Another thoughtful piece on brand purpose by Nick Asbury, following his first last year. Rather than simply looking externally – focusing, say, on the shallow nature of brand purpose, or the question of whether consumers care about it – Nick instead drills into the ways that purpose can distort the internal culture of a business:

“Once you’re convinced of the rightness of your cause, it’s easier – consciously or subconsciously – to justify any means towards that end. And right now a lot of companies – whether cynically, genuinely, or somewhere in between – are convincing themselves of the rightness of their cause.”

In the case of Theranos, focusing on grand missions and purpose actually obscured the fraud:

“Imagine you’re a journalist or investor quizzing Elizabeth Holmes back when she was in her prime. What would be the harder questions for her to answer? How questions would be tough – how exactly does this device work? When questions would be equally tricky – you’ve been promising this for a while, but when exactly are you doing to deliver? Questions of what, where and who might also demand specifics – what is your current balance sheet, where is your laboratory, who has signed up so far?

“But ask Elizabeth Holmes why and she will be in her element. She will talk for hours about changing the world, transforming lives, helping our troops on the battlefield, helping our doctors at home… Through a combination of grand vision and personal founding myth, she can hold any audience spellbound.”