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Is Design Thinking ‘goal’ or ‘purpose’ driven?

Perhaps you have had a question like this: – Can I have a perfect strong coffee for my headache? or Can we build an analytics use case for this industry?

What does this entail? and where do we go from here?  Rather if we address ‘why’ this headache is occurring frequently then we would have a relevant solution(s) that prevents the recurrence of the headache. Similarly solving ‘why’ such problems occur in an industry, we have not only solved the problem but also have created meaningful use-cases.  Also we may have broadened the solution beyond analytics and created more value.

The difference in the approach is ‘goal’ versus ‘purpose’.  Unfortunately the business world is driven by goals and numbers and that is the only way to measure growth and performance.  Recalling some parts of Bhagavad-Gita –


We become fearful because we keep thinking about the end result. Our mind is distracted and full of anxiety. And this distraction, this anxiety, is the root cause of our failure” ….

“Focus upon the noble cause and purpose of your action that brings glory. Waste not your energy in thinking about the end result. Use all your energies to act wholeheartedly and with one-pointedness.”

Imagine companies asking themselves the ‘purpose’ of their business and implement actions in that context. We would see meaningful outcomes.  Here is an interview with Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever talking and emphasizing about ‘purpose’: 


Quoting Paul Polman interview here –

When you took over Unilever as the first outside CEO, how did you change your leadership style?

……. I created a strong purpose by putting the best of Unilever together. It was a growth agenda and the world needed that because the 2008 crisis showed a lot of shortcomings in our system. I needed to be sure that everybody understood what I was talking about. 2008 was a crisis of short-termism and greed. So I abolished guidance and quarterly reporting. We changed the compensation system for a longer term and put out some clear signals to tell people that while there might be a crisis we are investing for a long term. I made it clear that we were investing in advertising and promotion, in people, in back end services and product quality …..”

How do you make sure that even in a global company like Unilever, each of the employee remains aligned to the mission?

By making the purpose strong. When you have Lifebouy Handwashing Program, you save children’s lives. The Lifebouy film says help a child reach the age of five. It makes us all want to work on that. For the Kissan tomato brand, farmers produce sustainable tomatoes. Right now it is 60 per cent, we are going to 100 per cent next year. You want to be part of that. These things communicate because they are there in our business model and all we had to do was scale it by making it more holistic”.

Design and Design Thinking emphasizes ‘purpose’ and not the ‘goals’.  In a typical Design Challenge like this – How Might We enable farmers and household users to have a safe, easy-to-use and less daunting ‘water-pumping’ experience? – the construct guides the team to focus on the purpose (the end result /goal of selling more water pumps becomes a natural outcome. 🙂

So… what is your take?

About the author:

Lakshman (Lucky) is the Chief Consultant with the Services Innovation and Design Thinking Center of Excellence in SAP Services. Lucky is an Innovation and Design Thinking practitioner and evangelist. He runs/facilitates end-to-end Design Thinking projects for SAP customers and SAP Development to address a variety of business problems. He supports the advanced DT skills enablement for SAP developers and consultants across SAP. Lucky teaches Strategy, Innovation and Design Thinking at premier business and design schools in India and at the HPI d.School at Potsdam.

Follow Lucky @lakshmanps

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      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Purpose versus Goal - that is a very thought provoking blog, Lucky!

      While I am reading 'Design for the other 90%' cannot agree more on what you are saying.

      Resilience versus Results is the other thing that comes to my mind. Quick wins and quick fixes seem to be demanding us to be more goal-focused than purpose-focused. We tend to believe that design thinking will give us quick results to innovation, but fail to understand that it is a trigger for something to come in the long run.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author

      Priya, thanks for your comments.  To me Resilience is one of the attribute of purpose, that balances actions between the mind and heart.  In the world of quick wins and quick fixes, Polman's interview is very refreshing and a ray of hope!  We wish such tribe to grow!