What’s your FBI?

Recently I was working with a start up business I’ve invested in and asked the question “what’s the Purpose of the business”? 


This question has its origin in the book “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek who explains that every company knows what it does, some know how they do it but very few know why they do what they do – and profit is not a why by his definition. Every business aims to make a profit, profits are the scorecard of your successful delivery.

As is often the case, the team I was working with struggled to articulate their why and yet they got the concept immediately. I gave some examples: the BBC’s why is to be ‘the authoritative broadcaster’, the why of the National Trust is ‘places for people forever’, Tom Tom has articulated theirs as, ‘making traffic jams a thing of the past’, and for Nike it’s simply ‘winning’.  In each case the why or purpose is something that appeals equally to three key stakeholders: the team, the customer and the investor.

I decided to introduce a concept I first used 20 years ago called ‘The FBI’ – the Fantastic Big Idea.

Take a look at the model above. You’ll see that outside the outer ring are external communications. These of course have their place but too many companies believe they can change the perception of their brand thorough a great ad campaign, clever PR or with an amazing digital strategy. And they might be able to to a degree but in reality the consumer perception of a brand is based on their impression of the products and services and how these are delivered.

Nike has created some of the best ads of all time but their brand is fundamentally based on their designing, manufacturing and methods of distributing their ever improving products. At the bullseye is the FBI, the purpose or why of the business but it’s the ring that sits in between that makes this come alive – internal communications.

Once you’ve got your FBI properly nailed and understood by the whole company you then have the whole team, and customers and suppliers too, thinking about it and discussing ways to improve the products and services and ways these are delivered. This leads to an ever improved brand which in turn can be amplified by external communications. If an organisation doesn’t have a FBI the internal communications will still take place but they will lack focus and purpose, there will be no ‘why?’ to be answered.

I’m sharing this because the FBI model caused a change of dynamic with the start up business team. Within 5 minutes we identified exactly why the business exists and what it’s purpose is around a compelling FBI for the team, customers and investors alike. In my experience this was extremely quick, sometimes it can takes days or weeks to truly identify with your FBI but the effort is very worthwhile. As Simon Sinek highlights in his excellent TED.com talk here.

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