radical Insights.

Weekly Research and Commentary on the Future of Business and Technology.

Your Superpower to Navigate Ambiguity and Uncertainty.

May 28, 2024

In last week’s radical Briefing, Jeffrey made a strong argument that we explore (and embrace) the “messy middle” in our endeavors to shape the future. His remarks hit a nerve with our community—we had lots of good conversations both on Substack and in our WhatsApp channel. Building on Jeffrey’s insight, I believe for organizations of all kinds to successfully navigate the ambiguity (and thus “messiness”) of our world, it is paramount to have clarity on their North Star.

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once observed that “if you know the why, you can live any how.” And, of course, American author Simon Sinek, in his famous TED talk, urged leaders to “start with why.” If this sounds familiar, and you count yourself lucky to work for (or run) an organization that has done the work of creating and communicating a good mission statement, consider this wrinkle: Is your mission statement, your North Star, your why clear, concise, and memorable? Can your people recite it by heart and do they truly understand your organization’s direction? Does it work not only as an aspirational tagline but as the ultimate clarifying device it ought to be?

All too often, when I look up a company’s mission statement, it reads something like this:

…blah blah blah blah innovation blah blah blah culture blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah market leader blah blah blah blah blah blah honesty blah blah blah blah excellence blah blah integrity blah blah blah blah strategies blah blah blah blah…

To make sure your mission statement is not just a fancy marketing slogan but truly operates as your organization’s North Star, Kevin Starr, CEO of the Mulago Foundation, created the Eight-Word-Mission-Statement: Formulate your mission statement in the form of Verb – Target – Outcome—using eight words or less. In more detail: What are you doing (verb), for whose benefit (target), to what end (outcome).

It is a powerful method to clarify and create a yardstick to measure whether any activity is inside or outside your scope. Want an example? Be radical’s mission statement is “Enable leaders and learners to seize the future.” We enable by teaching tools and frameworks, focusing on leaders inside organizations, not frontline employees, to build the future, which means we don’t work on day-to-day strategy.

Your Eight-Word-Mission-Statement might not be suitable for marketing materials, but it will become the guiding star for you and your team, helping you clearly understand your activities (and, equally as important, what you don’t do). It is the sentence your people can recite even at 2am if asked: What does your company (and you) do? And it provides the clarity you and your organization need to navigate the messy middle, ambiguity, and uncertainty.

Lastly, you can create Eight-Word-Mission-Statements not only for the company but also for business or organizational units, teams, and even for yourself.

Give it a try—and if you like, share it with us. All you need to do is hit reply to this email…