Vision vs. Mission — Startup Basics
I was having a chat with a friend recently about what makes some companies truly great while others are commercially successful but don’t define a category. It’s a tough question to answer and unpack with a single root cause, but in an effort to identify one, and as a thought exercise, I think it starts with the basics of why a company exists at a start: It’s vision.
Before I get into it, though, I want to say I cringe a little when I hear the terms ‘vision statement’ and ‘mission statement’ and that’s because we have all read many bland, unrepresentative, and overhyped versions of each. They are usually on some plaque or about-us section of a website and even colleagues cringe a little when they read them. That said, that doesn’t diminish the actual value of each, it just showcases how damn hard it is to get it right and truly mean it.
So in an effort to unpack the distinction between the two and how a well implemented mission and vision statement I recalled how inspired I was by what Nims Purja achieved with his Project Possible.
In the world of mountaineering, Nims Purja is a name that evokes awe and admiration. The former Gurkha soldier is the holder of several mountaineering records, including the feat of summiting all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks in just over six months, a record-breaking feat that was documented in the movie 14 Peaks, called Project Possible.
While Nims’ mission as a mountaineer could be simply to climb mountains at the best of his ability, what made him stand out was his vision on how to use those skills. His vision was not just to climb the mountains but to do it in a way that had never been done before, to break the record for the fastest time to climb all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks. This vision required him to think beyond the mundane and push the limits of what was considered possible.
So what’s the difference between having a vision and a mission? Simply put, a mission is what you do and how you do it, and a vision is why you do it and what this means for your future. A mission statement is a short, concise statement that describes what an organization does, while a vision statement outlines its aspirations and goals.
In Nims’ case, his mission could be argued to be the best ‘mountaineer’ in the world, however that might be defined as an aggregate of actions. For example, that could include actions like most number of successful clients, or most mountains climbed, or most technically complicated climb. These would have all been extensions of his mission, and arguably ‘mini visions’ in their own right. However, the aggregation and culmination of all these ‘missions’ into the grander vision that became defined as Project Possible was his real vision. In effect, his vision was to do it (mountaineering) in a way that had never been done before, to set a new record where the last time it was achieved, it had taken multiple years to accomplish. Even the name of the Vision “Project Possible” made a statement about how inconceivable the Vision even seemed and yet how convinced he was in his ability to achieve it. Having a vision allowed him to expand his mission beyond the mundane and push himself to achieve something extraordinary.
Having a vision is crucial because it provides a sense of purpose and direction. It allows you to see the bigger picture, to think beyond the day-to-day tasks and to focus on what truly matters. When you have a vision, you are more likely to take risks and pursue your goals with passion and determination.
Nims Purja’s story is an inspiring example of the power of having a vision. While his mission as a mountaineer could have been a meaningful but simpler one (eg. to climb mountains, to assist others, to write a memoir, etc) his vision was to do it in a way that had never been done before, to set a new record, and one that is ultimately inspiring for us all. Having a vision allowed him to transcend his mission(s) and achieve something truly extraordinary. As we pursue our own goals and dreams for our companies, it’s important to remember the importance of having a vision, to think beyond the mundane and push our teams to achieve something truly great.