Book Review - Purpose - September 2007

The Starbucks Experience

Book: Purpose - The Starting Point of Great Companies
Author: Nikos Mourkogiannis
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Length: 246 pages
Reviewer: Dale Deardorff

If you have been searching for the reason you want to come to work each day and bring that precious commodity called Self into the battlefield of ever changing situations then this book has value for you. If a personal or professional connection to a strong meaning has been missing then the explanation and articulation of a Purpose and the relationships created and connected to it may be exactly what has been missing. 

As described by the author a company without a Purpose is always in danger of loosing its direction. The Coca-Cola Company is used in many of the examples in this book for understanding a “Brands” Purpose. When you think about Coca-Cola during WWII its Purpose was promised by the then CEO Robert Woodruf; to put a bottle of Coke in the hands of every American solder”. After the war people equated Coke to America and they drank it to taste Freedom. In almost any repressive dictatorship at that time you could – for a few moments – feel what it was like to be free ultimately providing Coke with a new Purpose: “To Provide Freedom in a Bottle”.

That said this book authored by a passionate N. Mourkogiannis and is a very interesting and focused read which should be mandatory for all Leaders and Management personnel who are searching for a “Purpose” in their work and companies.  Nikos recognizes that the material is not a panacea for all to solve the organization problems that plague work environments but he does recognize the importance and benefit to creating and establishing personal and professional Purpose. The book journals the passionate journey of four different individuals who exemplify distinctive and uniquely different categories of Purpose. These individuals are:

Tom Watson – A predominant leader of innovation in the information age.

Warren Buffet – Best known as the wealthiest investor in America.

Sam Walton – for his passion for Wall Mart, its employees and altruistic Purpose.

Henry Ford – Who wanted to change the world thru his automobile.

Each of them who in their own way strived with difficulty to harness a “Purpose” which is what makes their stories valuable. The book clearly distinguishes the fact that Leaders do not invent a Purpose they discover it as one of the ethical responsibilities and corporate values. The importance of alignment of ethics and purpose are described along with their  connections to Visions, Missions and organizational Goals. The author defines a great company as one that embodies a Purpose in such a way that its quality of action is high – it not only sustains itself but provides continuing evidence of the value of its existence. Chapter 11 (p. 149) delves into advanced thinking about Purpose and Leadership which is espoused to have (4) four components which spell TIME:

Think - Derive a direction or outlined plan.

Inspire – Generate collective support for this action and the kind of action that will be required.

Mobilize – Make sure  that all of the relevant individuals agree to cooperate and to accept a specific role.

Empower – Set up the Systems necessary to maintain momentum.

These iterative stages create a linguistic notion of time that connects to Leadership and places the need to THINK first. Purpose is described as the quality needed  to do your job well and help to create employment that is satisfying. There are numerous linkages to Jim Collins book on “Good to Great” along with records of people who had notable failures early in their lives and went on to remarkable achievements (Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill) but ultimately contributed very little in the way of greatness.   

Great companies is one that embodies a Purpose in such a way that its quality of action is high knowing that talented employees enable action and bring energy; therefore they make decisions more purely related to the strategic goals and to the Purpose of the enterprise. These companies understand that what was done yesterday influence what can be done tomorrow. The skills, inclinations and patterns of interaction of employees and suppliers that have been established by the Purpose of the past will determine strategic positions that are feasible in the future.

To help determine if your company has a Purpose the author has provided a web-based survey to evaluate the company position. To entice the reader even further the book is sprinkled with excellent insights in Innovation and Idea creation. Your competitive advantage is based upon this and the formulation of good relationships which lead to creation of an intangible asset…IDEAS.

Successful ideas create successful companies & unsuccessful Ideas create failures. You must have ideas because competence is no longer enough. To truly understand this distinction you must read about the difference between Apple who aims for “Perfection” and Microsoft which does not. Many time Leaders hear what they want to hear…and others are inclined to tell them what they want to hear because of disconnects in the alignment of Purpose and Strategy.  By the end of the book you will discover how ethics, moral dilemmas and Purpose lead to a FLOW that can enable a sense of community where everything is changing and constantly evolving and where you fit. Not to get into a metaphysical debate but by establishing a Community of Purpose you can win the Hearts and Minds of others!