Thinking about language again I was struck by the word chain – suggesting either a constraint or, as in a bicycle, an enabler and accelerator. It’s that more positive interpretation that started me thinking. Because I’ve been discussing value chains a lot recently and making the mildly depressing discovery that actually a lot of organisations are a good deal more articulate about their supply chain than their value chain. Starting with the question ‘why’ do you do what you do – in association with ‘what’ do you do, frequently elicits the immediate answer ‘to make money / profits / growth’. Further exploration of this usually fleshes this out to get more focus on the customer but this question of why is increasingly fundamental for at least two reasons in my view:
1. The customers view of value is shifting and shifting fast. Think about the impact of collaborative consumption – the sharing economy. The value used to be in owning an asset, that was how you de-risked a business. Now the high growth marketplaces are precisely those without assets – Uber has no taxis, Airbnb no hotels. Borrow my doggy, no dogs. What consumers of these services care about is convenience – how fast, how easy, how relevant.
2. People engage around a purpose or a ‘why’ that resonates with them – either as consumers / buyers or as workers / employees. And frankly for most employees once the immediate ‘I am going to get paid’ question is answered the idea of making money for shareholders (unless you are one of them . . . ) is not the most personally relevant or resonant answer – they want to feel that they are making a difference, or a contribution and that the work they are doing is valuable.
But I do think that question of purpose is getting very confused. I personally think purpose, like innovation and a number of other once quite innocuous and clear words, has become very, very ambiguous. Sustainability is another. We just don’t really have a common language any more. For many people, purpose and sustainability are about ethical issues, or about environmental or social concerns. And the problem there is that they then become emotive – and for those not engaged, divorced from the commercial aspects of the business. But purpose as I’ve suggested as above is integral to the business – it is the essential raison d’etre for being there. And sustainable in the dictionary is defined as ‘able to maintained at a certain rate or level’ which has no specific direction to that rate or level.
Oh the joys of our evolving language . . . .