Mission Smishion

Mission Smishion

How does a company go from the concrete visual language of a computer on every desk and in every hometo this?

Last week the chief executive of Microsoft Satya Nadella came out with a 1500 word email to all staff “boldly” outlining the future direction of the company. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect given my blog last week about corporate speak lacking any semblance of soul or humanity.

So what was this bold mission you ask?

“To empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more.”


Cue slings and arrows. If you want to read the whole thing you can check it out here. And I highly recommend Lucy Kellaway’s commentary here.

Now, while I love pulling apart the type of meaningless hyperbole strewn throughout this so-called communication as much as the next commentator. My question is bit more fundamental.

How does a company go from the concrete visual language of Bill Gate’s mission “a computer on every desk and in every home” to this? (At least Microsoft kept “every” intact so their ambition hasn’t completely waned).

Most troubling and telling is the shift to vague. And while there is nothing at all wrong with empowerment and achievement as driving forces for all manner of things. The fact they are driving forces for all manner of things is why they are ineffective in this context.

Back in 2001 I heard Kevin Roberts give a talk where he made the analogy between Microsoft and your daily bread. It’s always there, you don’t necessarily notice it unless when you reach for the peanut butter there’s nothing to put it on. It’s the staple of your diet. It struck me at the time that he might just be onto something.

What strikes me now is this feels like the statement of a company that doesn’t know who it is, where it’s headed or what it wants to do along the way, let alone when it gets there. And given that Microsoft is one of the biggest companies in the world that’s downright scary (but not unusual).

There are some who have lauded this as a step forward from the discombobulated hype of the previous chief executive. But to me that’s setting the bar too low. He’s doing a better job of stringing some kind of sentence together than his predecessor is hardly a ringing endorsement.

And that’s just the problem. The bar has fallen so low that anything is seen as an improvement. The grand oratory that stirred revolutions and set the wheels of modern commerce in motion has disintegrated into a pile of bland, while in its lieu we laud the next product or platform innovation as if it were the grail.

I started to make a list of example mission statements from big companies but it was just too depressing. If you’re interested a quick Google search of “ X company” and “mission” will quickly revel how low the bar truly sits.

So what does this all mean for SMEs toiling in the trenches, building businesses and brands and trying and hoping to connect what they care about with other people who will also care about it?

You have a great opportunity to fill the void. People are thirsty for something meaningful so you can be the ones to raise the bar. Use your words – all of them. Be bold. Move away from the carefully crafted and get messy. Whatever business you’re in, be concrete and visual a la Bill Gates. Don’t be afraid to say what you care about.

Sure some people will dismiss you. Lots won’t care. But some will grab hold of you with both hands and hang on for dear life.

See you next week.

Dont miss the opportunity to get your brand questions answered by posting them on twitter @michelhogan or emailing me at [email protected].


Michel is an Independent brand analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at michelhogan.com. You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan



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