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Defining a Purpose

Defining a Purpose

The world is changing rapidly. This dynamic will continue and increase in speed; what once was likely will never be again. Higher education will not be exempted from this and is already squarely in the crosshairs of disruptors who would enjoy nothing more than to take down the historic models that have served us well for more than 100 years. The question facing us, then, is whether we are going to stand by and watch that happen or are we going to define who we are, where we are going, and then go about the business of achieving those goals with the same unrelenting determination as those who would bring our traditions to an end?

Longstanding ways of operating and educating students face an uncertain future while promising new alternatives await. For OU to remain relevant and prosper in this disruptive era, it needs a fundamental understanding of who it is and why it exists.

For a strategic plan to have real value and not just be placed on the shelf as yet another exercise, why the organization exists must be distilled to its very core. While this may sound fairly simple, it is anything but. Many strategic plans fail because this crucial first step is under-appreciated, lacks any real sense of self-awareness, and is mistakenly taken for granted as understood by everyone.

Determining the essence of why an organization exists takes the thought of many, requires real debate and disagreement, results in high levels of constructive frustration, demands the willingness to be open-minded and begin anew, and calls for raw determination and perseverance. All of this is expended in exchange for the promise of a deep understanding of what it is that an organization actually does. To be clear, defining an organization’s true Purpose is far more than casting yet another ubiquitous and hollow “mission and vision” statement.

It is much more important because, from it, all thoughts, practices and decisions flow. It is in the pursuit of this purpose that all core strategies and tactics are designed and relied upon to successfully take the organization into the future.

At the University of Oklahoma, our Purpose is elegant in its simplicity and profound in its depth:

We Change Lives