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Chapter 6 | Narrative



Contribution to the Potluck

When your narrative starts with your product, everything is about what you can do for others.  It’s like a full-service restaurant. Just show up, enjoy the meal and pay the bill.

But when your narrative starts with your purpose, things need to be more reciprocal and multi-dimensional. Everyone has something to contribute. It’s more like a potluck in which everyone brings a different dish.

A potluck doesn’t work if everyone brings the same dish.  Or if some people don’t bring anything at all.

A key part of the narrative is therefore describing what everyone contributes to the Shared Purpose, like a potluck for purpose.


Everyone knows the Nike slogan of “Just Do It.” What makes this slogan so powerful is that in three words it captures three different elements: Shared Purpose, Path to Purpose, and Contribution to the Potluck.

Nike’s Shared Purpose is inspiring the athlete in all of us.  

The Path to Purpose is the idea that “if you have a body, you are an athlete.”  

The Contribution to Potluck is the idea that:

  • Nike can provide the shoes, apparel and equipment.
  • Nike’s athletes can provide the inspiration.
  • Your friends can provide the support.  
  • But you you have to get off the couch, lace up your shoes, and “just do it.”  

Everyone contributes something.


Starbucks’ potluck follows directly from the concept of third place. In effect, Starbucks is saying:

“We’ll provide the coffee, comfortable couches, and wi-fi. You provide the conversation, connection and community.”

The potluck explains why Starbucks “Race Together” initiative was a failure. As a quick recap, Starbucks wanted to promote a dialogue about race relations.  The aspiration is consistent with its Shared Purpose  “to inspire the human spirit.” The problem is that the program encouraged people to talk to their barista about the subject. This was inconsistent with the Contribution tp the Potluck. It’s not the barista’s job to provide the conversation. Starbucks once again hoarded its purpose.

What Starbucks might have done instead is stayed true to its path to purpose of being a third place by inviting others to “wear the T-shirt” of its Shared Purpose. It could have closed an hour earlier on the first Monday of the month, partnered with organizations expert in holding conversations about race, and served free coffee to anyone who joined the conversation. That way Starbucks would have still made its contribution of coffee and third place—and left the conversation and community to others.



For this exercise, think about your Shared Purpose as a potluck dinner party. What does everyone need to bring for the party and meal to be complete?  

If you are a hospital system, then the Shared Purpose might be related to health. Diagnosing and treating illness is only one element of what it takes for someone to be healthy. Identifying the other stakeholders and what they each bring to the party helps you see the entire system of what it takes to fulfill your purpose.

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