What’s the Big Idea?

The words “mission statement” tend to bring out the cynic in all of us - perhaps because they highlight the discrepancy between the grandiosity of an organization’s vision and the reality of every day life. Is your child’s school really seeing to “the total development” of her moral consciousness just because every classroom has the slogan “Character Counts” plastered above the blackboard? Is your local coffee franchise actually “inspiring and nurturing the world,” one cup at a time? 


The problem, says Tom Adams, CEO of Rosetta Stone, is that most mission statements are lofty but ultimately perfunctory decrees handed down from on high by managers and administrators, when they should be functional guides shaped by the community who lives them. In a recent interview, Adams gave advice for crafting a mission statement that will serve you and your team. “When the team has built the mission statement and is aligned with it, it’s an incredible driver of action and decision making,” he says.

What’s the Significance? 

So what makes a good mission statement? Why is it not enough to say simply, “We Make Shoes,” or “We Speak for the Trees"? Simplicity is better than jargon, but in a world where everyone is doing 150 things at once, originality and immediacy are key. Whether you're the head of a company, a jobseeker practicing your elevator speech, or an academic writing a research proposal, you should be able to articulate how you're different from the crowd by explaining what exactly you do and why it's extraordinary. 

You should also know your audience. Rosetta Stone determined early on that their programs would be geared towards learners, not the casual buyer, which reminded them to focus on education over entertainment. The company has distinguished itself in the saturated market of consumer software by earning a place in classrooms around the globe.

The best mission statements communicate both values and goals - your vision - in language that is specific, succinct, and above all, engaging. Whether you are just starting out, or on the brink of greatness, defining your purpose clearly and collaboratively will impact how you are perceived.

 

Big Think's Top Mission Statements 

Are these companies doing a good job of communicating and following their vision? See if you can recognize who they are based on their mission statement. Which company’s mission statement would you like to rewrite? All ideas are welcome: from the whip-smart to the harebrained to the straight-up hilarious. Share them in the comments section below. (The top three will win a free t-shirt from Big Think plus the eternal admiration of our editorial team.)

1. “_____ mission is to organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Click here to reveal whose it is.

2. "Our vision is to be earth's most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online." Whose is it?

3. “To make, distribute, and sell the finest quality all natural _____ and euphoric concoctions with a continued commitment to incorporating wholesome, natural ingredients and promoting business practices that respect the Earth and the Environment.” Whose is it?

4. “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” Whose is it?

5. “We are a global family with a proud heritage passionately committed to providing personal mobility for people around the world.” Whose is it?

6. “People love our clothes and trust our company. We will market the most appealing and widely worn casual clothing in the world. We will clothe the world.” Whose is it?

7. “At _____, we work to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential. This is our mission. Everything we do reflects this mission and the values that make it possible.” Whose is it?