(Please see Golfing for beginners for an explanation of the choice of picture.)
Whether it is a meeting, a conversation, a business, a job, a holiday—absolutely any human activity—it is worth asking:
“What is the purpose of this meeting, conversation, business, job, holiday, or whatever?”
It is essential not to confuse purpose with outcomes. Outcomes are events, deliverables or happenings that occur because the meeting, conversation, etc has (more or less) achieved its purpose.
Another term for outcomes, often used in planning, is objectives. The objectives of a project are the things we want to have happened as a result of the project: they aren’t its purpose.
A purpose is the answer to the question, “why are we doing this?. Clearly, by this token, “increase sales”, for example, cannot be a purpose. But how often do we answer the question, “what is the purpose of X?”, with “to achieve outcome Y”? As in, “What is the purpose of my business?—To make money”.
A very good exercise goes as follows: if you answer that the purpose of X is A, then ask yourself, isn’t A really an outcome? Even if you don’t think it is, ask yourself, if it were an outcome, what would the purpose really be?
Important point (1): the purpose of a meeting, say, is likely to be different from your purpose in attending the meeting, which is likely to be different from others’ purposes in attending. These are unlikely to be the same. If this isn’t acknowledged, the meeting will be rambling, unfocussed, unnecessarily long and possibly an unpleasant experience.
The purpose of a personal relationship between two people is definitely not the same as one person’s purpose in being in it, or the other person’s purpose in being in it. And, if this isn’t acknowledged and discussed, the relationship will certainly be less fulfilling than it could be and more unpleasant (if only on occasions).
Important point (2): Any meeting, conversation, business, job, holiday, etc, can have only one purpose.
If it looks as if there are two, then one of three things is the case:
(a) the purposes are in fact the same thing, but expressed differently
(b) one purpose is a subset, a special case, of the other so, again, there is only really one purpose
(c) the meeting, or whatever, is literally at cross purposes. It is like a sledge being pulled by two teams of huskies, each in a different direction. At best, progress is slow and, in all probability, the meeting descends into confusion, missed goals and stagnation.
There is a third component to this model: actions.
The actions are what you say in a meeting, do in a business, and so on, which are designed to achieve the purpose which—if it is achieved—will secure the outcomes.
– provided IT support services to SMEs (the actions),
– so that their clients could continue to trade in the event of an IT failure (my client’s purpose)
– which resulted in healthy profits, growth of the business, nice cars parked outside and so on (the outcomes).
It is inconceivable that being confused about all this is more useful than being clear about it!
by Jeremy Marchant . © Jeremy Marchant Limited . last updated 20 february 2015