Mission Critical, Method Madness

Mission Critical, Method Madness

The Constitutional Convention

Originators of great ideas, inventors, and founders have a long history of frustration with the implementations of their discoveries. Those who create a product or service may not be the ones who successfully organize the production and delivery; it’s one thing to invent and create and quite another to organize, manage, and lead. And once the founder or creator involves others in the project, control can quickly be lost to the group that is now charged with implementation. I wonder how many founders are saddened by what becomes of their creations as others take things in different directions?

The source of frustration and disappointment is the confusion between mission and method that can arise in the lifetime of any organized effort; from nations to small businesses to community-based not-for-profits. The founders and creators, the originators, are mission-focused and mission-driven: the initial idea or invention came about as a response to or a solution for some challenge or discovery. The founders’ greatest desire is to present their idea or invention in a way that does what it was invented and designed to do successfully. To fulfill this promise, resources and efforts are organized: a business or organization is created, a nation is founded, a religion begins. These organized efforts involve other people, and other people bring their own ideas and interpretations. Methods to implement actions that will fulfill the mission are employed, and within some period of time these methods become the drivers for continuation. Countless Board of Directors meetings at countless organizations are spent in debate over methods, with almost no regard for mission.

Methods replace the mission, just as the means replace the ends. Public policy is full of examples. Consider gun control and the debate over the Second Amendment (the Right to Bear Arms). Consider for a moment that the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution are mission statements, and the articles and amendments of the constitution are methods. Methods adapt to demands and circumstances, and if the formal process contains procedures for amendments, the originating documents can evolve to address those changes. One interpretation is that the Second Amendment was added to protect citizens from over-reaching centralized anti-democracy government. Yet Aaron Swartz, a 26 year old computer whiz who recently committed suicide while being hounded by the government and facing a 30-year prison sentence for a minor computer hacking event (he downloaded academic journal articles), would not have been saved by keeping a gun under his pillow. Today, individual citizens need the right to freely access information, as well as to be free from governments’ computer-based policing; the modern state can be far more dangerous through information control than through gun control.

The mission of the United States was to ensure justice under law, democracy, equality, individual freedoms and rights, and organized capacity to address the common good as a number one priority. The means to accomplish all this is found in the Constitution and subsequent legislation and laws. The measure of a given method is supposed to be the mission statements: if a piece of legislation or law undermines the stated purposes and missions, then the law needs to be changed, amended, or discarded. But over time we’ve come to have a higher regard for the methods, and we measure new decisions and actions against the older methods. If something new threatens to change, amend or end one of the methods, courts, and particularly the Supreme Court, squashes the new legislation —  even if it does a better job of protecting and fulfilling the mission. Protecting the rights of corporations as if they were individual citizens is a case in point; so is the undermining of election laws and election finance limits.

What Can a Mindful Founder Do?

The Great Dictator

The same conflict —  the confusion of mission and method —  emerges in all organizations regardless of size and intention. As the organized effort moves away from and past the founder, the focus turns from mission control to method control. One approach is for the founder to invite others to participate and get involved, but exert complete executive control. The Dictator-Founder seeks to ensure commitment to mission by directing every decision and action. The wiser approach is the Founder-Leader: he or she recognizes the need to involve and engage others, and knows full well that those others may alter the initial idea or invention. But rather than attempting absolute control, the Founder-Leader provides inspiration, encouragement, and organizes environments that allow the optimal expression of his or her ideas and programs. And the mission statement is at the core of this type of organization. Having a clear mission statement from the beginning is essential. A very broad and vague mission statement can allow almost any method; an overly detailed and strict mission statement can stifle innovation and critical response to change. The mission statement is the critical foundation block and on-going tool for implementation, and for organizational viability. Founders may find greater comfort in sharing their visions and ideas through Board participation rather than through executive control. If the method requires smart, competent leadership and management, and these are not the strengths of the founder or inventor, then recruiting the right talent and stepping aside will be in the best interests of the founder, the organization, and the initial idea.


Susan Cain, author of QuietINCOMMN started its Mindful Entrepreneur series of workshops and discussions with our Northampton 21st Century Business Round Table of January 22, 2013. We’ll kick new series off in Greenfield, Easthampton, and Springfield in the next few weeks…. check dates, times, and locations in the weekly InCommN newsletter In Northampton, we considered how different entrepreneurs review their recent past business activities — what measures do we each like to use? which measures really help us understand our businesses or organizations? and which do we want to use going forward? All this is in the context of understanding two aspects: planning and preparing. They’re related, but they’re not the same thing. Both address how we need to and want to use the four essentials every venture requires: human resources (talent, skill, knowledge, behavioral patterns…), time, money, and information. When we’re short on one, we tend to overuse the others. But if we’re inventive in how we work with others — collaborate, cooperate, partner, contract, hire —- we can actually expand resources for maximum mutual benefit. The issue of collaboration raises some very interesting challenges. What arrangements work best to foster creativity, critical thinking, and good leadership? The answer tends to be active, participatory collaborations. Picture open-area shared office space: there are lots of interactions, constant engagement, continual conversation. As an introvert, too much of this can be counterproductive for me. I now find support in the work of Susan Cain, reported on the TED website:

“At TED2012, Susan Cain asked us to stop the madness. That is: the group work madness. At offices and schools around the globe, the desire for collaboration has led to an onslaught of open floor plans and group projects where individuals aren’t given much space to think on their own. And this is a big problem, Cain explained, because a third to half of people in the world are introverts. They thrive on their own and feel at their best in quiet moments, without over-stimulation. While our culture tends to laud extroverts—people who are outgoing, social and high on charisma—Cain stood up for the introverts of the world in her talk. “Our most important institutions, our schools and our workplaces, they are designed mostly for extroverts and for extroverts’ need for lots of stimulation,” says Cain. “This is our loss for sure, but it is also our colleagues’ loss and our communities’ loss. And at the risk of sounding grandiose, it is the world’s loss. Because when it comes to creativity and to leadership, we need introverts doing what they do best. In the past year, Cain’s talk has been viewed nearly 4 million times. Meanwhile, her book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,” became a New York Times bestseller. With the paperback of the book now on bookstore shelves, the TED Blog spoke ‘softly’ to Cain about the experience of the past year.”

Go to the TED site to read more about this, and watch Susan Cain’s wonderful, illuminating and – yes, mindful – presentation.

Looking Back

In one of my business practices, the founder/owner and I engage in review, evaluation, planning and preparation every year starting just after Thanksgiving break. We spend a month at this; we purposefully set aside time to talk with our colleagues, each other, others in the field, and our staff associates to fully appreciate what we’ve experienced and what we might want to happen next. We’re almost brutally honest, and also completely open to ideas, opinions, and information. In some years, we’ve turned the business inside out and upside down to explore and try something new, and then at the end of that year concluded that we made mistakes and want to try something else entirely. It certainly presents challenges, and one has be somewhat fearless to go through this: you don’t know, and you don’t even try to predict, what you might learn and discover in the process. But we can’t argue with the the results: raving clients, happy and productive and enthused staff, increased profitability, and a fine workplace.

During this process, we’ve often turned to various measures: numbers of calls, numbers of prospects, percentage of prospects who become clients, types and behaviors and expectations of clients, and at least several others. And we’ve learned: selling is dead.

Our best years have been when we’ve focused on elevating our relationship building by delivering what the client wants and needs, and by approaching each prospect as a present and self-aware person who has clear ideas about his or her world. That is, we approach everyone with complete respect and appreciation, and we approach thoughtfully, caringly, and deliberately. Relationships are created and built. And through these relationships, business is completed.

Over time, and this measure varies since each relationship blossoms differently, “sales” are made. More accurately, actions are taken that satisfy each client’s interests to the extent that our busines earns money for what we’ve provided (thoughtfullness, care, purposefull discussion, quality information, solutions to challenges).

We don’t sell anything; we offer relationships that address needs and interests of clients.

Business, particularly service business, is not about selling; it’s about building signficant and lasting relationships. And it’s done through networking, collaborating, partnering, one-to-one conversation. It necessarily requires empathy, self-awareness, and respect. “Being there” when it counts is replacing the sale.