image by Davi Sing

From mission to shared mission

Does your organization have a mission, or a shared mission?

In 2011 Michael Porter and Mark Kramer published Creating Shared Value, expanding thinking about ‘value’ from the “outdated, narrow approach to value creation” represented by ‘shareholder value’. In Shared Value, companies think not just of the value they can create for their shareholders, but “generating economic value in a way that also produces value for society by addressing its challenges”. Shared Value was widely acclaimed, and has been embraced by many companies.

Just as Porter & Kramer expanded the aperture on how companies think of ‘value’ to Shared Value, there is a need to expand the aperture on how companies think of ‘mission’ to shared missions.

While Shared Value defines the corporation as sole creator of value, it’s evident today that’s missing a tremendously powerful force: collaboration with all of culture’s stakeholders.

There is a fundamental shift in the world making this an imperative: the power inherent in everyday people. Everyday people today have both a rising sense of purpose (a desire to positively contribute to the world around them), as well as incredibly powerful tools at their disposal — to learn, to communicate, to organize, advocate, create and share. This leads to tremendous capability to create value. The days when people were considered simply as ‘consumers’ — end points for communications and products — are over. Companies should consider people not as passive ‘consumers’, but as powerful, capable, valuable partners.

Therefore, companies that approach value creation as an individual act miss the huge opportunity of working with people.

Key to realizing this opportunity is thinking not of a mission as a unilateral act, but as a participatory endeavor around a big, shared goal that can align interests between organizations, people, philanthropic capital, civic leaders and the creative capital of the world (the artists, makers, designers, inventors). Collectively, these powerful forces in culture can have much greater impact when collaborating together. We think of this as creating shared missions.

Contrast Encyclopedia Britannica, which created textbook Shared Value (value for the company, and value for its readers and society generally), with Wikipedia. By working with a broad coalition of people, philanthropy and other organizations, Wikipedia has created a resource that is an order of magnitude greater than any one company alone could have created. Wikipedia operates as a shared mission, to “empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content”. Creating value for, and with, the world.

Organizations’ missions can be inward-looking, individual acts of value creation; shared missions are collaborative, participatory acts of value creation.

In our work at enso, we have worked hard to create initiatives that are bigger than simple brand value propositions. In our work with Google, Khan Academy, Omidyar Network and others, we have seen the power of defining initiatives that align the interests of broad coalitions of people and organizations. These initiatives can scale faster and have much greater impact. As the proverb says, ‘if you want to go far, go together’.

From Airbnb upending the hospitality industry by working with people, to Uber transforming transportation by working with people, to Kickstarter changing how product development can happen by working with people, to American Express transforming its marketing by working with people in the Shop Small / Small Business Saturday initiative — participatory acts of value creation, are reinventing industries, and how business is done.


Creating Shared Missions

Orienting around shared missions should impact an entire organization, beginning with a mindset shift. Leadership and employees need to re-orient not just from what value the company can create for people, but how might the company work with people to create something of value for the world. This shift in orientation opens many possibilities for collaboration with people, but also with like-minded companies, non-profit organizations, civic institutions and creative influencers.

Consider consumer research, which traditionally approaches people as end points for products, and could now consider people as powerful, capable participants in value creation. This opens new avenues for investigation. With a traditional research approach, a company may conduct consumer research to understand what may drive purchase (features, benefits, messages etc.), or with a Shared Value mindset, a company may investigate what other needs people have beyond consumption. With a shared mission mindset, research becomes not just how a company may fulfill people’s needs, but also who else in culture shares similar objectives, and what might motivate participation in a shared mission.

Marketing, as a primary interface between people and companies, can evolve from broadcasting ideas, to working with people towards shared success. With this mindset, marketing becomes much more than advertising products and company narratives, it becomes an act of inspiring and arming people and organizations to participate. American Express’ Small Business Saturday engaged 95 million people in 2015; this level of participation was not achieved purely through American Express’ efforts, but via thousands of local champions (Chambers of Commerce, Mayors, small business owners) that were inspired to help lead the initiative in their neighborhood.

As media becomes more diffuse, and ad blocking, skipping or screening more prevalent, paid media becomes significantly less effective (one Harvard Business School study estimating a 7–9X increase in the cost of acquiring attention since the 1990s). In nationally representative research that my company enso recently published (the 2016 Brand World Value Index) people ranked how motivating each brand’s purpose is to actively supporting the brand in achieving its purpose, and in driving purchase. Many brands that engage people effectively — but spend little on traditional marketing — ranked higher than largest advertisers. For example, Goodwill, a nonprofit organization, ranked #1, way ahead of Coca-Cola (#13), Nike (#46) and Chevrolet (#60). In other words, operating a shared mission may be the best marketing your organization could do.

The alternative to broadcasting ideas — working with people to propel ideas that serve a shared mission — is both a more efficient use of resources and a more trusted means of receiving information.

Similarly, product development teams can adopt a new mentality. A traditional approach asks ‘how might this product be bought and used’, and more enlightened organizations may also ask, ‘and how might it be good for the world?’. A shared mission approach would also ask, ‘how can this product work with people and other cultural forces to accomplish a shared mission? how could we create deeper participation with many other stakeholders?’. Participation could take many forms, from feedback to products, to contributions to products with resources (for example, Kickstarter) or with knowledge (for example, Wikipedia), to evangelism of products (for example, TOMS Shoes’ Campus Clubs). The best technology companies in the world, Google, Apple, Microsoft included, work closely with their developer communities for product development, and in some cases, include end users in product development too, such as the Google Translate Community, where people help translate languages, or initiatives that invite users to find product bugs.

Even Operations, traditionally the most inward-looking part of a corporation can evolve towards a shared mission mindset. Gifgaff, the UK-based mobile phone operator (‘the network where members are in control’) has people join as ‘members’ rather than ‘subscribers’. Members work with the company to provide each other customer service, monitor network performance, and even developed the company’s first mobile applications. This is value creation by company and people, hand in hand, around a shared mission.


At enso, we believe the likelihood of creating value, for the company and for the world, increases dramatically when organizations think not just of a mission as a solo endeavor, but as a participatory act working with the broader world, not just for the broader world.


enso is an impact studio, applying mission-driven creativity in service of world value. We work with visionary brands and on our own initiatives.
Read more at medium.com/enso and find us at enso.co