Perils of Mission-Driven

These days people want to start companies that don’t necessarily focus on making money, but rather on making change.

Not a new thing really – The Girl Scouts? Salvation Army? Once upon a time they were social startups.

Peter Drucker, the “management” wiseman (in short: management is a set of techniques for innovating and building organizations and running them better than ever before in history), has a book _Innovation and Entrepreneurship_ full of visionary genius stuff, some of which is about: entrepreneurship in the public interest.

He makes three awesome points about what inhibits innovation in places like The Public Library or Medicare or Nature Conservancy.

And at your mission-driven venture for charity water, or girls who code, or whatever.

1. Budgets. If you fund operations through a budget, you orient yourself around spending it and getting more of it. But budgets are not revenue. Budgets are not success. So success does not guide your work. Bad. (In revenue world, revenue and targets can seem capricious, but at least they are external. The world decides it’s reaction to your work.)

2. Stakeholders. If you serve the “public” then every member has a near veto. The Red Cross can’t focus only on a target market like California while people lay dying in Indonesia, or the reverse. You get trapped. Harder to make focus decisions.

3. **Maximizing good**. “We will not rest until every mouth is fed” is not an optimization task, it is a maximization task. This is Drucker’s key point. If your goal (or vision) is basically unachievable then you never know if you are making progress on it. Your failures are because it’s unachievable right? And you fail also to allocate resources well — the first 80% of the problem is so easily addressable, after which rational people would focus elsewhere since the last 1% is massively resource intensive. But missions like “eradicate X” create organizations that never admit that other priorities may be better addressed.

So good. Pick a mission with measurable results and if you fail, move on.

A great line: “it is not rational to consider failure a good reason for trying again and again.” The insight being: change the approach.

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