Let others play with "strategy" and "tactics" and "management". Purpose is the game of champions. -- from the book Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companiesby Nikos Mourkogiannis
The concept of Higher Purpose has grown from an inkling of a gut feeling for me to a full-blown important meme for what I'm thinking...even more important than embracing the chaos.
As I've said before, this is not your mission or vision statement. It is not akin to Guy Kawasaki's mantra. It's not an exercise in exploiting people's desire to believe in something. Hugh Macleod comes close with his statement, "The market for something to believe in is infinite," but even that leaves open the door to the creation of something to believe in.
Nikos Mourkogiannis, in his book about Purpose opens his first chapter telling a very personal story about all of the women in his village being gunned down for standing by their principles. He promised himself from that day forward that he would live a life driven by purpose. He would continue to live a life driven towards freedom for all. His conviction is strong throughout the book, although I believe he idolizes the inauthentic 'freedom' brought on by loads of capital a little too much, not quite examining the costs that go with it, but his premise is entirely compelling.
He looks at a cross-section of American business and compares those business leaders with and without Purpose, some of them very open about their Purpose (like Henry Ford, who, on trial in 1914 argued "that businesses run solely for shareholder profit would ultimately make less money than businesses run for Purpose." [p.26], and Warren Buffet). What he sees is that Purpose is the differentiating factor between a business that is good and one that is great...and a movement that is successful and one that is legendary. It's the 'next level'. That je ne sais quoi. Mojo.
I can tie this strongly back to my strong affinity for Marcus Buckingham's ideas on leadership as well. Marcus Buckingham's leaders aren't those who aim to please, who are filled with empty confidence, who read 'leadership books' and regurgitate the lessons within them. No, Buckingham's leaders are driven towards a greater vision. The successful ones articulate it in meaningful ways that people can get behind. Their passion for making the world a better place is infectious, but they also guide people towards the end in simple, easy to follow steps. They don't try to solve everything, just something.
In one chapter, Mourkogiannis mentions the idea of a 'Community of Purpose'. I haven't quite finished the book, so I don't know if he actually expands on what he means there, but when I heard the phrase, my struggle with Community as well as Higher Purpose in the context of making a living all of a sudden came crashing together in a way that made perfect sense. You don't create communities around web apps or products or movies or even ideas...community is born around Purpose. The movies (like 'An Inconvenient Truth') and web apps (like Flickr) and events (like BarCamp) are merely the tools that help us find one another...that articulate what we already believe in. They make it simple for us to convene around those ideas and give us a point of reference to recognize one another.
They are our tribal markings. The more exact the Purpose is and the more clearly it is articulated, the more likely we are to connect.
Thus, saying your web app is for everyone makes it excruciatingly difficult for a person who uses it to know that their neighbour using it has anything in common with them at all. Designing a web app for elementary school teachers comes closer. Designing a web app to help elementary school teachers take their boring curriculums and turn them easily into really engaging lesson plans that will get kids interested in learning again is highly purposeful and will strike up powerful connections between the school teachers using it. If it does it amazingly well, you've got yourself the online version of the next Sesame Street.
Higher Purpose is powerful, but only if true. Ad hoc-ly choosing a Higher Purpose or sitting in a boardroom trying to brainstorm it is ridiculously fruitless and will result in really poor results. Similarly, having a true Higher Purpose, then waffling to be 'safe' or get inline with investor requirements will also result in poor outcomes. It's not really a Higher Purpose when nobody else will get behind it.