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Jun 10, 2022

Last word: Your mission statement, and what it says about you

Searching Hollywood for the right words

Cartoon by James Noden
Cartoon by James Noden

In the age of corporate purpose, the mission statement serves as a reminder of why an organization exists. While some are vague affirmations, others can sharpen employees’ minds and give them a sense of identity and belonging. In fact, research from Oxford University’s Saïd Business School shows that they work – as long as they translate into action.

At worst, though, they can be grimly ironic. One of the most intriguing details of the Theranos affair, recently rendered on the small screen in Disney+’s The Dropout, is that the blood-testing firm’s mantra, emblazoned in block capitals in the Theranos lobby, was ‘Do or do not. There is no try’, stolen from Star Wars’ Jedi master Yoda. CEO Elizabeth Holmes, played by Amanda Seyfried, somehow did not lose all credibility as soon as investors and customers walked through that lobby and saw it.

But help is at hand! IR Magazine has scoured the film world to find a few more mission statements that might give your organization a new lease on corporate life.

‘Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads’

Dr Emmett Brown’s famous utterance in Back To The Future is a perfect example of a movie quote that can be used as a mission statement. It implies the existence of a far-off, noble goal that your organization has the vision to find, and shrugs off the sort of unimaginative thinking that would require a ‘road’ or a ‘plan’ or a ‘strategy’ to get there.

Best used by tech companies or those developing new modes of transport, though, and not so good for traditional infrastructure firms.

‘I’ll be back’

A great mission statement for an organization that has undergone several changes of industry, purpose or accounting structure to survive in the modern marketplace, this quote from The Terminator will galvanize employees with a steel-clad determination to do whatever it takes to survive. It also has a ready-made follow-up from the film’s sequel, best employed in a completely new but related enterprise, maybe in a new domicile: ‘Hasta la vista, baby’.

‘I drink your milkshake’

The bowling alley scene is one of the most disturbing in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood but the message is a useful one – and not just for fossil-fuel extractors.

It speaks to a competitive marketplace and the need to (metaphorically) employ a long straw to reach far and wide, to suck up precious resources. Consider using it as a call-and-response with Daniel Day-Lewis’s jowl-wobbling follow-up: ‘I drink it up!’

‘On Wednesdays we wear pink’

This motto serves several purposes. First, it gives your company a fun weekly dress code – guaranteed to boost morale and team cohesion. Second, it bears an important lesson from Mean Girls that thinking of the collective before the individual is important, and that everybody owes allegiance to your organization’s Queen Bee – whether that is your customers, your investors or your CEO.

‘You can’t handle the truth’

For those times when earnings mark an uncomfortable admission rather than a triumphant confirmation of your investors’ dreams. This line, shouted by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, precedes a monologue about how it is better for the public not to know some things, and how difficult decisions can save lives. Might be best used as an unspoken company motto, else – like Nicholson’s character – there could be an inevitable run-in with the authorities to come.

’Nobody’s perfect’

The final line of 1959’s Some Like It Hot shows a wisdom that all of us can use in our daily lives. As a corporate motto, it gives you some sorely needed wiggle room. Applicable to everything from missing guidance or your CEO’s rude reply to an investor question to a full-scale company crisis, it is also a good answer to have up your sleeve in difficult times.

Just do not rely on it when speeding away from the authorities – or the mafia – in a speedboat.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of IR Magazine.

Laurie Havelock

Laurie has been part of the IR Magazine team for more than a decade, starting out as a reporter and research editor before becoming editor in 2023. He was previously acting business editor at the i newspaper and deputy business editor at The Daily...