Friday, December 02, 2005

Mission, Vision, Innovation, Learning....Are you Senging (singing+senge) the right song?

In perhaps what is one of the most inspiring articles I’ve ever read, “The Discipline of Innovation”, (Title: THE DISCIPLINE OF INNOVATION,  By: Senge, Peter M., Executive Excellence, 87562308, Jun99, Vol. 16, Issue 6) Peter Senge says:  

Note: Certain phrases and sentences have been highlighted by me and not by the author (Senge) of the article.   

“The dictionary--which, unlike the computer, is an essential leadership tool--contains multiple definitions of the word mission; the most appropriate here is "purpose, reason for being." Vision, by contrast, is "a picture or image of the future we seek to create," and values articulate how we intend to live as we pursue our mission. Paradoxically, if a mission is truly motivating, it is never really achieved. Mission provides an orientation, not a checklist. It defines a direction, not a destination. It tells the members why they are working together and how they intend to contribute. Without a sense of mission, people can't know why some intended results are more important than others.”

I don’t know if my memory serves me right, but I think in college we were told that Mission statements cater to short term objectives while the Vision is the more glamorous of the two and caters to the long-term objectives of the organization! Quite misleading, eh? Anyways, Senge goes on to say: 

To be mission-based, to be values-guided, is to hold up lofty standards against which every person's behavior can be judged. Moreover, mission is inherently abstract. It is so much easier to make decisions based on numbers, habits, and unexamined emotions. To be mission-based requires everyone to think continuously. But it can be done; and when done, it can work.

“Results-oriented leaders must have both a mission and a vision. Results mean little without purpose, for a very practical and powerful reason: a mission instills both the passion and the patience for the long journey. While vision inspires passion, many failed ventures are characterized by passion without patience.”

“Clarity about mission and vision is both an operational and a spiritual necessity. Mission provides a guiding star, a long-term purpose that allows you to balance the inevitable pressures between the short term and the long term. Vision translates mission into meaningful intended results--and guides the allocation of time, energy, and resources. It is only through a compelling vision that a deep sense of purpose comes alive. People's passions flow naturally into creating something that excites them. Taken together, mission and vision fill a deep need: all human beings have a purpose, a reason for being. Most of us believe that there is something more important than what you can buy, acquire, or market. The passion at the heart of every great undertaking comes from the deep longing to make a difference, to have an impact. It comes from what you contribute rather than from what you get.”

Now, these ideas are radical statements in today's society. The return-on-investment orientation--the view that people go to work primarily for material gain--is the bedrock of our beliefs about people in contemporary society. Thus the real discipline of innovation not only threatens established power relations, it runs counter to our cultural norms.

What profound statements! Every one of them! I do firmly believe that many organizations have the vision but lack the mission and therefore cannot inspire their employees long enough to perform.

Just ask people if senior management really believes that people come to work every day, as Deming said, "seeking joy in work." That's intrinsic motivation. It's assumed by today's management to be in scarce supply. Joy in the work comes from being true to your purpose. It is the source of the passion, patience, and perseverance we need to thrive. People cannot, however, define results that relate to their deeper passions unless leaders cultivate an environment in which those passions can be safely articulated.

There can be nothing like intrinsic motivation. It’s the true doorway to happiness and fulfilment. Incidentally, Dilbert, in a cartoon strip I read today, tells his boss who opines that Dilbert doesn’t need a raise but only a challenging job that he’d rather exchange his challenges for his boss’s money if the latter (the sentence is so badly framed that I need to tell you that I am referring to the boss here. And sorry for making the sentence even more complex with this remark) believed so much that challenges were what were required for satisfaction. ;). Hey, BTW, ironically, as you’ll see in the excerpt below, Senge goes on to point out the idealists turn cynics. Scott Adams – Do I see you nodding?   

Although there are some extraordinarily principled and value-driven organizations, the defining characteristic of far too many enterprises is cynicism. And cynicism comes from disappointment. As the saying goes, "Scratch the shell of any cynic and you'll find a frustrated idealist." Make speeches about upholding high ideals or contributing to a better world, and most people will roll their eyes. That reaction is the product of thwarted expectations, and it is the reason that so many organizations fail to innovate. They are afraid to let the genie--passionate purpose--out of the bottle. With good cause. Passion is a powerful force, but when frustrated, it is also dangerous.

I find it to be quite true that idealists turn cynics once they make a crash-landing into the so-called reality.

But often the most important act of executive leadership is the ability to ask a question that has not been asked before--the ability to inquire, not just dictate or advocate. Unfortunately, most leaders are great at advocacy but poor at inquiry.

That apart, here is another excerpt which I think is so important! To be able to inquire more than advocate! (Ahem! I think I have some lessons here…. :[] )

Many have talent, but real learning requires discipline, the process through which we draw out our potential through commitment, practice, passion, patience, and perseverance.

Yet another significant statement. Talent alone doesn’t provide the necessary fuel in the long run. It is learning that keeps the wheels running and it requires effort.

 Oops. Okay. I stop here for at this rate, I may end up reproducing the entire article here and I don’t own the copyrights ;-)!!

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