Missionaries will take out mercenaries in the digital age

Illustration by Sine Jensen

If you really need to be successful in the economy of the digital age, you must have a mission and live it — rather than just being profit driven.

There seems to be no end to new companies out to save the world.

A whole sleeve of businesses with extremely high opinions of themselves and their importance to the world have sprung up no matter what they sell. Sometimes it can be almost impossible to understand what it really is, they make money on when they promote their mission before their business.

Most of them say they will make the world a better place and in particular new technology companies market those kind of mission statements so shamelessly that it has become a cliche when they think that software will not only change the market of their product category, but ultimately change our society and world order.

It’s no wonder they get ridiculed in the popular sitcom Silicon Valley.

Still, they have chosen the right path.

Some of the world’s largest companies and most influential entrepreneurs right now will tell you their mission is crucial for success.

The Danish toy maker LEGO was in financial turmoil some years back. They had been branching out into all sorts of activities to make the business more broad but it backfired.

The company mission is very simple yet tremendously clear. LEGO wants to ‘Inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow’.

And when they turned to doing just that it became clear what to spend time on and what not. It was all about the bricks. Now LEGO is doing more of less and has the most solid business ever.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is working tirelessly for more openness and connectedness in the world. And he is not just doing the talk, but also walking the walk when he actually learned Mandarin to make sure he could explain it in China.

His convincing performance probably helped his company a step closer to a spot in the world’s largest Internet market and new business opportunities.

Jeff Bezos founded Amazon 20 years ago and is now America’s third richest person. He keeps saying that the most important thing for him when he looks to investment in new companies is to find out about the people behind the company. Are they missionaries or mercenaries?

A missionary believe in his idea and love his product and his customers.

A mercenary is entirely focused on getting rich.

Bezos knows which is the best bet.

Because the great paradox, as he calls it, is that the missionaries end up making more money than mercenaries.

The reason is simply that success rarely happens by luck, but rather through hard work. And in the digital age competition is harder than ever making it even harder work to succeed.

But those who have fun or truly believe in it keeps going the extra mile and thereby increases the chances of success. (If you want more on Bezos check out this article: Six books that explain the world of today)

The billionaire and venture capitalist John Doerr was one of the first to bet on Google when he funded the two Stanford students. He lists a few contradictions to make his case clear:

The good story vs money
There is nothing wrong with wanting to make money, but if it is the most important thing for a company, then the culture of the company will be only defined by that and nothing else. It could be doing anything and everything.

That makes your business fragile and exposed if obstacles get in the way. And they will.

The German automaker VW has evolved to become the world’s largest car manufacturer. It went well until it all blew up in scandalized skewed software that made millions of cars more environmentally friendly than what was the truth.

Of course VW also has a mission. But it was apparently more for show on the company website and not really precipitated as navigation in the company culture.

source: Giphy

They simply did not practice what they preached.

Or to paraphrase John Doerr the only explanation would be that they had a misguided focus on short terms, the competitors and the accounts.

They wanted to sell more cars and cheated to reach the goal. Rather than make cars that made the world a better place, and thereby sell more of them.

You still need some sort of business plan and a solid business model.

But when you really need to make money the reason why is what you need the most.

Money cannot be your guiding compass. Your mission is far more important for the spread of your brand, sales of your product and management of your organization. And for the fact that it makes everything a lot more fun.

We live in the era of big ideas. That’s why a large part of the value in a company is in the very idea of ​​the business.

If you are able to express your ideas and believe in them, so that others can too then you have a better chance of making some actual changes in the world.

Or even make the world better. And that is worth a lot.


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Take a look at some of our other stories: 
- Six books that explain the world of today
- What’s the price of free?
- Exponential development explained with rice

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