How does purpose create an innovation advantage?

June 12, 2009

It may seem entirely obvious that organizations with a sense of purpose achieve greater levels of innovation than those that don't. I think of Apple (Insanely Great), and Nike (Just Do It) as good examples of purpose that guides and drives innovation, never mind the Aravind Eye Hospitals or Grameen Bank.

The question is why should this be so? Again - this might be obvious but I suspect there are nuances.

Most start-ups have a clear sense of purpose but as they scale it gets lost. How can the very largest of organizations, those with the potential to have the most impact, create purpose that drives innovation? AG Lafley used the mantra - "the consumer is boss" to focus P&G on consumer led innovation. Jeffrey Immelt created Ecomagination, and more recently, Healthymagination as big ideas to create coordinated innovation across the many business units of GE. John Mackey at Whole Foods has used a set of core values to support grass roots innovation.

I believe that organizations whose purpose is only to build shareholder value or maximize profits will not sustain innovation. I also suspect that different types and sizes of organization need different expressions of purpose. Are there examples of sustained innovation without purpose?