Should companies have “Mission Questions” instead of mission statements?

Is it time to hang a question mark on the end of the corporate mission statement?

Mission QuestionGetting some good feedback on my Fast Company piece “Forget The Mission Statement. What’s Your Mission Question?” It offers up 5 questions companies can ask to see if they’re staying true to their missions. What I was going to write at the end of the piece—and somehow I couldn’t make it fit smoothly with the rest of the article, so I never got to it—is that maybe the mission statement itself should be replaced by a question.

Why would a company want to do this? Doesn’t a “statement” make them sound more confident, more sure of their mission, more determined, etc.?  One could make that case, but I’d say mission statements tend to have a different effect. They often sound arrogant. They come across as not-quite-credible. They seem “official,” “corporate, ” and a little stiff. And sometimes they make it sound as if the mission has already been accomplished, and now the company is just in maintainence mode.

Mission statements seem like they’re from another time, a time when companies tended to act as if they had all the answers. But in these dynamic, uncertain times, wouldn’t it be appropriate to take that static statement and transform it into a more open-ended, fluid mission question?  A mission question could still be ambitious without being quite so arrogant (replacing, for example, “We make the world a better place through robotics!” with “How might we make the world a better place through robotics?“).

By articulating the company mission as a question, it would tell the outside world, “This is what we’re striving for—we know we’re not there yet, but we’re on the journey.” It acknowledges room for possibility, change, and adaptability. And most importantly, it invites collaboration. It challenges the company’s employees and other partners to join in a shared endeavor to answer that bold question—as opposed to having to live up to a dictum handed down from on high.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think I’d rather work for a company that was striving to answer a big question, as opposed to one that claimed to have figured everything out and distilled it down to an official “statement.”

How do you feel about it?

» Further reading on this site about Mission Questions

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About the Author

Innovation expert and questionologist Warren Berger has studied hundreds of the world’s foremost innovators, entrepreneurs, and creative thinkers to learn how they ask questions, generate original ideas, and solve problems. He is the author or co-author of 12 books, including his three books on questioning: A MORE BEAUTIFUL QUESTION: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas; its follow-up THE BOOK OF BEAUTIFUL QUESTIONS: The Powerful Questions That Will Help You Decide, Create, Connect, and Lead; and BEAUTIFUL QUESTIONS IN THE CLASSROOM: Transforming Classrooms Into Cultures of Curiosity and Inquiry. Warren’s writing has appeared in Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, and The New York Times, and he writes the “Questionologist” blog for Psychology Today. He lives in Mount Kisco, New York. Follow him on Twitter at @GlimmerGuy and subscribe to his blog posts

1 Beautiful Comment

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  1. Thank you for this, Warren. I just discovered this after posting an article of my own that explores quite the same question – what if organizations had mission questions instead of mission statements? I’d love for you to post a comment there – especially if your book can be a helpful resource in this inquiry.


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