Have A Mission

Missions In Everyday Life

Flight planning is the process of planning out the flight journey for an aircraft. It’s comprehensive and lays out the intentions, goals, and considerations of the aircraft for its journey. It takes into account things like fuel calculations to ensure that the plane can safely reach its destination. It pre-routes its flight path, speed, and altitudes to minimize the risk of a mid-air collision and to avoid any dangerous areas. Flight plans are what determine where a plane will take off from, and where it will land. They’re important not only for safety but also to minimize flight costs. Flight plans are essential to the success and efficiency of any flight.

Now imagine a flight with no plan, no mission. Flying aimlessly in the sky in the hands of fate. Although that may sound kinda peaceful, flying without a plan would be putting yourself and others at risk of a collision, and it’s anyone’s guess where that flight would end up. Nothing tangible would come from it. Even if you wanted to fly simply for leisure, you still need a plan to do that safely and effectively. When you have a mission, then you have some influence on your fate. You know why you’re doing what you’re doing.

This logic can apply to just about any aspect of life: Drive a car with no mission and you’ll end up out of gas in the middle of nowhere with no backup plan. Work at your job with no mission and you will become easily replaceable and lack personal and career growth. Even in your relationships, if you don’t have a mission, then they’re set up for failure[1].

Conversational circumplex

A mission is less of a plan and more of an intention, purpose, or vision. It directs you where you want to go with a plan of how to get there; that plan can and must change as variables inevitably change. That’s why aircraft have their flight planned out beforehand but are constantly in contact with air traffic control to receive new instructions whenever necessary. However, the overarching mission, if it was done correctly the first time, will stay the same.

You can easily distinguish a person on a mission and a person without one. In a recent interview, Arnold Schwarzenegger discussed his personal experiences with this. During his bodybuilding career, whenever he was in the gym lifting he knew that every rep, every set, every workout had an intention behind it. Arnold’s mission is the reason he never asked himself “why am I waking up at 5am to go to the gym?” He always knew that for every squat, bench press, chin up, and leg raise he did, he became one step closer to becoming the world champion at bodybuilding. The pain and struggle he endured in the gym made him feel ecstatic, unlike others he saw who were dreading to do another set. He knew exactly why he was there.

Missions In Business

A lot of people have a dismissive view of company mission statements. Common misconceptions are that they’re cheesy and cliché. This is unfortunate because as we have just learned, having a clear and authentic mission is absolutely vital to doing anything well. Not only that, but the more people an undertaking includes and the more networks information needs to pass through, then the more vital they become. It’s relatively easy for one person to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. To share that with another person can be difficult. Does the other person share the same purpose? Does it really align with their own values and ambitions? Do they even understand what the mission entails?

Sharing a mission with one other person may be difficult, but doing so with an entire company is even more challenging. Both the complexity and the importance of communicating a mission multiplies congruent with the company’s size. A company is a group of people (an organization) who work together to provide products and services for a profit, working in unison toward a common goal. Elon Musk says in its simplest form, “All a company is is a bunch of people together to create a product or service. There’s no such thing as a business, just pursuit of a goal—a group of people pursuing a goal.” The key takeaway here is the association of individuals working together on a common goal.

A company is like a car engine. A typical internal combustion engine has about 200 different parts, each very different from one another, yet they all play an important role in its functionality. The entire purpose of the engine is to convert chemical energy into mechanical energy to move the car. So despite each part having a different utility, they all play an important role in achieving the engines’ ultimate mission of moving the car.

Companies have marketing, sales, management, HR, accounting, operations, and many more departments that allow the business to work. These can be hundreds or thousands of people who are all doing very different things but are working towards the same thing. A company’s mission is the ultimate guideline for any employee in a company. If they are ever faced with a difficult business decision, they simply need to ask themself, “what decision is going to bring us closer to achieving our mission?”

Missions usually are not achievable destinations, rather they are abstract goals with a blurry finish line. As an example, Tesla’s mission is to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” There is no terminus. There’s no point in time where Tesla can definitively say that they have accomplished that. Many would argue that Tesla has already achieved that, and others would say there’s still a lot more they could do to further accelerated the world’s transition to sustainable energy. Therefore, missions are more of a direction rather than a destination.

Not often, but sometimes a company may reach a point where its mission is no longer relevant. Perhaps they’ve reached a point where they want to update or pivot, but that does not mean that they reached a conclusive end-point. If a mission does have a conclusive end-point, then it’s not a mission; it’s a goal. Goals break down the mission into actionable, achievable steps, both large and small, which is how a company stays focused on what it is trying to achieve.

Back to the Tesla example, they may set goals such as trying to sell one million electric cars in a year or producing more cars than any gas car company. Achieving those goals would align the company with its mission of accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy. Decision-making should also be influenced by the company’s mission. Tesla is mostly known as a car company, but in 2016 it acquired a solar-powered company called Solar City for $2.6 billion. The decision to venture into solar power energy was not only a good investment, but it aligned directly with their mission.

So disregard the connotation of mission statements being altruistic in nature or hurting your bottom line. If you are doing it correctly then you’re not sacrificing profits by having a clear mission. Rather, you should be increasing profits because you and your team are more focused and self-aware of what path to take, what partners to bring on, what markets to focus on, and a million other things. Being more focused saves you money and makes it easier to identify opportunities while highlighting risks more effectively[2].

A company’s mission statement explains the practical reason for its existence. They’re not just what you believe, but also how you make decisions every day about your time, effort, and resource allocation. In your company, you should be using your mission as a heuristic for everything done in the business. At your next meeting ask, does the thing I am advocating align with our mission? No? Conversation over.

[1] Mission in this context may sound transactional or shallow, but having a mission in your relationships simply means having an intention or a purpose. Why are you dating your girlfriend? What do you and her want out of it? Maybe you both want to grow as people and share your life with someone who makes you happy. If you understand that, then you know to take the necessary steps to make that a success for the two of you. If you don’t know why you’re dating, then you’re simply in the hands of fate. When you’re meeting with investors, what is your mission—what do you want from them? Having a clear mission with your relationships can make them a lot healthier and more beneficial for both parties. It will give you the awareness to identify when your relationship is thriving, and when/how you can improve.

[2] Rather than seeking incremental progress from the current state, use your company’s mission to think about the future state you want to reach and then work backward to the present. This is the pioneer’s playbook: Incrementalism vs radical growth.