Following up on my recent Strategy 101 post, I’d like to explore some of the key elements of my Natural Strategy method. I’ll do this over time, one topic at a time. Today, I’d like to talk about the importance of having a clear sense of mission.
To start our discussion, let me ask an at-once simple and not-so-simple question: are you on a mission? If you are trying to maximize your personal potential, or your organization’s, understanding the overall importance of mission and your own specific mission is critical to optimal success.
Why? Because, like many aspects of strategy-making, missions open and close doors, giving us added focus and increased natural power through this focus. Missions say what we will do, and therefore what we will not do. And if well-considered, missions give us power not just through focus, but also through new motivation – by tapping into emotions and values that are important and elevating to us.
Defining Our Mission
Since the idea or meaning of a mission can vary, it’s worth spending a moment to clarify how I am using this important word.
We often hear people talk about themselves, or another person or organization, as being on a mission. Often, this means having a focus on a specific goal or outcome with a special passion or commitment. For me, this is mission with a small “m,” a definition that is essentially synonymous with being goal-directed.
Missions of this kind typically change over time…we can be on a mission to get a degree and then on a new one to begin a career, for example. Missions like this can be important, but use of the word in this way overlaps with the ideas of goals and visions. I have another definition for mission in mind, one that makes an important aspect of strategy more tangible, and one where there is not a good alternative word to mission.
My use of the word mission is about the why rather than the what of our visions, goals, and actions. As I suggested before, missions of this kind tap into emotions and values, ones that may not change or evolve only slowly over time. Missions based on why considerations, which I think of as missions with a capital “m,” are about being value-directed, rather than the degree to which we are goal-directed. Value-based Missions seek to explain why we are doing what we happen to be doing at any point in time.
This distinction is important, even critical, in creating, sustaining, and getting the most out of my progressive strategy process.
Moving From “mission” to “Mission”
If you have a short-list of goals or actions that are important to you or your organization, I’d like you to spend a few minutes asking “why” you are pursuing these specific goals and actions, and not others.
Our goals are of course always related to our circumstances and capacities to some degree, but they also almost always express a particular set of values or principles as well. These values can be explicit and understood, or implicit and unclear to us. See if you can uncover and capture the top three values your current set of goals expresses.
I’ll re-post a summary of my strategy process while you work on this…
So, how did it go? With a bit of perseverance, you should have a short list of values or principles in front of you. In my way of using the word mission, this is (or is a first approximation of) the Mission that spans your goals. Your value list needn’t be perfect at first, but you should examine and refine your list over time until it genuinely resonates for you. Your mission…is to be clear about your Mission!
One way of refining your values list – in a way that is, once again, simple and not-so-simple – is by asking the “why” question again, but this time about your values list rather than your actions list. If you can explain or justify a value more deeply, there may be a deeper and more important value or principle behind it. Usually, when we get to our deepest values, why questions have rapidly diminishing power.
As with other aspects of strategy-making, finding others you trust to share and discuss your actions and values can be a great way of getting underneath your actions and more deeply into the values that lie behind them.
Health-Centered Values & Missions
As you take the crucial step of uncovering and clarifying your underlying values and principles, and thus your Mission in my use of the word, you will perhaps notice three things about your or your organization’s values list:
> Personal Values – your values may involve the advancement of your life (or your organization’s)
> Extra-Personal Values – your values may involve the advancement of others that directly or indirectly affect your quality of life (or your organization’s)
> Universal Values – your values may involve the advancement of life more generally
In the sense that values often affirm or advance life – whether our own, others, or more universally – they can be said to be health-centered to a greater or lesser degree. Here, the word health simply and circularly means life-advancing.
I make this point for a reason. In practice, as we refine and become clearer about our values over time (especially when we run out of why’s and get to fairly unchanging ideas and principles), it is often the case that we find we are driven by a Mission based on values that are: 1) heartfelt and motivating, and 2) involving health promotion and the advancement of life.
We are all evolved and living beings, after all, so this common structure of our underlying values shouldn’t be surprising. Unfortunately, many of us and many organizations do not examine our various missions and clarify our underlying Mission in this way.
We may be goal-aware but not value-aware…and can unintentionally do more harm than good to ourselves and others because of this limitation. Such is the natural power contained in understanding (and then consciously choosing) the values we express in our visions, goals, and actions.
In tangible ways I will highlight in future posts, operating with low value awareness is a less advanced state of modern life. It leaves us in a condition of lower quality of action, with less potential for natural progressivity and even with less happiness and capacity for action.
For these reasons, clarifying our Mission and values, and seeing the degree to which they are life-affirming or health-centered, proves essential to progressive modern life, and is far a more important step than many of us realize.
Freedom of Expression
With this idea in mind, I’d like to underscore a fourth quality of examined and clarified personal and organizational values – the new freedom that this important form of progressive or intelligence-increasing action can provide to all our actions.
Although our circumstances and capacities will matter in the expression of our values, however well-clarified they may be, a common insight amidst personal and group value clarification is a new realization that we have far more freedom to express our most important and heartfelt values than we previously realized.
Perhaps the most vivid example of this phenomenon is the case of political prisoners and those of conscience, who often feel free in essential ways and even pity for their less value-aware captors, amidst incarceration and harsh treatment. More everyday examples involve people who live value-based lives and report above average feelings of freedom amidst below average income and mobility levels.
So that you assimilate this important lesson about being consciously value-aware and optimally missioned for progressive modern functioning, it’s worth spending a few minutes to explore the added freedom that new value awareness can provide us.
To do this, take time to list out three significant actions you are not taking today that are: 1) realistic given your current circumstances and capacities, and 2) direct and clear expressions of your core values as you understand them.
Case Studies in the Power of Missions
As you consider your goals and missions, and define your values and Mission, let me leave you with two concrete examples of the power of value-based missions in modern life.
Both examples involve Toyota Motor Corporation and ventures built around a conscious values-based mission.
The first example is a group tasked with bringing low-cost, driver-oriented cars to market. Their first product, the GT-86 or FR-S, is ground-breaking and may ultimately remake and globalize their Scion brand.
If you are not that interested in sports cars, a second example involves Toyota’s Prius division and its larger mission to make automobiles that are greener and affordable. Here again, I think you will see conscious values in action and their potential to increase our power to understand and pursue what we most want.
I hope our discussion and these examples will inspire you to clarify your Mission, as a prelude to exploring how your deepest values might be progressively expressed in and used to improve your or your organization’s current circumstances and capabilities.
Whatever your lessons, I’d enjoy hearing about them, as you go through this crucial and often unexpectedly liberating part of progressive strategy development.
Health & best wishes,
Tell others about Mark and the transformative Natural Strategy method!