Contextualizing purpose. Defining Purpose, Vision, Mission isn’t… | by Rei Inamoto


Vision and Mission statements have been around for a long time for brands and organizations. While many world’s leading organizations have clearly articulated–and even made memorable–Vision and Mission statements, working with clients, I’m surprised how often I come across organizations that don’t have them articulated that well.

None would admit to not having a Vision or a Mission, of course. But if you don’t have them clearly articulated and your employees can’t quite recite them, you might as well not have them. Or at least, your Vision and Mission are not having an impact they should or could have on your organization.

But to be fair, not only is defining a Vision and a Mission not a trivial process, there is another word that’s been popping up in the business world more and more: Purpose.

Mix Purpose with Vision, Mission, and Values–another one of these corporate words that is actually important but not well understood or applied–it’s a topic that you thought you understood well but can’t quite explain to others simply.

So here’s an attempt:

Purpose = "Why" we exist ❤️Vision = "Where" we want to be 🔭Mission = "What" we do 🚀Values = "How" we do/act 🖖

Let me try to make this a little more tangible by contextualizing it.

In 1962, John F. Kennedy gives a speech and announces that the United States will land men on the moon by the end of the decade.

This is during the Space Race, a competition between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Although it is the US that had started this Race seven years prior, the US is falling behind the Soviets. The US and its leader President Kennedy needs to boost not only the morale of the Americans, but also the US’s stature in the world.

Here’s the full, now-famous “We go to the moon” speech by John F. Kennedy as well as its transcript:

Going to the moon, in fact, is a mission. It is called the Apollo Mission.

In the context of corporate-speak, the word Mission is often interpreted as the Why. And that’s not wrong. But in the context of this speech, going to the moon is not really the main reason.

His and the US’s motive? To beat the Soviets. And to become the most advanced nation in the world.

He uses the Space Program to help Americans visualize themselves being the leader of the world. “Visualize”–that’s why it’s a Vision.

He then makes this Vision more concrete by setting a clear Mission to achieve: Land on the moon. He also sets a deadline by saying “We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” It’s not just a goal but a Mission because it’s hard.

But if you listen to his speech carefully, you will notice that he does set a higher reason, a Purpose. President Kennedy states “there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be… used for the progress of all people.” The progress of ALL people.

Furthermore, he makes sure to remind us of the American Values: “we have vowed that we shall not see [space] governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace.”

To summarize, President Kennedy sets the US Space Program on its course by clearly articulating Purpose, Vision, Mission, and Values this way:

Purpose = To advance mankind by exploring spaceVision = Be the most advanced nation in the world Mission = Go to the moonValues = Peace and Freedom

If you look at this speech in the context of the Cold War and America vs. everyone else, being №1 in the world might have been the most important thing. I’m sure it was for many. But what I appreciate about President Kennedy’s approach (and those behind this) is that they aim higher. It’s less a capitalistic point of view only for the US, but a more humanistic point of view that benefits not only the Americans but also the whole of humanity.

In this framework, Purpose and Values should be timeless and consistent while Vision and Mission can change and evolve over time.

Once again:

Purpose = "Why" we exist ❤️Vision = "Where" we want to be 🔭Mission = "What" we do 🚀Values = "How" we do/act 🖖

With this, it is a little simpler, more tangible, and hopefully, less confusing.

And perhaps, what we need more of in 2021 is a less capitalistic and vain agenda and a more inclusive and authentic approach.

That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

–Neil Armstrong

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

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