Mission Creeps

I had lunch this week at Panda Express. While eating I noticed a plaque on the wall that proclaimed their mission statement. Their mission is to “Deliver exceptional Asian dining experiences by building an organization where people are inspired to better their lives.”

Leaving aside the notion of fortune cookies as a means to inspire people to better their lives. I got to talking to God about the whole concept of mission statements. Corporations have certainly taken to them in a big way, although I’m not convinced they do them for the right reasons. The idea of a mission statement is to provide a pithy guideline to everything the company does. When some executive is wondering whether they should pursue some new initiative, they can refer to the mission statement as a sort of first pass reality check. But based on the mission statements I’ve seen, and Panda Express is certainly no exception, they’re instead used as public relations propaganda.

It would be nice if we could force honesty and transparency into mission statements, but that sort of clarity is quite the pipe dream. God tells me that the biggest impediment is the nearly infinite capacity of humans for self-delusion. We all want to see ourselves in the best light and we all want to inspire ourselves to be even better than we are. For a reasonably suitable definition of “all” anyway. So mission statements tend to be a mix of what the company would like to see itself as, what it would like other people to see it as, what they’re willing to admit to and a touch of what they want to limit themselves to. All in all an interesting psychological experiment, but not as useful to anyone as it could be.

But it could be worse. We could be faced with things as bald-faced as what seems to be the mission statement of capitalism as a whole, “Whatever the market will bear.” It’s honest, but it’s certainly not inspirational.

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