"Our mission statement is to…"

I walk into a room, it’s a meeting room that anyone who has been to any corporate office anywhere on the planet would recognise. There’s a long table with chairs around it, at one end are a couple of large flat screens attached to the wall at shoulder height, the theme is wood and black leather.

There’s a business casual dress code so all the men are wearing shirts; the one lady is wearing a trouser suit.

Most of the people in the room are known to me but a couple of people are here to present who I don’t recognise. During the meeting introductions I find out that we are to receive a presentation from a vendor and they are the vendor’s technical sales representatives. At this point I’m already trying to line up a set of excuses for leaving the room, but I’m here now and an early exit would seem rude.

After the usual faffing about getting the screens to work properly one of the technical sales representatives moves to the first slide from which he reads these words:

Our mission statement is to…

Then it happens. It used to happen occasionally but recently something more permanent has happened in my brain, a connection has been broken, or perhaps a new connection has been made, I’m not sure which. On hearing the words “Our mission statement is to…” my brain experiences a complete blank out. I may as well be looking at a white screen and listening to white noise.

It doesn’t matter what the person says after these words I’m not going to hear them. If they said “Our mission statement is to undertake best-practice collaboration with polka-dot elephants enabling franchised delivery of cutting-edge chilli-marzipan rabbits to ethical nomadic muskrats in Uzbekistan” I wouldn’t know – I’ve gone to my blank place.

If I’m honest I’ve struggled to write this post because every time I write those words my brain goes off to the blank place and I have to focus quite hard to come back again.

I’d like to be able to describe the blank place to you, but I can’t, because it is just blank; there’s nothing there. I’m not sure when this behaviour started, I suspect that it’s been building up over time.

My theory about the cause is that it’s a self-preservation mechanism; even when I could hear mission statements I found them excruciating and I think my brain is trying to protect itself from any more pain. In my experience most mission statements may as well be a random selection of verbs and adjective, many of them are impossible to understand and the rest don’t say anything worth saying.

(If you want to have some fun with creating your own mission statement from random verbs and adjectives  the Mission Statement Generator does precisely that.)

Why do most mission statements fail? It’s only my opinion, but I think it’s because they don’t tell a story. We are story people, we’ve collected and retold them for millennia, they engage with our minds and our emotions, they communicate a message.

I’ve been to many sessions where someone has given me their mission statement and then told me a story. I can remember many of the stories – I can’t remember any of the mission statements. Life would be so much easier if they just left the mission statement out.

Am I the only one that this happens to? Do I need to seek out some medical help?

You might also like: The parable of Ray’s Helicopter Company.

The words “Our vision statement is to…” have exactly the same effect.

One thought on “"Our mission statement is to…"”

  1. You’re spot on! And I believe your theory around us preferring stories is accurate, too. What makes this kind of approach worse is that it’s ‘vanilla’ and screams “we don’t really care what you [customer] do – this is all about us!! we’re on a mission! and we’ll make you part of it… Resistance is futile!” .. there, I’ve gone all Dalek… But basically, it took me to a space, too… only not blank, but dark!


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