David Heinemeier Hansson

August 22, 2022

Mission statements are worse than worthless

I'm sure it's theoretically possible to write a mission statement that actually says something and actually matters. Just like it's theoretically possible to find that pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. But chances are far better that the rainbow springs straight out of a dumpster than a pot of gold, and that the mission statement is trash too.

But what's the harm, you might say? So it's a bland bucket of corporatese about putting customers first, striving for excellence, and thinking long term, but aren't those worthwhile goals to at least attempt to reach for? No. No, they are not.

That's because these mission statements – that never contain neither a real mission nor any interesting statements – involve no trade-offs, and thus offer no guidance. A mission statement that actually said "fuck the customers, we strive for mediocrity, and this is all about the short term"? Now that would be worth printing.

Waxing lyrically about all the happy customers, the happy employees, and all the other win-win bullshit is placing a bet you can only lose. Zero upside, unlimited downside. When customers invariably are disgruntled, they'll point to your saccharine mission statement and not just feel aggrieved, but betrayed. You promised!!

And for all the customers who are happy, or, as is the case with 97% of all commerce, merely content? They're just meeting the bar you set for yourself. No cake, no balloons.

The mission statement is setting every company that posts one up to fail. It creates an impossible ideal crafted in an abstract world that has no bearing on reality. It highlights how every normal, everyday failing is not just shit that happens, but a transgression against our mission.

Just don't.

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About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.