Mantras Versus Missions

Artmantra Who among us has not had the horrible experience of an corporate offsite to build teamwork and to craft a mission statement? The offsite usually went like this:

Day 1: Teambuilding. Selection of cross-functional teams so that, God help us, engineering has to work with sales. A day of exercises such as, “Each of you will come up to the front of the group, turn your back to the group, close your eyes, and fall backwards into the arms of your colleagues. This will teach you to trust your fellow employees.”

Day 2: Crafting the mission statement. 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”
Mary Kay “Enriching women’s lives”

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.

By | 2016-10-24T14:29:47+00:00 January 2nd, 2006|Categories: Entrepreneurship|46 Comments

About the Author:

Guy Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool. Formerly, he was an advisor to the Motorola business unit of Google and chief evangelist of Apple. He is also the author of The Art of Social Media, The Art of the Start, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, Enchantment, and nine other books. Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.

46 Comments

  1. Imran Anwar January 2, 2006 at 2:07 am - Reply

    Happy New Year and Great points, Guy.
    As someone who, despite an obvious lack of any such talent 🙂 , sometimes harbors delusions of being invited on the Tonight Show 🙂 for my “comic wit”, I think I have an easy way to do it.
    Actually, I do not even think I would need to prepare a routine. I would simply pick up mission statements of some companies and read them on air.
    The other thing you may want to comment on, as I intend to, is what’s with this whole trend of Dumbness as marketing tool.
    I mean, I have lost count of ads that show people being STUPID. Or just STUPID ads. Some ads almost sound like the company is spending money to say Stupid People Use Our Products.
    Maybe you can call up some of these companies that have these grandiose mission statements, and ask them to hold a contest at your web site. Let readers and friends of yours submit mantras instead. Maybe a year’s supply of hamburgers could be the reward. 🙂
    Forget Supersize Me, say Mantrasize me.
    Keep up the good work.
    Imran

  2. Art January 2, 2006 at 6:36 am - Reply

    So glad you’ve decided to start blogging Guy. I wish more influential folks like yourself would start. You have made a difference and will continue to make a difference in my professional life. Thanks.

  3. Rick January 2, 2006 at 7:25 am - Reply

    For years I’ve maintained that ANY corporate mission statement is best contained to four words: We must make money.

  4. Randy Holloway Unfiltered 2.0 January 2, 2006 at 7:51 am - Reply

    Mantras versus Mission Statements

    Guy Kawasaki: 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.
    This blog is off to a very fast start. Guy describes an…

  5. Ed Brenegar January 2, 2006 at 8:40 am - Reply

    Thank you, Guy, for the description of the offsite. Having been doing these for ten years, what I’ve found is that most are now shorter, more focused, more honest and more transformative. And more fun. All the best with your blog.

  6. TechnoMagicians Weblog January 2, 2006 at 8:45 am - Reply

    Guy Kawasaki And Mission Statements

    I’m glad Guy Kawasaki is blogging now. His view on mission statements and mantras:
    The ultimate test for a …

  7. Janine January 2, 2006 at 9:04 am - Reply

    The mission statement where I work sounds like a 5 year old wrote it. Dilbert Mission Statement Generator would have been a much better choice!! 🙂

  8. Chris Hollander January 2, 2006 at 9:10 am - Reply

    I am a strong believer in high quality mission statements… i might go as far as to say that a good mission statement can make/break your company/product.
    examples of great mission statements:
    “We Sell Soda.” – pepsi bottling group.
    “Build the fastest spreadsheet on the planet.” – Excel team at msft, (or so we’ve heard).
    A good vision statement will guide every major decision that management is forced to make… a bad one will make every decision harder.

  9. BlogBites January 2, 2006 at 9:35 am - Reply

    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.

    “Let the Good Times Roll” by Guy Kawasaki: Mantras Versus Missions

  10. Steve Gall January 2, 2006 at 10:46 am - Reply

    Guy;
    I respectfully submit that your mantra and your perceived mantra better match:
    Mantras:
    Federal Express: “Deliver stuff fast”
    Nike: “Sell sneakers”
    Target: “Wal-Mart with better stuff”
    Mary Kay: “Sell makeup directly”
    At the end of the day, you’re positioned by your customers.

  11. Startup Fever January 2, 2006 at 4:45 pm - Reply

    “Let the Good Times Roll” by Guy Kawasaki: Mantras Versus Missions

    Guy Kawasaki recommends creating a mantra for your business:
    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. …

  12. AMERICAN DIGEST January 2, 2006 at 6:10 pm - Reply

    My Toobar Times Headlines

    WALKING IN FROST’S FOOTSTEPS neo comes to where “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” THINGS, among other things, is taking a look at “The History of the TV Remote.” DEFENSE TECH, unlike the current poster child for media alzheimers, knows that NSA Ea…

  13. Mike O'Connor January 2, 2006 at 7:17 pm - Reply

    Don’t forget the classic that started all this;
    Toyota: “Beat GM”

  14. Disruptive Thoughts January 2, 2006 at 8:26 pm - Reply

    Im Taking Bets on Whether Guys Blog Lasts Longer Than 10 Days

    Guy Kawasaki, of Mac evangelist fame, has a blog. This is great news. Ive found Guys work to be content rich, generally agreeable, and always entertaining.
    His posts so far have creating a giant buzz on tech.memeorandum and del.icio.us…

  15. Raza January 2, 2006 at 10:22 pm - Reply

    Hey,
    I just finished reading your book “Art of Start” yesterday and what a surpise to discover your blog today.
    Your book was truly amazing, looking forward to reading your blog 🙂

  16. Management Craft January 3, 2006 at 2:49 am - Reply

    What’s Your Mantra?

    Great news, Guy Kawasaki, one of my favorite folks and author of The Art of the Start and several other books IS BLOGGING! In this post called, Mantras versus Missions, he talks about the value of a great mantra. I

  17. Management Craft January 3, 2006 at 2:50 am - Reply

    What’s Your Mantra?

    Great news, Guy Kawasaki, one of my favorite folks and author of The Art of the Start and several other books IS BLOGGING! In this post called, Mantras versus Missions, he talks about the value of a great mantra. I

  18. Paulo Maia January 4, 2006 at 4:28 am - Reply

    In my last job in a software company our president and his brother, the commercial director, decided in a democratical meeting that we have to share his brother idea that the Vision of the company is “to make profits of 10 million dollars in three years”, so I asked, ok, can we go home after that? I´d never seen a Vision or a Mission that ends in the future.

  19. Journey of a Solopreneur January 7, 2006 at 6:46 am - Reply

    Guy Kawasaki has a blog! Yay!

  20. Phil Gerbyshak January 7, 2006 at 8:13 pm - Reply

    My personal mantra is super simple: Make It Great! Thanks for confirming that simple is good Guy, and for inspiring us all to make everything as simple as possible, and no more. Guy Kawasaki and Einstein…two great thinkers!

  21. Sam Labourne January 7, 2006 at 9:16 pm - Reply

    Mantra? NOT? I am buddhist and you are definitely pretentious. I also worked in proper, adverstising for 25 years where what you claim is commonly known as a ‘slogan’. Possibly headline or maybe a service mark. But please don’t assume the kudos of a philosophy to whuch you have no right.

  22. Alice Krause January 8, 2006 at 12:13 pm - Reply

    Your blog is great. I was on my way to buy your book until I got to your mantra for Mary Kay – enriching women’s lives. Tell me you’re kidding. I started the blog newsonwomen.com to fight just this attitude. We need people like you to support our efforts, not undermine them with a mantra that says make-up can enrich your life, equating success with being pretty.
    Take a look at newsonwomen.com. It may not be dicee, but it is necessary. Any ideas?
    Alice
    www.newsonwomen.com

  23. Chris Middleton January 9, 2006 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    Back in the 1980s when this whole mission business was getting started (about the same time Japanese corporations were singing company anthems) was the last time I saw the paragon of mission statements. It was a photograph of Timothy Leary beside his VW campervan and his car plate just said FURTHER
    Such purity and purpose

  24. bblog January 10, 2006 at 7:49 am - Reply

    Corporate Mantras

  25. larry borsato January 12, 2006 at 6:55 am - Reply

    Leaders in our chosen market space.

    With Guy Kawasaki’s post on

    How is this for a mission statement?
    Giving you goosebumps. One movie at a time.
    André Hedetoft
    Movie-god.
    www.oddlife.se

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  27. loan payday June 12, 2006 at 1:35 pm - Reply

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  28. create mission statement August 16, 2006 at 7:05 pm - Reply

    great blog! i really learned a lot here!
    for mission statement software, i can suggest you one, Mission Expert – Company Edition.
    for more details, go:
    http://www.sharewarecheap.com/business-finance-business-finance/mission-expert-company-edition5376-5.htm

  29. imdb September 9, 2006 at 3:53 am - Reply

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  30. John Bradley Jackson September 12, 2006 at 2:16 pm - Reply

    Guy,
    I love this verse…
    “Alice came to a fork in the road.
    “Which road do I take?” she asked.
    “Where do you want to go?” responded the Cheshire cat.
    “I don’t know,” Alice answered.
    “Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.”
    Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) Author
    Mantra or mission statement, you gotta choose the path or it will be chosen for you.
    John Bradley Jackson

  31. Neo September 14, 2006 at 10:35 pm - Reply

    All here welcome friends!!!

  32. alfio October 20, 2006 at 7:56 am - Reply

    I with you certainly agree, though much seems to me not absolutely correctly,With pleasure I shall visit once again, I hope you will add to told.

  33. Lani Voivod November 15, 2006 at 9:09 pm - Reply

    Dank, bloated missions
    Lost to the suits
    Wordified nonsense
    Loved only by snoots
    But strip it down naked
    And ditch all the frills?
    All hail the mantra!
    (Cuz Corpspeak KILLS!)
    Rock on, brother Guy,
    Lani Voivod
    “A-Ha Yourself!”

  34. Manage To Change November 17, 2006 at 4:46 pm - Reply

    Brevity – The Long Version

    In thinking more about brevity, I realized I spoke (typed) too quickly when I said: …brevity is difficult to use as a guide for change (real implementation)… If you are hoping to inspire action you’ll need to offer your idea

  35. The MooseHat Blog December 16, 2006 at 10:50 am - Reply

    Mantras and taglines

    I was reminded this week of Guy Kawasaki’s post a while back about mantras versus missions in which he talked about the power of thing’s like: Federal Express: “Peace of mind” and now “Relax, it’s Fedex.” Nike: “Authentic athletic…

  36. Nuance Labs, Inc. January 14, 2007 at 11:29 am - Reply

    In the Beginning, There Was a Mantra.

    If youre anything like me, when you read the typical corporate mission statement, your eyes glaze over and some random tune starts playing through your head (usually some song I hate, like Justin Timberlake.) They are long, drawn out, and, like …

  37. Mark Steele February 15, 2007 at 2:49 pm - Reply

    In Mormon scriptures there is a statement attributed to God that is a succinct mission statement, almost a mantra: “This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” Pretty brief, for the CEO of the universe.

  38. Blogging Me Blogging You March 16, 2007 at 11:25 am - Reply

    News releases need more than writing andediting

    The Getting Ink collective have a great post up about how junior technology journalists choose what to put in the NIB section (news in brief).
    The key? Say what the company does with no jargon in the first paragraph.
    if it had the word ‘hardw…

  39. College Marketing 4.0 March 29, 2007 at 6:07 pm - Reply

    A Snowboarder’s Mission Statement

    Guy Kawasaki, in Art of the Start, writes about ‘making mantra’ instead of mission statements. Athleon’s is ‘effective athletics online.’ Burton Snowboard’s, the company that basically started snowboarding (a major part of the $2.3 billion snow sports …

  40. MyRetailCareer April 30, 2007 at 7:07 am - Reply

    Goals and how to get there, part 3

    I been comparing goal setting to a road trip and now that we have kind of figured out where we want to go (our vision) and what we have to get started (our inventory or SWAT analysis) we need to

  41. Felsefe July 13, 2007 at 2:20 pm - Reply

    what a nice blog 🙂
    i learned a lot here.

  42. FR Test Blog July 14, 2007 at 8:32 pm - Reply

    Corporate Mantras vs. Corporate MissionStatements

    Thoughts from Guy Kawasaki
    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 cor…

  43. Deborah Marcotte August 21, 2007 at 6:15 am - Reply

    I really enjoyed this..
    I hope to put my own mantra to work soon.
    www.deborahmarcotte.com

  44. Marketing Safari June 16, 2008 at 4:41 pm - Reply

    Using Social Media to Build Your Personal Brand

    Chris Brogan wrote a great post on the tools and methods you can use to promote your personal brand online. It’s 100 great tips I encourage you to check out. It got thinking about one thing you should have figured

  45. Dahle Communication April 15, 2009 at 5:10 am - Reply

    Mantras versus Mission Statements? How about a Passion Statement

    In Guy Kawasaki’s book Reality Check (as well as his blog), Guy talks about putting together a Mantra for your business versus a mission statement. He states simply that “A mantra is three or four words that explain why your product, service, or compan…

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