Collective Purpose

Collective Purpose
Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.
John F. Kennedy
I was recently invited once again to speak at the brilliant Cheltenham Science Festival in June. It is always a privilege to be surrounded by not only so many brilliant scientists but also so many curious minds, young and old. This year the theme is – Connected: Divided looking at what brings us together and what pushes us apart. Very topical given the state of geo-political divides.
The Commonwealth Games came to a close over the last few days, another wonderful celebration of sport. The Commonwealth Games – known as the friendly games – has had to redefine itself over the last few decades to maintain credibility. Once upon a time it attracted the best talent from the respective 53 countries that it hosts. Now the superstars pick and choose attendance – whether it is the pinnacle of their sport (e.g. netball), fits with their competition calendar, or more pertinently offers the next rung of youth and talent an opportunity for global success. The Gold Coast was a wonderful event but I will remember it by the repeated calls for us to do better;
Take Tom Daley’s call for recognition of rights across the world. He tweeted after his gold that 37 of the commonwealth countries criminalise LGBT. In so doing he was calling on us all to reset our common standards so that we can all achieve a better future.
Last Friday I presented the closing keynote at the BASES student conference on ‘Creating your Future’. In that session I shared some of these recent sentiments by posing some pertinent questions for this group of aspiring practitioners to consider for their journey ahead. I asked “What do you think your collective purpose should be?”
I was inspired to do so by a recent session that I had witnessed when speaking in Europe to a group of young bankers – where a facilitator, in the session prior to mine, – asked them to define their collective purpose. I must admit I wondered what they would come up with, mainly because when I was 26 I can’t remember feeling so self aware and forward thinking. I was blown away by the response from the bankers and I was excited to see what this group of sport and exercise science wannabes could generate.
Adapting Simon Sinek’s formula, I asked them to complete this sentence;
Our contribution should be…, so that…
Suffice to say the responses were incredibly inspiring to behold;
“Our contribution should be to enhance the potential of ourselves and others so the whole effort can move forward”
“Our purpose is to support each other so that we can do the world of sport and exercise science proud and creative impact”
“Our contribution is to leave no stone unturned in pursuing the best version of ourselves”
“Our contribution should be to champion sport and exercise as an agent for self-development, so that the world’s population can lead physically and mentally fit lives”
Look at that last one – from the mind of a hopeful, ambitious, worldly, purposeful young mind – aiming for us to create a better future. As I read some of these out at the end of the keynote, I had goosebumps about what is possible when people think, share and commit to collective purpose.
Developing collective purpose isn’t just a nice, esoteric, lofty exercise to distract from the day-to-day drudge – it matters to our overall performance too. For example, a collaboration between Ernst and Young and Harvard Business Review survey circa 500 global executives found;
“Near-unanimity in the business community about the value of purpose in driving performance”
Finding that;
“Eighty-nine percent of executives surveyed said a strong sense of collective purpose drives employee satisfaction; and 84 percent said it can affect an organisation’s ability to transform”
Yet only;
“Forty-six percent said their company has a strong sense of purpose.”
This is a classic case of cognitive dissonance at a leadership level. We know it to be useful and important – but we’re not prioritising it in proportion to it’s value.
When confronted with these dissonances, I am empathetic to the competing demands that people are under, but also clear that it presents a wonderful and clear opportunity for people to develop their focus, their work, and their lives.
Just like the theme for Cheltenham Science Festival, just like the cry for better from the Commonwealth Games directors and athletes and no doubt from each major sporting event to come, just like the aspiring professionals at the BASES conference last week – collective purpose matters – for making things better!

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