How to Write a Mission Statement Like Canva

Welcome to Impact in the 21st Century, from Simbi Foundation. In this episode, author, speaker, entrepreneur, and Apple and Canva tech evangelist Guy Kawasaki discusses how to write a mission statement, staying ahead of the innovation curve, overcoming imposter syndrome, and more!

We’re thinking about how Guy Kawasaki uses mantras to guide his personal and professional life, and how this concept can help you to write the most compelling, memorable mission statement for your NGO, company, or organization.

Guy Kawasaki is an author, speaker, entrepreneur, Apple and Canva tech evangelist, and the creator of Remarkable People Podcast. He popularized the word evangelist and in the marketing world and has written a number of books including The Macintosh Way, The Art of the Start, and thirteen other books. As a keynote speaker, his topics include innovation, enchantment, social media, evangelism, and entrepreneurship. Learn more about Guy Kawasaki’s work here!

Aaron: You know, over the years I’ve listened to you speak a great deal about this notion of a mantra for a company, for an NGO, and for yourself. I’d love to hear how you arrived at this concept, and how your personal mantra guides the things that you do and how you create a positive impact with it.

Guy Kawasaki: Well, some of it is that I was subjected to the very heinous process of creating mission statements. Primarily, I experienced this heinousness when I was on the board of some not for profits. Not for profits, they just seem to want to revisit their mission every month and I just could not wrap my mind around the waste of time that is, and when a nonprofit does it in particular, they want to include all the stakeholders and shareholders and I mean, it would take up one day, and it would have to take care of the customers and the shareholders and the employees and the dolphins and the whales. I mean, it was endless. And what would happen would be an unremarkable mission statement. And if someone did not say, “this is the company and this is the mission statement”, there is no way you could have even had a wild guess about who the company was that it pertained to. There’ll be mission statements about fostering optimal shareholder gain while enabling our employees to self actualize their life goals, while providing our customers with a satisfying experience that exceeds their expectations, and this would be for a tobacco company. So I finally learned this concept of a mantra and the world’s shortest mantra is two letters, so I just love this concept!

My personal mantra is, empower people. I think that the mantra for Canva is to democratize design. Now I can’t tell you that I believe that when I say democratize design, 100% of the people say, “Oh, that must be Canva”. But at least if I told you that democratize design is Canva’s mantra, you would not be scratching your head saying, “What is he talking about?” I mean, two and two equals four, right? What a concept. And so that’s how I came upon this concept. You know mission statements suck, they take too long, and they’re too expensive. They’re not memorable, no one can know what they’re referring to. So a mantra is a much better thing.

And so after you’ve created your mantra, or let’s say, your nonprofit or for-profit have now gone through the process of looking at their mission statement, realizing it’s too long, or it’s non-memorable, throw it away, and they’ve now created a mantra, how do you suggest people use them?

At the very basic level, and this would be better than 90% of the organizations, it would be nice if every employee knew the mantra, because I guarantee you, not every employee knows the mission statement. So imagine if you’re Canva and you have 1000 employees, and everybody knows the mantra and your parents asked you “Honey, what do you do? What does your company do?” You say, “Mom, we democratize design”. As opposed to saying “we create patent-pending curve jumping, paradigm-shifting technology that exceeds the expectations of our customers while enabling employees to self actualize their life goals or providing a meaningful return to shareholders”.

So say someone listening to this wants to go through the process of implementing your mantra.

Okay, first of all, I’ll tell you what not to do. Do not do an executive off-site. Do not book a room at the Ritz Carlton. Do not invite McKinsey, do not invite a meeting facilitator or an executive coach. I think mostly it has to come from the brain of the CEO. The CEO should say “what do we stand for?” And after some cogitation, walks on the seashore, whatever it is, taking a long shower, taking a drive in a German car with a stick shift, whatever it takes, I think mostly the CEO should come up with it and then bounce it off a few people, but it is not a group effort. Let’s take this hypothetical case of you coming up with a mantra for Canva, right? And so the CEO says, “Well, I got it! Two words, democratize design”. But then you start expanding the circle and then the finance person says, “Well, we democratize design, but what about our investors?” Okay, we democratize design, and provide a meaningful return for our shareholders. And then the VP of HR says, “Well, what about employees?” Okay, so now we democratize design while providing a meaningful return for our shareholders and enabling employees to self-actualize their goals. Then pretty soon you have a 30-word mission statement!

…Aaron and Guy’s conversation continues in the podcast. Listen here!

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