I love Geldof. From the moment he led that ragtag, drug-addled crew of chancers and New Romantics 30 years ago, he had me. Here was a man who chimed with my young, idealistic sensibilities. He had a clear sense of purpose and went about making it happen in his own inimitable way. As images of children dying in Africa filled my John Craven's Newsround bulletins, Geldof’s mission statement for Band Aid was as clear as it was uncompromising: "People are dying. Give us ya money. Now."
There’s nothing like a stated goal to help focus the mind. Similarly, in business, mission statements can help recruit, mobilise and incentivise a workforce. Having an overriding vision helps define what an organisation is, why it exists, its reason for being.
Understandable, then, that companies place such time and emphasis on getting their statements right.
'Having an overriding vision helps define what an organisation is, why it exists, its reason for being'
But, as Twitter demonstrated last week, even the most high-profile companies can make a mess of it.
Speaking at the company’s first-ever analyst day in the US, Twitter’s chief finance officer, Anthony Noto, floated a slide with this rather clumsy "strategy statement": "Reach the largest daily audience in the world by connecting everyone to their world via our information-sharing and distribution platform products and be one of the top revenue-generating internet companies in the world."
The fact that it’s 80 characters longer than Twitter’s 140-character limit, and was a clunky and grammatically incorrect construct, was not lost on people. It attracted enough criticism on Twitter itself to force the chief executive, Dick Costolo, to later point out the company already has a mission statement:
"To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers." As stated in Twitter’s initial public offering, its business and revenue pursuits will always follow that mission in ways that improve – and do not detract from – a free and global conversation.
Noto can take some solace in the fact that even the biggest companies struggle to capture their raison d’être. Earlier this month, Google’s chief executive, Larry Page, admitted the search giant turned virtual-reality and car company has "outgrown" its 14-year-old statement to"organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful".
As Page highlighted, the pace of change means we can find ourselves in uncharted territory. Good companies understand the importance of constant reinvention. The best companies, like our favourite rabble-rouser Geldof, also know when to keep it simple and be consistent.