John Ellison

Day 57: Purpose Workshop

3 min read

On the morning of Day 57, we kicked off the day with a workshop for the Clearleft Brand Refresh project. James Box, Ellen and I had spent a few sessions designing the workshop and we ran a test session with Wolfcub Digital the day before.

Defining purpose is a difficult task. Purpose seems to be a force rather than a thing. We wanted to facilitate a session that fostered individuals to uncover their professional purpose. From those individual professional purpose statements, we wanted to look at the space between the lines and design an organizational purpose statement that reflected both the needs of the individual as well as the organization as a whole.

Even though we tested the workshop the day before, the task was daunting enough to create some palpable tension in the room.


We introduced the workshop and divided the room into pairs. We told them that we were going to ask them to answer a question with the first thing that came into their heads. They would then take turns asking "Why?" to their partner. We wanted the partner to try and elicit the reasons why the person wrote down the thing that they did and what it meant to them.

We prefaced the questions by saying that While they might seem vague and cringe-worthy, they would help move us in the direction we wanted to go.

What Is Your Enemy?

The first question we asked people was: "What—not who—is your enemy?"

Each person wrote down their instinctual reaction onto a note card.

We then gave each person three minutes to ask "Why?" and dig deeper into the essence of their answer.

We asked participants to then come up with a list of problems that their enemy causes.

So on the front of the card we had a thing that the person perceived to be their enemy, and on the back of the card we had a list of problems that the person felt this enemy created.




More Questions

We then repeated this sequence of tasks with several more questions:

  • Who is your professional inspiration?
  • What is your enemy?
  • What is you fighting for?

Framing The Concept

As the workshop progressed, James continued to frame our concept of a purpose statement. We felt that a purpose statement should answer two fundamental questions:

  • What is the change you are trying to make?
  • What are you fighting against?

purpose-workshop what are you fighting against?

And that the purpose statement should either answer them explicitly or implicitly. A good purpose statement needed to have chutspa, gusto.


Coming To A Close

Towards the end of our 1.5 hour session, we realized we didn't have enough time to write individual professional purpose statements. So instead we asked for feedback about the workshop and tasked individuals with taking the outputs of the workshop as inputs for their purpose statements. We asked if people would be willing to spend some time writing their purpose statements and that we would like to use those statements as inputs for creating a 'straw man' of the organizational purpose statement of Clearleft.