• I write about this exercise, as well as some of the research underlying purpose as a motivator, in the book Drive. BrainPickings also has a good recap.

16 Responses to “Pinkcast 2.6: How a simple index card can surface your organization’s purpose”

  1. Lou Prosperi says:

    Thanks for another great episode! Short, simple, but useful.

    I wonder if doing this virtually would be as effective. Sorting responses would probably more labor-intensive using a survey tool, but you might be able to reach a wider audience (especially for geographically dispersed organizations).

  2. Dan Collison says:

    I teach a literature course at an Osher Institute for adult learners. The participants aren’t taking the course for credit but rather for entertainment / edification. I never know who is going to show up to participate or what they have in mind. I am going to hand cards out to get a better gauge of the “temperature” of the course participants.

    To Dan Pink: do you ever ask: “What is your role in this organization?” or “With respect to this organization, what do you expect from yourself, your co-workers and organization leadership?”

  3. Dan this is good. If we know the purpose we will work better. I would also like to put the same question for our lives what is the purpose of our life if we answer your question and this one we will have much more satisfaction and happiness.

  4. kim cornelissen says:

    This is effectively a very simple and eloquent little question. I work for small municipalities and my question to municipal employees is similar: why should we choose your municipality rather than any other one? You’d be amazed how difficult it is for people to give me a simple answer.

  5. John Atwood says:

    This is a great exercise to see if the company mission actually means anything even remotely similar across an organization and the results never fail to shock those who created it and think the people own it.

    Then what?

  6. Magda Kaspary says:

    I am addicted to team exercises and I really appreciate your sharing.
    Usually what I do is to make people to exchange cards, read as many as possible and then have a conversation in small groups and big group.
    People will come to the same conclusions you just presented, building on their interactions.
    Thanks for sharing, it validated how effective index cards are!

  7. Love this idea. I don’t work in a big company right now, but I love the idea of using this with visitors to my art studio (into a anonymous box) or with some of my design clients customers. Let’s face it: listening is valuable.

  8. This is huge. I know without a doubt that everybody in our organization would write the same thing. We talk about it and challenge each other continuously. “Promoting wellness in society through music education and performance”.
    I think this is paramount to our culture.

  9. Dean says:

    This reminds me of an interview I read about a company that does similar things but with video. The come in interview the ELT separately asking similar questions, then use that as a basic to develop an agreed combined vision on what the business does/believes, stands for etc.

    The reason for posting this message was to say the bit I liked the most in the story I watched was one CEO who when he heard the huge diversity of answers about “What does this company do” he became furious that no one was on the same page. Well buddy, You are the CEO and if that’s the case where do you first look for ‘blame’ ? Of course he shouldn’t be looking for ‘blame’ at all, but it spoke volumes about where the problem was.

    What’s the old Sicilian saying ? “The fish stinks from the head”

  10. Lee Dabagia says:

    I did this and I love it. The setting was a school with very low morale and poor performance–20 years of poor performance. As well, the former leadership styles were strongly authoritarian. Dare I say, dictatorial. Our answers were the examples Dan gives at the beginning. Sad, but true. So many of them repeated the mission, I realized we had a real problem with creativity, and a strong desire to give pleasing answers rather than truthful ones. However, it gave me a great starting point on where our climate and culture was and what to work on first. Since then, many have found their voice again, and teaching has improved, as has our school rating. Try this tomorrow! Enjoy!

  11. Mike Duffy says:

    You don’t even need index cards, or to get everyone together to hand out cards. The same thing can be accomplished using a Google Form. Even less expensive! Even broader reach!

  12. Allison says:

    I love this and have used a similar technique with work teams to explore the vision of their project–it can be extremely eye-opening to see how different their answers are! I’ll have to try applying this to discovering the overall organizational purpose.

  13. GINA says:

    Do you recommend sharing the responses from the cards with staff?

  14. Rick Phelps says:

    The question asked is extremely important. While “What is the purpose of the organization” does get to the understanding of higher purpose, it does not really get to the heart of a team’s or individual’s purpose. Perhaps questions like “What is the role of our team/department in support of the company’s purpose/mission?” or “What is my unique role in support of the company’s mission?” Ultimately, the question needs to reflect the desired level of information. This also assumes that performance objectives at all levels are aligned with the organization’s mission objectives.

  15. Sebastian says:

    Great stuff Dan!
    I’ve used a similar technique on several occasions and loved the results. A long time ago someone asked a related question to my coworkers and me. We worked at an insurance company, and he asked: “What is the purpose of an Insurance Company?” Surprisingly only a few people had a clue. That was a big eyeopener to me.

  16. Great Question, thanks so much. May we add this to our recommendation portfolio (giving due credit of course!) I cannot help but advertise here and hope I’ll be forgiven, but it lends itself sooo much to doing the recommended exercise truly anonymously (not even handwriting discernable) and with instant results clustering in a wordcloud shown on the screen of an event with

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