John Strelecky on How Finding Your True Purpose as City or Destination Will Lead to Success

John Strelecky probably doesn’t need much of an introduction, having published several bestselling books, most notably The Why Café and The Big Five for Life. A former management consultant, John’s insights and advice – and storytelling abilities – have inspired and motivated millions of persons around the world. It is partly thanks to his work and books that The Place Brand Observer exists.

Read on if you’d like to discover how cities and destinations can succeed at attracting talent, investors and new residents by finding and nurturing their true purpose for existing. Our sincere thanks to John for taking the time to answer our questions, sharing his own story and experiences, his ideas and insights.

John, you are a bestselling inspirational author, and creator of the Big Five for Life concept. Your books have sold more than 6 million copies worldwide and been translated into 42 languages. Having achieved so much already, how do you keep yourself motivated to continue developing new ideas and projects?

It’s a balancing act. I love being outdoors and doing adventurous things. I also find great fulfillment in sharing concepts which inspire people. Mostly that’s through my books, although at the moment I’m also working on a movie based on one of my books.

As long as I’m taking time for the adventures, the motivation for the other things is self-sustaining. There’s been times when I’ve taken on too many projects and not enough adventure, and I feel the way it negatively impacts my emotional state, so I do my best to avoid that. It’s all about maintaining the right balance.

The Big Five for Life is about what makes a great leader. Cities and regions also strive to be great and many aspire to be leaders in attracting talent, investors and visitors. What advice would you give them, based on some of the insights and tools you share in your books and seminars?

The same core principles really apply no matter what sector an organization is in.

Top talent is interested in more than “a job”. They want something fulfilling, something where they feel they are making a difference. Something which feels like a fair trade for their time. So at a minimum it’s important for cities or regions to identify who they are from a brand perspective and what principles they operate by. That same awareness is critical for attracting investors and visitors.

The more clearly a destination can articulate who they are, what they offer, and why they are relevant, the more successful they can be.

Philip Kotler in our interview shared his view that:

“Many cities lack a positive image among their own citizens and residents. Even worse, many citizens are not friendly to visitors who shop in their stores or visit the few sights that people might want to see in the city.”

How could we adapt the Purpose of Existing and the Big Five for Life to a destination context, helping those to strengthen unity and shared identity, for a welcoming atmosphere?

First of all, it depends on if the place really wants to be a visitor destination. Because if they kind of do, but not really, it’s never going to work. And it’s a big question because there’s both pleasure and pain with being a visitor destination. Yes visitors bring revenue. Depending on who the visitors are and how many there are, they can also bring traffic, long lines, trash everywhere…. So it’s a big question to ask.

Equally important is what types of visitors is a destination interested in serving? Families, couples, sports fans….

This ties in directly with the idea of Purpose for Existing (PFE) and Big Five for Life. The PFE would be the overarching purpose of the destination. It could be nature focused, events, weddings…. The options are unlimited.

Then the Big Five for Life would be the five things the destination most wants to help visitors do, see, and experience.

What questions should communities – cities, regions, countries – ask themselves, to find their path and purpose?

It starts with a Who question. Who do they want to be and why? Then Who is already being that. Follow that up with; what path did those “Who’s” take to get there, and what attributes make them that? Answering just those questions will get them really far down the path.

Which cities, regions or countries fascinate you in how what they stand for aligns with what they are doing?

There are lots of good examples of that. I’ll share just a couple that come to mind. The first is the northeast region of South Africa. It’s where Kruger National Park is. Their brand is based on giving people the opportunity to experience African wildlife.

During my time there I’ve found the people to be friendly, engaging, and knowledgeable. The facilities are varied to accommodate those who want to camp up to those who want the full five star experience, so people of all budgets can still experience it. They know who they are, what they want to offer, and they do it right.

A completely different example is a little beach town called Melbourne Beach in Florida in the U.S. They focus on being a small, coastal, community beach town. The experience they offer is relaxation, nature, and fun at the beach. To fulfill that, they don’t allow chain stores. All the restaurants, ice-cream shops, etc. are unique and local owned. Development is kept to a minimum, and high rise construction is prohibited, even though it would mean a higher tax base.

It’s a really cute town to visit for the day or hang out in for a few days and it’s because they know what they stand for and stay true to it, that they are successful.

Anything else youd like to mention?

Thanks very much for the invitation to do the interview.

Thank you, John!

To contact John, please visit johnstrelecky.com or connect with him via social media, on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Photo credit Paul Landerl


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