Dove + Purpose + Paradox = Wonder


We believe deeply that purpose + paradox = wonder. At Unilever, wondering about tensions has generated many inspiring, effective ideas. In 2013, Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” ad, provided below, became one of the most watched video ads of all time:


Wonder loves paradox

As Polman writes in his book Paradoxical Leadership to Enable Strategic Agility, “We must find and create tensions—force people into different space for thinking. . . . This is not just a performance issue but a survival issue, because managing paradox helps foster creativity and high performance.” Polman and his colleagues named things like short-term versus long-term results, growing the business versus decreasing environmental impact, and return to shareholders versus contribution to society as the key creative tensions for growth.

What creative tensions are relevant to your purpose?  How does each extreme contribute to our purpose? How does each extreme hurt our purpose? Many of Dove’s “Real Beauty” ads, like these two below, inspire wonder by featuring real tensions around beauty standards women face everyday, stimulating us to rethink beauty:



Purpose is crucial to the equation

Research and creative tension are important, but they must also be in service to a common purpose. Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever that produces Dove, came to feel that it was time to reinvent purpose for Unilever: to double revenue while reducing environmental impact and improving social contributions around the world.

Unilever has allowed this purpose to reveal competing tensions, provoke innovation, grow revenues, inspire employees, and build trust in their brands around the world.

There are some questions that must be asked in determining this guiding purpose. Standing in the fruits of the research, ask and answer:

  • What is important to the people we serve?
  • What do we have to give?
  • What would we love to give?
  • What competing tensions do we face?
  • What purpose includes and respects all of that?