Text of my E2Conf Keynote and intro to Tyler Knowlton of DFAIT

My first big-stage keynote address was this week at the Enterprise 2.0 conference. I had the enormous pleasure to introduce Tyler Knowlton and his story about how purpose helped him and his team change how the G20 prepared and organized their summit meetings.

It was an intimidating but thrilling experience that was made wonderful by Steve and Paige at the E20 conference, several of the other speakers, including Ross Mayfield – who is very warm and imaginative in person – many of my twitter friends with their kind tweets and comments, and especially by the kind, humble, and very wise Tyler Knowlton.

Of my co-workers, only Kim Edwards actually made it in person. So for the rest, I am posting the text of my remarks.


“People are our greatest asset”. For decades right-thinking executives have repeated this phrase with varying levels of sincerity.

In the last couple of years, however, we’ve learned that this “people first” concept is not exactly true.

We are in the midst of a huge paradigm shift from a mechanistic ideal of organizations to a humanistic one.

From the traditional notion of the ideal company as a well-oiled machine, controlled by a CEO, to one where the ideal company is a synthesis of minds that is constantly and continually learning, improving and producing.

We’re not all at the same point along the path of this transition – and even within organizations, some people are further along than others. You guys here are in the lead, of course.

And, in the midst of this new-found humanism it is tempting to embrace the “its our people” mantra ever more tightly.

That’s because we’ve discovered that we have vast untapped human potential hiding within our organizations, and the pressure to figure out how to engage it is skyrocketing. You’ll hear a lot about how to engage people here this week, and with good reason.

But we’ve been out there for a couple of years or so building and selling an enterprise social app that supports team collaboration, and our research and, even more, our customers and also many of you, have taught us a lot.  We’ve learned that we can predict with close to 100% accuracy which of our clients will fail and which will succeed.

There is a single criterion that we can use to predict this and it is a sense of purpose. Without a strong sense of purpose, even the most talented collection of people will founder.

With a sense of purpose you will get the best work out of whatever crew you have assembled.  With purpose, people strive.

Without purpose, personal interests, infighting, and worse, apathy, takes the place of vision, and becomes the dominant force in decision-making. With Purpose, people strive.

Their iron cores align to a common  magnetic north. This alignment unlocks their collaborative, collective potential.

Personal politics – though still there – takes a back seat.

We have been so inspired by the people we’ve met and what they have taught us, that we thought the best thing we could do to serve our purpose (which is to help you pursue yours) was to expand access to some of this great thinking and work beyond our team and even this community.

We think you’ll soon agree with us – with me – that it is in fact your purpose that is your greatest asset.

A couple of weeks ago we announced a speaker series dedicated to the exploration of organizational purpose – what is it, how to get it, what to do with it. It features superstars like Simon Sinek, John Seely Brown and Andrew McAfee, along with some less famous, but not less intriguing people we’ve met. – in other words some of our intellectual heroes – these will be small events around the country designed to encourage discussion, please do come if you can make it. we’ll record and post them for those who can’t

Today I’m adding this: In celebration of the 2.0 release of social workplace,  we are sponsoring a prize for the organization that has shown dedication and innovation to the pursuit and achievement of purpose. The prize will consist of $10K to the charity of the winner’s choice. The winner to be judged by the speakers in our series. Come find me, my teammates, our booth, or our website. Tell us your stories about the role that purpose plays in your organization.

So. We’re going to kickoff this speaker series right here and now.

Allow me to introduce one of those clients who taught us a lot.

Tyler Knowlton is the Chief Strategy Officer in the Office of innovation at the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

He was one of the guys behind the Virtual G20 – which was designed to reduce the frustration and increase the impact of some people doing a difficult job. I think you’ll find his story very interesting for its simplicity and its power. It all started because the Canadian delegate got frustrated with his email….



  1. Yes anything without sense of purpose in mind is like shooting in air without target. Birds of same feather flock together. But in companies, people because of their limitations like financial & personal try to flock with other people eventhough they are personally not interested.

  2. Purpose really couples with the word “reflection” as a health check.

    When things like education and companies scale so large they end up being tails wagging dogs. They end up administering the beast that is the system, rather than what their original purpose was.

    eg. schools are no longer student-centric and about bringing out the best in each student; rather they are about making sure the machine keeps operating-input children, output children-whatever happens in the middle (the actual real purpose) has taken a back seat.

    I really think “scale” is key here and why we should take note of ideal human groupings to respect and get meaningful value out of what we do

    We are totally linking up here Deb…of late I’ve been following the enlightened CV Harquail on meaningful and distinct organisations

    hahaha…I just noticed that CV posted about you http://authenticorganizations.com/harquail/2011/07/12/purpose-is-the-killer-app-why-organizations-need-social-business-tools/

    Just to balance things here, I like what Stephen Bilking says here:

    “Don’t waste time on “vision”. Tell people what your intentions are, what you want to achieve. And then observe and listen closely to their responses. Your change efforts will be much more effective.”

    More here http://www.changingorganisations.com/2009/07/not-on-board-the-vision-bandwagon/

    In a smaller way is “purpose” the same as “Technology cart before the business horse spells trouble” or a solution looking for a problem (as opposed to alleviating pain points)

  3. john – thanks, as always for your insightful and well researched comment. CV and Mary Abraham were both kind enough to attend a breakfast with Simon Sinek that we held this past monday, and even more generous with their write ups of the event. I think that what Bilking is saying is that inauthentic vision and values are just that – people see through them. Real purpose is about exploring the core of who you are and what you want to achieve as an organization. It is all about constant reflection – is this what we should be doing – what we want to do. That thinking unifies people and helps to make the thousands of decision points as to how to go forward meaningful instead of random. A rudderless company – a purposeless company struggles to make sense, struggles to keep people engaged, struggles to get anything done. Scale is exactly the challenge – this is why leadership is critical and relatively rare.

  4. Up until now enterprise 2.0 focus has been on practitioners and workers…and what they have to educate managers about…basically it’s about new ways of working which means “change”.

    Now you are going more high level and speaking to the managers and leads about what is your “purpose”. Thus far it’s been about bottom-up type stuff, but now this is a message straight to the top-down suite.

    Whoever thought social computing consultants would be getting so esoteric…that’s the difference between someone like you compared to IT leading these types of initiatives.

    What you speak about is the real enterprise 2.0, whether you use social computing or not…but it’s going to take a long time for CEO’s and shareholders to get used to this as they think “short term”.

    See this snippet
    “…with today’s high executive rewards, it is better to go for a few years of high profits and risk being kicked out as a result of lack of resilience than creating a long term viable operation. Trouble is, you are gambling with lives (mining) and shareholder value (recent derivative scandals) as well as climate (fossil emissions).”

    …if the awareness of any external challenges is not present, a manager cannot be blamed for not factoring it in…If international oil companies no longer have any fields to explore and open up, thus reducing their output, it will not be blamed on management if they had only a short-term profit goal to maintain.

    More http://johntropea.tumblr.com/post/1413299168
    “After years of stress and long hours to get the partnership, why would I be interested in the long-term future of the business? I have earned my reward, and nobody is going to take that from me until I retire. As an MBA student said to me in a class last night, becoming a partner is like a pie-eating competition and the prize is that you get to eat more pie”

    What’s funny is that we will have to move to customer capitalism whether we like it or not anyway, as delighting the customer as Denning talks about will be the new way to make sure profits and be competitive

    It’s kind of like hesitation in the past in investing in a sustainable environment; whereas soon there will be no choice so then companies will then invest in it, even though it’s not out of sincerity, but just cause it’s the new way to make money.

    Umair Haque’s pointers to the meaning organisation and shared value is a long way off I think, but the only way in my mind

    1. John – you are right that we are starting to see the business shift, not just the technology shift. I agree that leadership has a lot to do with it – but I don’t think its as simple as top down. Purpose is something that each person needs to be a part of – in fact its what transforms each of us into “leaders” – ideally everyone in the company. What I mean by that is that someone who knows where they are going and why, and really wants to go there, will influence others toward that, will interpret options toward that, will make decisions toward that, and use their insight, creativity and effort toward it. It is infectious and exciting to be part of that kind of team – its why purpose becomes a key theme in collaboration.

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