up to it - we're left feeling incompetent and potentially vulnerable - what if we don't know enough or not able to do what's required.
- It makes us think about what we want and don't want and what if we don't know what our purpose is?
- We may discover that we've been swept along with the tide either personally or systemically - our organization has been reactive and our purpose has crept to follow funding and trend rather than impact.
- It can make us vulnerable - who am I to think I can bring about this change
These reasons are valid, we may never realize world peace or solve poverty and we'll probably make a lot of mistakes trying. But the point here is to try. Without having a go, experimenting, trying new ways of innovating we maintain status quo . So reconnecting with our purpose is what can keep us in the game. Guilt, good intentions and wanting to give back are hard to sustain, we may not get quick winsand can feel overwhelmed and incompetent. Shared purpose becomes our anchor as we navigate key adaptive questions: What do we hold onto, what do we give up and where do we innovate? The tension is evident in these questions which is why purpose can keep us grounded to know if we're making progress or not. So first lets ask the question - whats our purpose?