Intentionality Diagram: The Elements of Intentionality

Balaji Krishnamurthy

Dr. Balaji Krishnamurthy describes how intentionality can be successfully integrated into an organization. We argue that it starts with leadership, and all key elements of the organization lie on a foundation of an intentionality. Balaji visualizes this thinking through our Intentionality Diagram.


Today we're going to talk about something called the intentionality diagram. It is a way of looking at your company. It's a way of looking at almost any company. In fact, any organization, for that matter. It is a way of thinking about your company without actually talking about what the company does. You see, at the core of any company, at the absolute root of any organization, is leadership. Let me represent that on this white board here. At the core of any company, right in the middle, what drives an organization is leadership. That leadership needs to be based on a foundation of intentionality.

A foundation of intentionality. That leadership has to be very intentional, which is why I suggest to leaders that they should write a leadership agenda to become intentional. For now, we will say that's what leaders have to do. The leadership has to be based on a foundation of intentionality. When I say the word "leadership," it extends the word leader to leadership, and that extension actually occurs in 2 different dimensions. Leadership, meaning not just the leader, but the collection of leaders that constitute the leadership, but it also extends the word leader in a different dimension in terms of the style of that leader. Leadership refers to the leaders and their style on a foundation of intentionality. That is at the core of your company.

Around that core, driven by that leadership, is a company story. An organizational narrative. A company story. Organizational narrative. By a company story, I do not mean a history story. Many companies build a story, a history story for good reason under good intent and for good use, but that's not what I'm referring to. Not a history story like, our company started 52 years ago in my grandfather's garage and then this happened and then we bought this other company and we moved to this other town and we built this other plant and we moved from offices to this headquarters now. I don't mean a company history story. By a company story, what is the heart of this company?

To understand the company story, a key element is to understand your purpose. You need to get very clear about what is the purpose of your company. Companies that have a clear purpose show. You can see it. Those of you who shop with Zappos are likely to speak very highly of them. Why is that? Because you got a good deal from Zappos or you got some good products? All of that might be true, but that's not the reason you're so happy with them. In their behavior, it is clear they want to deliver happiness. That's their purpose. Those of you who fly Southwest Airlines probably are quite happy with Southwest Airlines. Mind you, this is the airline business. In the airline industry, where the highest grade achievable is despicable. In that industry, this airline actually has fans. How is that? Because they have a purpose. Show the love. Show the love.

What's the difference between Starbucks and McDonald's? At Starbucks they have a purpose. Changing the world one cup of coffee at a time, one person at a time, one neighborhood at a time. These companies have a purpose. Nordstrom, Ritz-Carlton, where ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen, Ritz-Carlton's purpose. Virgin Atlantic. These companies have a purpose and it shows. Let me tell you what the value of having the purpose is. You might say the purpose of a for-profit organization, a for-profit company, you might say is to make money. It doesn't excite anybody. Saying it is to make money is like saying this. We as human beings, we need a purpose. We often, particularly those of you who have gone through your mid-life crisis, you sit there and you say what is the purpose in life? Why am I here? We have these introspective thoughts and conversations with ourselves. Do we ever say in that conversation, do we ever say to ourselves my purpose is to make red blood cells every day, because if I don't make red blood cells, I'll die. Is that your purpose? No, of course we don't say that, because that doesn't excite us.

Yes, we have to make red blood cells, but that's not our purpose in life. We have a higher purpose. Likewise, companies have to make money, otherwise they'll perish, but that's not their purpose. That's an outcropping of their real purpose, and that real purpose is what drives them and then money is a side product of that. In our own company at Think Shift, our purpose, we call it potentionality. Releasing the potential in people intentionally. Releasing the potential in brands intentionally. Releasing the potential in organizations intentionally. Potentionality, that's our purpose. It's what drives us. Companies must have a purpose. An organizational narrative talks about the heart of the company. The company story. Describe the purpose and describe the company's vision.

Many companies draw up a vision that often sounds like it's an advertisement for themselves. I suppose you see many vision statements put on poster boards, plastered on walls. They typically go like this. Most company's vision statements, they go like this: we are going to be the largest provider with the best possible service, greatest customer experience, in all the land I see. That's how most company's vision statements look. I call it a chest-beating vision statement. That doesn't excite people.

You know, Henry Ford had a vision, back in 1900. Henry Ford had a vision not just for his company. He had a vision for the world. He said, you know, in this world, everybody's going to have a car. Every family will have a car, and that will allow them to live wherever they want to live. They don't have to live on top of each other right in downtown. They would like out in the country. There will be these road and there will be these gas stations and there will be these supermarkets. People will go to these supermarkets and buy goods when they wanted to buy. Milk does not have to be delivered to your door. You can go buy milk any time you want.

Was Henry Ford going to build the roads? No. Was he going to build the gas stations? No. The service garages? No. The insurance companies to insure the drivers? No. The super markets? No. He was just going to build a car, and not even all of the car. He wasn't going to build the steering wheel. He wasn't going to build the rubber tires. He was not even going to build some other component of the car. He was just going to build the chassis, but he had a vision, much larger than he was going to do. That is what excites people. A vision of a world that is fantastic. A vision of a world that is beautiful. In that vision you carve out for yourself a little piece called a mission. A little piece. The contribution you are going to make for that vision to happen.

That is a much more modest statement of your contribution. Your employees, members of your organization are more likely to talk about that vision at their backyard barbecue and the cocktail party because it is a world they find beautiful. When they talk about it, they're not beating their chest. They are expressing optimism in the world. In that optimistic world, they say, and I am working towards one little piece of that vision. You build, in this organizational narrative, your core values. All of this put together, woven in a narrative, a story, that describes your heart, is the company story, is the organizational narrative. This needs to be built by that leadership on a foundation of intentionality.

Once you've built the organizational story, you can now build a brand and a culture that supports the organizational narrative. A brand and a culture that supports the organizational narrative, and build this intentionally. An intentional brand and an intentional culture. You see, brand and culture are very related items. Brand is the outsider's view of your company. Brand is the perception of your company as held by your customers. Brand is not what you say it is. It is what they say it is. The perception of your company as held by your customers.

Culture is the insider's view of that same company. Culture is the perception of your company as held by your employees. Culture is not what you say it is. It's what your employees say it is. Culture is the perception of your company as held by your employees. Brand is the outsider's view. Culture is the insider's view. 2 views of the same company. It used to be, way back in the old days, 50 years ago, people thought you could shout out your brand. Shout it out. I am Coca-Cola. Shout it loud. Shout it often, they said. Shout it repeatedly. Shout it consistently. Shout it in every which way you can think of, and people will believe you, they thought. About 30-40 years ago, they decided, no, no, you can't just shout out anything you want. You have to be what you shout out. They said, great, okay, I'm Coca-Cola, so I'm going to put on my Coca-Cola suit every time I walk out. I'm Coca-Cola.

I'm IBM, but you know what happened in the last 5 years. Around in the early 2011, 2012, 2013, technology brought communication to a point where the inside of the company becomes visible to the outside of the company. Social networking became everywhere and people started looking from the outside, they could look on the inside. The culture became very obvious to the outside world. Now, the brand you can't put on the Coca-Cola suit when you walk out because people can see you inside. They can see you in your underwear, so you've got to sleep in your Coca-Cola suit. Brand and culture got connected. In fact, in the new wave, new economy, new economy companies, think of companies you'd think of in the new economy companies, Google, Facebook, Twitter, these companies, the culture is actually driving the brand. It is the culture of the company that's driving your perception of what this company's about.

Culture has become the driver of brand now. That is why you've got to think of branding from the inside out. Branding has to be now from the inside out. When you have an intentional leadership that's created an organizational narrative and through it an intentional culture driving an intentional brand, after that, you can build an intentional strategy. An intentional strategy that supports all of this. Everything here is about the heart of the company. That is about the mind of the company, and yet, what do most companies do, very first thing. They build a strategy because they think it's the mind that is important, when every sales person will tell you, how do people buy? Not with their mind. They buy with their heart and they justify it with their mind, and yet most companies start right here.

They build a strategy and it sits on the shelf. You know why? Because it has no heart. It has no soul. It has no life. You've got to build all of this before you can start working on that. An intentional leadership driving an organizational narrative which is supported by an intentional culture driving an intentional brand is required before you can build an intentional strategy. I call this the foundation of intentionality. I call this diagram the intentionality diagram. Ask yourself, have I thought about how my company fits in this intentionality diagram?

To discuss certain elements of the intentionality diagram further, contact our team at (503) 789-1338 or


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