For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
The greatest short story ever told. Ostensibly written by Ernest Hemingway.
Perfectly punctuated for effect. Drawing you in. A challenge to connect the dots. Every word, a purpose.
“Writing really is a technology for clear thinking.” Someone said to me in conversation a few days ago.
There is an almost spiritual but certainly useful value one gets when pen is put to paper. The ultimate act of introspection. An exercise in authenticity. Stripping away the decorations. Revealing the true essence of the path you are on.
As Learning & Development (L&D) professionals you are the custodians of the story of human potential within your organisation. When the right story is in place it lights the way for decision making. To galvanise individuals and teams it is your most important tool. Infusing itself into the fabric of every structure and interaction.
And like all good stories crafted it all started with… a bit of spaghetti.
6 Steps To Finding & Writing A L&D Mission Statement
Step 1: Throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.
The goal here is to let go of all assumptions. All formal habits. Free yourself of the little voice in your head that tells you this is how it should be done.
Take a piece of paper. Find a notebook. And just start writing. Unrestrained. Free-hand. Preferably fully written-out sentences. Think of it as a journal entry. Let the words and sentences flow. Make it personal. “I feel” “I want to” “I think”. Positive or negative. Optimistic or pessimistic. Don’t know where to start? Write down “I don’t know what to write.”. Trust me, the rest will take care of itself. Don’t share it with anyone. Don’t judge. Just write. Personally, I like to do this every morning for 20 mins, for a week.
Start noticing some of the themes that are revealing themselves. Words, phrases and sentences that intuitively grab you. Highlight them.
Step 2: Let it marinate.
The goal here is to refine your thinking.
One of the many beautiful outcomes of free-hand writing is that it forces your brain to look closer. A process that continues sub-consciously as you are jogging, sitting in traffic, making coffee – continuing with your day to day activities.
A bit of time forces your brain to act as a filter. It auto-stress-tests your ideas.
A day or two and you will find yourself eager to start translating your free-thoughts into something concrete.
Step 3: Pose scenarios that you want to see play out.
Take this example: “A man sets out to build a robot.”
A passive action with no motivation.
Then consider: “A man sets out to build a robot to win back the love of his life.”
Now we have a story! A clear way to benchmark whether success was achieved or not.
The best mission statements can almost be read as active characters in a story, on a journey towards achieving a goal. Inviting you to see how it plays out.
Nike sets out to “bring inspiration and innovation to every active person in the world.”
Lego is on a journey to “inspire and develop children to think creatively and experience endless human possibility.”
Yuppiechef is on a journey to “test and source the best quality products for people who really care about cooking.”
Write down 5-6 potential scenarios you’d like to see realised. A single sentence. Put your L&D programme on a journey, an adventure, a quest to do something great.
Step 4: Strip it down.
We all have it: Verbose-illitis. The tendency to use 10 words when 5 will do. Okay, that is a made-up word. But you get the picture. The goal here is to remove any and all redundancies.
Take this classic writing example:
I also have a habit of being very critical with the number of words I use in each sentence.
Challenge yourself to remove four words from each of your scenarios above. Not an easy exercise. Trust that the reader will get it.
Step 5: Share it, with friends.
The time has come. You have 5-6 strong statements. Born out of authenticity. Crafted with care. The goal now is to identify the one.
When sharing you want to avoid getting discouraged or get lead down a new path. The work you’ve done is good. Trust the process. Trust yourself.
Approach two or three close friends or colleagues. Sit with them, face to face. See which statements they just get. No explanation needed.
You’ll quickly be able to remove two or three that aren’t hitting the mark. Don’t be surprised that you immediately and instinctively know which ones to remove seconds before they’ve even started reading. Your writing intuition is well in place by now.
When ready, start sharing your shortlist with more people. Slow bursts though. Throw one or two into an informal conversation. Your confidence is growing, so you’ll know when feedback is valuable and when it can be ignored.
Step 6: Hit the corridors.
In my experience, this is the most difficult part of the process. It’s the “Sell me this pen”-moment. You have a mission statement. Now you have to package it and get internal buy-in.
An entirely new article can be written on this section alone, but the most important thing to remember is the Story. Like any juicy urban legend, framing your statement in a story format makes it exponentially easier for others to connect with it and share it with others.
Take the example of an entrepreneur education company I’m a partner in.
“A client once told us ‘I never trust a skinny chef’. This set us on a path to taste test the ingredients of entrepreneurship and launch Heavy Chef to celebrate those that ‘do’.”
The Heavy Chef story has been told consistently for almost 11 years now and to this day is the company’s most powerful marketing tool.
About the Author
Where knowledge is shared, wonder deepens. This philosophy underpins Louis Janse Van Rensburg’s work as an investor, entrepreneur and researcher at the intersection of education and technology. Louis is the CEO of education investment fund, Glengarry Capital, Chairman of entrepreneur learning initiative, The Heavy Chef Foundation and a PhD researcher on non-formal learning. Creative, optimistic and pragmatic, Louis weaves storytelling with empirical data to challenge us to reimagine the way humans learn.