What you learn when you teach.

10Mar10

Give up your Mission Vision and Values

Last Sunday evening, I spoke to a group of 130 StartingBloc Social Innovators at the NYU Stern Satter Program in Social Entrepreneurship. It was a bright, engaged group whose collective mood was improved when StartingBloc’s Program Director, Taryn Miller-Stevens, made everybody get up and dance for three minutes before I took the podium.

The program said I would talk about “Design for Social Innovation”, which for me means intentionally designing communication systems that will align us all in co-creating the change we need to survive in business, society and nature. And every time I teach, I learn.

Here’s what I realized on Sunday: One of the barriers for young entrepreneurs is their belief (because they’re told repeatedly) that they need to contain their ideas – however radical – in the structured, conventional, unwieldy form of a mission, vision and values.

The effect this has is to shave off all the rough edges that make ideas interesting and allow us to actually hear them. It’s as if all the worn and tired jargon can’t get traction in our brains, and moves through them without penetrating. The words for genuinely new ideas don’t exist anymore in corporate speak, if they ever did. It’s like expecting an Amazonian tribe to have the words for snow when they’ve been talking all their lives about sunshine.

Old formulas can only lead to old forms of thinking. We need new words to express new ideas and if we don’t find them, they will never become reality.

All you need to do is make a promise – write a clear and simple sentence that explains what you will do, how it’s different, why it matters and to whom.

Doing this well is neither easy nor simple, but if you use your own voice, and language that is meaningful to you, you will have a set of words that, like a poem, makes your heart beat faster, and gives your idea life for all to see. C.S. Lewis said, “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: Whereas if you simply try to tell the truth, you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”

I knew, before Sunday, that the old formula made it impossible to express a truth. I didn’t understand that permission is needed to ignore the old formula, so thank you, StartingBloc, for teaching me.

And hey, all you entrepreneurs out there, from now on you are free.

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