The word purpose is overused and undermaterialised. We talk about the power of purpose but is it really that concrete and leading common understanding which moves the organisation in an intended direction?
We should be able to answer that question, otherwise why bother, except for the joy of talking about it.
Could we synthesise an indicator that translates the various parameters of success into one meaningful number which shows how well the purpose works in terms of quality and effectiveness?We can measure brand effectiveness, client engagement so why not the power of purpose.
Such a power of purpose indicator would be great to monitor the value of the purpose and to maximise it. The ultimate performance indicator of meaning.
But would that really work as an agent to guide the functioning of an organisation? It might. The answer depends on where you judge the value of purpose to reside. Can the value be aggregated and expressed in one meaningful number? Or is the true value dispersed among all the individual minds of the people, for everybody to create their own unique meaning?
The Rijksmuseum is currently showing all the work of Rembrandt that is in its collection. This will be a blockbuster, for certain. Yet it would be an odd idea to capture the value of this Dutch master painter in a Rembrandt Art Indicator.
There is no such thing and for good reason. There is only the work in its context. Rembrandt’s power lies in providing a meaning to life through his work. The over 300 works in Amsterdam, small and large, capture life in its personal essence, one by one, visitor by visitor.
That is why we should not introduce a power of purpose indicator. It is all the small individual things that people in organisations experience and do, together with their colleagues, clients, suppliers and the members of society, that constitutes the value of purpose. No number, how cleverly composed it may be, can reflect that magnitude of power.