Mission-driven vs Outcome-oriented

When you work for a Silicon Valley company, you hear the phrase “mission” a lot. The mission (singular) is what must drive you. At any given company everyone assumes everyone else knows what the mission (singular) is that drives them… and nobody would dare ask what it really is (imagine asking “oh, by the way, what is the mission?”. Impossible.)

But what exactly does it mean?

In some cases it means “saving the world” (but from what?) and in other cases it means “changing the world” (but into what?). In fact, the word mission is heavily connoted and reminds of Church or Army. By the way, when you google Mission, the first result you get is the Wikipedia article about that violent and terrible (albeit beautiful) movie with Jeremy Irons about Jesuit missionaries in 18th-century South America (spoiler alert: everyone dies).

Jeremy Irons in Mission (1986)

In late nineteenth century France (the “3rd Republic”), the concept of “public service mission” (“mission de service public”) was nearly sacred and made lay missionaries out of the country’s public servants: their mission was to always serve the general public’s best interest. In that sense the mission is above the individual, clearly concerns one community, country or group, and you have faith in the group or institution you serve.

Jules Ferry created free, universal & mandatory schooling in France

But when it comes to big Valley companies or successful unicorns that have thousands, millions (or billions) of users, it’s often unclear what that singular mission would be, unless you equate the company with a cult in which you have faith or you equate the company with a country and regard the mission as “conquering the world” or “building an empire”.

The empire business

I’m unsure to what extent the phrase “mission” resonates with French people in that context. When they apply for a position in a Silicon Valley company, there are lots of things that appeal to them, but the mission (singular) is probably not one of them, maybe because they’re often less patriotic or less religious than Americans.

They do like the idea of solving hard problems, working with very smart people, having a cool and relaxed work environment, embracing a somewhat higher degree of idealism, using resourcefulness and thinking outside the box…

That’s sad, isn’t it?

Most French people are a little wary of people who treat their company as their homeland, people whose identity is merged with that of the company they work for. Even if they do love their company and believe in it, they would want to preserve some kind of personal identity outside of work.

The phrase “mission-driven” often comes together with the phrase “outcome-oriented” (it’s unclear how they’re related). Now outcome orientation is something that I (and probably other French people) find a lot easier to grasp! Outcome orientation can apply to every employee, every case, every position in a company. It is most assuredly a competitive advantage for any company: finding outcome-oriented people -whatever their role may be- is one of the most crucial determinants of startup success. And no amount of expertise can replace it. In fact expertise goes hand in hand with knowledge of and respect for process. And “blind acceptance of process creates an alibi for failure”. A process-oriented person would complain: “I did everything I could and followed the process to the letter, but success was just not possible”.

Resourcefulness in the service of outcome is the thing. I know I need to look for people like this guy:

Ok his hair does look ridiculous …