Wednesday, March 29, 2017


Lack of Clarity

Sometimes there is confusion when people talk about beliefs, values, virtues and ethics.  And vision, mission and purpose.
I think that there is lots of overlap, that we need to see the wood rather than the trees, and it doesn’t much matter if your definitions fail to meet stringent academic requirements. They do the job if they work for you and what you’re trying to do.
You see, a lot of corporate-speak sometimes consists of impressive-sounding sentences that don’t necessarily express much, don’t inspire, and sometimes obscure fuzzy thinking.

A cruel neighbour wanted to borrow Nasrudin’s donkey.
“I’ll have to ask the donkey,” Nasrudin responded.
He disappeared to the stable then returned. “I am sorry. The donkey says he is endowed with prescience that the future does not augur well for your relationship”.
“What does he see in the future then?” asked the neighbour. “What does he mean?”
He simply said, “Long journeys, short meals, sore bones and scuffed knees”.

Keeping it simple can be helpful in bringing clarity.

Simple Working Definitions 

MISSION:              What we want to achieve

ETHICS:                What is right or wrong

BELIEFS:              What we hold to be true

VALUES:               What we see as important

VIRTUES:              What our character is (when our values become a part of who we are)

VISION:                 The future we wish to bring about – that we wish to see

PURPOSE:            Our reason for being, what we wish to be (or do)

Mission is often quantifiable and time – specific: We aim to be the national number one supplier of ….. by …..    and leads quite readily to strategies and objectives (although it could be argued that so does vision and purpose) 

Beliefs usually inform vision and values. (If business does not take the lead in caring for the environment, the education of our people and the well-being of the communities we serve; then our own future will become insecure). So Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech is a completely interwoven mix of belief, values and vision.

Most of the above can flow out of a clear (higher) purpose, which is about being as well as doing. Purpose may be synonymous with vision, but mostly vision is an outcome of an implemented purpose. Purpose statements contain aspirations that can be translated into high-level behaviour indicators. A meaningful higher purpose ushers us into a spiritual realm. Some purpose statements:

Disseminating spiritual wisdom                                                                           SOUNDS TRUE
We exist to connect people to what’s important in their lives                      SOUTHWEST AIRLINES
 The reason we exist is to create inspired moments in people’s lives         PIRCH, ATLANTA 

CEO of Whole Foods Market, John Mackey interviewed by Prof R Edward Freedman, points us towards the purpose of business being an entrepreneurial passion for why the business exists. 2
And purpose is realised when supported by appropriate, consistently applied virtues; but also gives birth to those virtues.

“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds; your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be”.1

Is this Coca Cola mission synonymous with purpose?


Visit the web page in question. Is their vision a set of values and mission elements?  Does their list of values add anything that is different to nearly every other business’s list of espoused values?
I love the simple eloquence of what drives Menlo Innovations, a highly successful IT services company based  in Michigan. Their CEO and Chief Storyteller, Richard Sheridan, is focused on JOY as a value, a purpose and a description of their culture.3

(Although another topic, his approach to over-measuring was also refreshing. When I asked Richard how he measured joy, his response was that he produces statistics, metrics and improvement-outcomes for the cynical and disbelieving, but essentially successes and advocacy travel as  anecdotes by word of mouth. That’s his real measure).

1. Rutte, Martin (2006) The Work of Humanity: project heaven on earth citing Patanjali (in Seeking the Sacred: leading a spiritual life in a secular world. (ed Mary Joseph) ECW Press, Toronto, Canada
3. Sheridan, Richard  Joy, Inc.: how we built a workplace people love Portfolio/ Penguin  2013