Defining Purpose Through Design Thinking

Written by Kelly Byrom, former VP, Head of Design

Having a purpose and aligning all business goals behind your purpose is essential. Learn how FWI defined our purpose through design thinking.

It was Sunday, May 1, 2011, around 10 pm. I was winding down, enjoying the little bit of the weekend I had left when I got an email from work with a news alert. I was a Sr. Director, News Design, working for CNN, a global media company at the time.

It stated that President Obama was going to address the nation. The alert notes said the suspicion was that we either captured or killed Bin Laden. There was no confirmation, but I rushed to my car and sped to work anyway. When I got to the newsroom, it was apparent that everyone else had the same idea.

Generally, the weekends were barebones, the type of skeleton-crew you’d expect at 2:00 am. Those shifts are usually the ones you get when you first start, because seriously, who wants to work on a Saturday or Sunday? But that night when I walked into the newsroom, it wasn’t just journalists and editors, most of the design team was there too. These were not people with a journalistic background. Sure, they worked on breaking news, but they also worked on products like the organization’s iPhone and iPad apps. They were designers. But there they were, on a Sunday night because they believed so strongly in the purpose of what we did. They needed to be a part of it.

Every business has goals and metrics to measure their progress. In media, ours were ratings on the tv side and traffic and ad impressions on the digital side. But no one stopped what they were doing and raced into the newsroom on a Sunday evening to make a traffic number. If you truly believe in something, that passion is a much stronger driver than metrics, because it’s something you can actually feel. That emotional connection informs how we make a lot of our decisions.

Having a purpose is essential.

Now I’m at FWI, a digital signage software company. The work is different, but the need for purpose is the same. I found myself in conversations with people all over the company who were asking the same question: “Why are we here?” Don’t get me wrong; I work with people who are intelligent, focused and driven to continually evolve and grow. This question did not stem from frustration or resentment of coming to work, but rather a desire to be aligned on something greater than our company goals. We knew we had a purpose all along, but when it’s left to exist as an undefined feeling, it can get lost.

So, we set out to define our purpose.

Starting was the most intimidating part. But much like design, the answers start coming if you just start working. So, I leaned on my background—design thinking. I set up some collaborative workshops to get us going.

Anyone in the company, no matter their department or role, was invited to work on this initiative. I have to admit, I was surprised at some of the people who attended. We had account executives, developers, tech support, accounting, delivery, people ops, marketing and design. Because there were so many diverse perspectives, we challenged each other to think in different ways. It was inspiring.

In the first workshop, we talked about our passions and what drives us as people. We also discussed what it looks like when we, as a company, are at our best. The outcome of that workshop was significant. It gave us a baseline. It was also exhilarating to share ideas and perspectives.

After that, we talked to customers and conducted surveys and interviews with our internal teams. We learned how much we empower interactions, enable storytellers and transform spaces. We dove into what those things meant and how we accomplished them, all with the intent of defining one thing: the why behind what we do.

We gathered so much information and saw so many consistent themes. The challenge then became how to move forward with the information. It started to feel like a never-ending rabbit hole.

We channeled our card sorting brains and made cards out of the recurring words, ideas and themes the group had defined. We used Simon Sinek’s formula for crafting your personal “why statement” to start putting some of these together. The group formulated nine statements. Then I had our executive leadership team do the same. It was fascinating to see how similar the cross-departmental group’s and the leadership team’s statements were. However, some of the statements went too far and were too complex, so we kept telling ourselves to simplify.

We combined all the statements from both groups. We voted on them, discussed them and started finessing the words. We knew “connected” was a theme. We knew that the amount of information our platform can communicate was key. We also knew that innovation is a part of who we are. And we knew that we wanted to inspire others with the work we do. Which is how we landed on our purpose:

Create a more informed, inspired and connected world.

It took six months, lots of collaboration and lots of post-it notes—all driven by design thinking—to get to our purpose. It was worth every second we put into it. All our business decisions line up to our purpose. Our five-year goals, our vision, our mission. These all align with our purpose. It’s all connected.

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