The Toolkit – Part 1: Foundations (5)

This post is part of the working draft of the DriverlessCrocodile Toolkit (read more here). I’d love comments, links to resources related to the theme, and original contributions.

Vision and mission

Vision and mission statements are ways of talking about what you’re working to achieve, and how you’re doing it. Highly successful organisations differ on how they define and approach these, as you’ll see in the examples that follow – so it doesn’t do to get too pedantic about them. What follows is my take.

Vision

At the end of the day, everyone is (hopefully) working towards a vision of a better future, probably featuring sustainable human flourishing. Your organisation’s vision statement sets out a narrower piece of that vision – the part of a flourishing future that you are specifically focusing on and working to make a reality.

What outcome do you hope to achieve?

Note that this is different from “What do you do?” We’re trying to describe what the world looks like if you or your organisation does its job well and achieves its goals. This probably involves describing a world without the problem you’re committed to addressing – which might even mean a world in which your organisation wouldn’t need to exist.

A good vision – one that your colleagues, partners, customers, investors or donors are going to be excited about – probably doesn’t have you in it. It’s bigger than all of you.

Examples:

“We work for a future where all children across Indonesia have the opportunity to learn to read, and to love reading.” (Saya Suka Membaca)

“To move the web forward and give web designers and developers the best tools and services in the world.” (Adobe)

“To lead the way to the future of mobility, enriching lives around the world with the safest and most responsible ways of moving people.” (Toyota)

“To enrich people’s lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain.” (BBC)

These are good vision statements… and note how many of them leave the end-vision implied, or blur the lines between what they do and the outcomes they hope to achieve. Let’s not nitpick.

Bad vision statements:

The most common misstep (and it’s one often made by enormous companies) is “To be the number one (/dominant/most popular/most profitable) company in the widget (paper-pulp-based-packaging/telecommunications/oil extraction/advertising/healthcare disposables) business.

There are loads of companies with vision statements like these out there, and they clearly do okay… but they’re bad vision statements because they take the eye off the key outcome of making the world a better place by serving people.

Firstly, you could fullfil visions like these and achieve number one status through lies, robbery and destruction – but it wouldn’t be something to celebrate.

Secondly, they’re terriffically boring. No-one’s going to get excited about a particular company being number one apart from people who make a lot of money when it does so. Your customers don’t care (they’re interested in you serving them well), and the world doesn’t care (we’re interested in how you make the world a better place by serving your customers).

We might end up rooting for you to be number one, but it will be because we like you, which comes as a byproduct of you making a contribution by doing something meaningful, and doing it well.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...