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Writing Hacks: Mantras Over Mission Statements

Language is a technology. It’s a particularly strange one that’s made of squiggles and sounds and maps of meaning, but like any other technology, it’s hackable. So’s writing.

Mission statements are a language hack that brings together the goal of your business endeavor into a short statement. It helps drill down to what really matters to you and your company.

But Guy Kawasaki says forget about mission statements. Use mantras. A mission statement is a boring remix of dead business-speak.

A mantra is a magic spell.

From Mantras Versus Missions:

A hot, crowded room with easels of white paper and a facilitator who knows nothing about your business. Everyone who is a director level and above in the company is there—that’s sixty people. You each figure you get one word, so at the end of the day, you have a sixty word mission statement like this:

“The mission of Wendy’s is to deliver superior quality products and services for our customers and communities through leadership, innovation, and partnerships.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love Wendy’s, but I’ve never thought I was participating in “leadership, innovation, and partnerships” when I ordered a hamburger there. The root cause of mission statement-itis is that most organizations are run by people who have either gotten an MBA or worked for McKinsey—or both.

I give up trying to get people to create short, different, and meaningful mission statements, so go ahead and spend the $25,000 for the offsite, facilitator, and consultants to create one. However, you should also create a mantra for your organization. A mantra is three or four words long. Tops. Its purpose is to help employees truly understand why the organization exists.

If I were the CEO of Wendy’s, I would establish a corporate mantra of “healthy fast food.” End of story. Here are more examples of corporate mantras to inspire you:

Federal Express: “Peace of mind”
Nike: “Authentic athletic performance”
Target: “Democratize design”

The ultimate test for a mantra (or mission statement) is if your telephone operators (Trixie and Biff) can tell you what it is. If they can, then you’re onto something meaningful and memorable. If they can’t, then, well, it sucks.

What’s your maker mantra?

At Adafruit we have a few phrases like this. The one we use the most, here at the factory: Be excellent to each other.

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