Decode #8 - Purpose

Decode #8 - Purpose

It is through purpose that you develop an overarching narrative that galvanises all the different stakeholders.

There are two major trends converging: #1, protest is changing in the 21st century as people use social media to become organised and #2, companies are using their communication power to influence political and social issues.

By decoding your purpose you will create opportunities for new partnerships. But remember, your purpose is what you do, not what you say.  

Map Forms of Protest

The protest energy of the 60’s challenged authority, promoted sexual and drug freedom, and class/race/gender discrimination. The movement used pop culture, cheaply printed ezines, and music and clothes to communicate its message.

Today, 50 years later, the ideas that were born have given risen to a sophisticated vocabulary that has informed modern incarnations such as Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion, Occupy Wall Street, #MeToo, Gay Pride and so on.

And our tools are different. Protest is an extremely creative activity that envisions a future world of practice, and every generation must remake protest to respond to the specific type of power it fights. Today we use social media, technology and virtual spaces to make ironic and subversive pin-pricks in power.

Adopt anthropocene thinking

In the year 2000, the scientific community were introduced to a new word. That word, ‘Anthropocene’, was said to define a new geological age – one that marked the dominant influence of human activity on the earths biogeophysical system.

The term would grow to reflect a growing need for an environmentally focused ‘grand-narrative’ for the world to follow and some consider the shift as the most important philosophical, religious, and political concept since the birth of the modern world.

The anthropocene can serve as a central scaffolding from which all other infrastructures and institutions can define themselves. Culturally, we are seeing many books that have adopted a ‘long view’ of history, such as the work of historian Yuval Noah Harari.

Understand the tension between culture and power

The word 'cool' was popularised by jazz and blues musicians. It was a cultural transmission of the black community: keep cool in the face of police violence and oppression.  

Small rebellions manifest cultural forms. This might be, for example: a style of dress (athleisure); a musical genre (grime); a type of exercise (yoga); a literary movement (memoir); a store concept (pop-up) and so on.

Strategy: begin spotting all the tiny acts of defiance that surround you. They're often found in the most unlikely of places

Map the four forces

The below diagram emerged from recent ethnographic work conducted across the world. Think of it as a seed for growing a balanced and holistic approach to purposeful business:

Each of these four forces have their own laws of motion that need to be understood individually.

Strategy: coming soon

Design ethical laboratories

Organisations are under increasing pressure to produce social and environmental value.

Culture is the space that these innovations can emerge. By investing in the cultural intelligence of your team, you increase the chance of new opportunities emerging.

This is because culture is space of movement and energy.

Strategy: coming soon

Understand soft power

Soft power is defined as using persuasion instead of force. It is about tempting people with a carrot, and not beating with the stick.

Design is an influential form of soft power.

For example, you could ensure that your organisation is a refuge that provides support for LGBT communities in countries where they are criminalised and stigmatised.

Strategy: Coming soon

Adopt movement marketing

When we apply the insights from the rhythm (link) decode to purpose, we arrive as the word 'movement'.

Gay Pride, Extinction Rebellion, Black Lives Matter and so on are all examples of 'movements'.

Strategy: Coming soon  

Explore artivism and subvertising

Art coupled with activism is a powerful force. Protests, urban walls, and the internet are all awash with artivism images.

It took a while for artivism to become accepted in the art world. Many leading contemporary artists who create confrontational and graffiti-based art were initially rejected from art school. And despite the success of Banksy, there are still stigmas against this progressive form of expression.

Each piece of political art is a pinprick against power. Most visibly when artists subvert an adverts intention

Strategy: Coming soon

Avoid attention pollution

For every one person that reads an advert and then goes on to purchase something, thousands will see that same advert and consider it a waste of their attention.

This semiotic noise pollutes our cities across billboards, public transport, and anywhere else that space can be bought. This lacks style, makes our urban environment ugly, exhausts us cognitively, and only serves to make a small number of private individuals wealthy.

Strategy: be innovative about how you communicate your value to the public and consider if any advertising is geared towards the public good  

Use networked individuals via platforms

Networked individualism, managed by platforms, have the potential to displace consultancies and agencies.

Often, these organisations serve as a way for a client to connect with specialist individuals. The consultancy or agency charges a significant mark-up. With a platform, the fee charged to connect clients with talent is much lower.  

Strategy: Coming soon

Use protest as a platform

Protests are forging new spaces for experimentation, education and collaboration. A protest can be conceptualised as a platform: generating new opportunities for meaningful collaboration.

A key driver here is the emphasis on non-violence. Studies have shown that non-violent campaigns are twice as effective as their violent counterparts. This is allowing a new culture of politeness and creativity to emerge amidst progressive action.

This can be seen in the 2014 Umbrella Protests in Hong Kong. Although the protest divided the city, everyone united against the use of police violence. Everyone agreed that it was important to protect the disruptive energy of the youth.

Strategy: Attend protests and speak to the organisers and attendees to understand movement culture. Take a notebook, observe/interview people, and take pictures (ensuring you are being respectful of others)

Purpose washing

Putting a thin layer of paint on the image of an organisation. This easily chips off and is easy to see through.

An organisation could easily be performing ethics theatre, with no real evidence that products are designed with purpose in mind. Nor are any of the representatives of purpose - diversity, culture etc - given any veto power.

Strategy: Ensure you produce evidence, create policies, measure metrics, and be deeply accountable for any mission

Forge new partnerships

For example organisations like the 'Living Wage' and 'UN Sustainable goals'

Strategy: coming soon

Interview questions to prompt thinking about 'purpose':

  • What are the causes that you care about?
  • What actions do you take to support things you care about?
  • What are your views on technological advances?
  • Are you optimistic of pessimistic about the future?


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