An Example of a Mission Discovery Conversation: The SARF
My friend Wendy has a project called the Stuffed Animal Rescue Foundation. She finds unwanted stuffed animals and creates written backstories for them. Then people apply to adopt whichever stuffed animal that calls to them. The application is a lot of writing and they are judged on various qualities, but mostly desire and effort. It aims to serve everyone but with a focus on underprivileged kids.
As you can imagine, there’s a lot of words related to her work – even just given my short synopsis. I’m going to share just enough of her and my conversation so you can get a feel for how it the discovery process goes.
In this example, we didn’t sort the words into the four dimensions (purpose, beneficiary, values, tools). Instead we just started pairing them up to see what came out. If you are having trouble deciding which dimension list many of your words belongs to you can skip that part and go right to the possibility graphs. It takes longer this way but using the graphs can help you drop items into lists as well.
One other note. If you really can’t find the exact word for what you want, you can use a phrase as we’ve done a lot in the example below.
My words in non-italics, hers in italics.
Pick a pair of the words and put them on two axes. I suggest you start with two words you think are less likely candidates. This will provide some contrast.
Ok “Storytelling” and “Forgotten Things Turned Valuable”.
Suppose those were the two main words. Ask yourself what kinds of things could those words generate?
A blog about finding useful stuff at Goodwill.
Great. Is that what you want to do?
Ok, then why not? What’s missing here?
Great. Make up two new axes.
Storytelling and Stuffed Animals
Ok, what’s missing here?
But only USED stuffed animals.
Ok, we can qualify it. So we have Storytelling and Used Stuffed Animals. What could that mean that you DON’T want to do?
It’s missing empathy. I want the people to have empathy for the stuffed animals. It’s not just telling a cute story about the stuffed animals.
Ok, let’s try Empathy and Used Stuffed Animals.
But I want there to be stories. There must be stories.
Ok, so is empathy the purpose and the stories the tool you create empathy. OR is stories the purpose and empathy is the tool you use tell the stories. OR is it that all stories are empathetic and all empathy is through stories and we should combine it into one phrase, “empathetic stories”?
My head hurts. I want all that!
So let’s put just empathy on one axis and used stuffed animals on another. What sorts of things fall in that upper right quadrant that you do NOT want to do? Would you be ok with just a visual representation of the used stuffed animal’s emotions? Crying, happy, etc? Just showing whatever state they are in *right now*?
No I want the story.
Ok, so empathy in the moment is not enough. And a minute ago we said story alone is not enough. So it must be “empathetic stories” only. Must have both or forget it.
Uh… I guess. This is hard.
I know. So these stories aren’t just any stories. The used stuffed animals are not reading Shakespeare or Updike, right? They’re not telling fairy tales, right? That’s not what you want from what I’ve seen.
No. The empathtic storytelling is about the stuffed animal itself. It’s own “life”.
How many of the stuffed animals will have empathetic stories?
All of them.
If all empathetic storytelling is about SAs and all SAs will have empathetic stories, then logic dictates they should be combined into one mission word: “empathetic stories about SAs. So “empathetic stories about SAs”…. what’s missing?
I want it to be merit based. People apply for the animals and I want to know they have warranted the SA. I don’t want economically disadvantaged people to have to compete with money. I want the SA to be given to the person that shows the most merit. I want it to be inclusive.
Ok, those all sound like worthy aspirations. But for an effective mission we have to narrow it down. For fun, let’s take a step away from the last pairing. Instead let’s put down “economic inclusion” and “Empathetic stories about Used SAs”. What could that mean?
That I just go down to Goodwill, buy a bunch of SAs and give them away for free. I don’t want that. They need to be given in an exchange of attention and empathy to create value. (making some strained faces)
I’m not sure what you mean. Are we starting to hit a wall or are you just formulating ideas right now?
I know I want anyone that merits getting the SA to receive one, regardless of economic situation.
Is that a value word? Or is it a purpose word? Is this economic fairness the reason the SARF exists? Or is it a value?
It is core to the SARF’s values.
So we have the idea of meriting the SA and economic equality. I think those need explored more. What do you mean exactly?
They pay with their efforts and attention.
The conversation continues like this for a while as we test more and more words and sort out the dimensions and the best words for each dimensions. Obviously we’re not even close yet here, but you can hopefully see how this exploratory process works.
Everything It Is and Nothing It Isn’t
The point of sharing this dialog is to show how the mission discovery conversation plays out. A couple words (maybe phrases) are proposed, then you put them to the test by brainstorming two types of things:
- Something that is described by those two words that does NOT resonate with you.
- Something that resonates with you that is NOT described by those two words.
This requires a good amount of imagination and brainstorming. If that’s not your strength, find a friend or professional who excels at it and work through the process with them. You’re welcome to contact me to see if I’m available to help.
As you go through the exercise, see if you can sort the words onto the four dimensional lists.
This process is valuable because instead of seeing what your project is, you narrow down what it isn’t and find the narrowest definition possible. Projects with narrow missions move faster than wider missions. If your mission is made of too many words or non-specific words, who knows what garden paths you’ll find yourself down.
In my final post in this series I will show how to assemble your final mission statement. See that post here.