A Great Company Is One Sentence

Last Updated Mar 16, 2010 2:14 PM EDT

HBR.org blogger Bill Taylor writes a compelling post on mission simplicity, What's Your Company's Sentence?
He admires company such as Google who have such a clarity of mission that it can be expressed simply and powerfully: "We organize the word's information and make it universally accessible and useful."

Says Taylor:

"The lesson is as simple as it is subversive: It's not good enough to be pretty good at everything. You have to be the most of something: the most elegant, the most colorful, the most responsive, the most focused."
This is a very powerful idea, one you should test your own company's mission against.

Here are some other corporate missions I like.

NASA: "To understand and protect our home planet, to explore the Universe and search for life, and to inspire the next generation of explorers."

National Geographic Society. "Increase and diffuse geographic knowledge while promoting the conservation of the world's cultural, historical and natural resources."

Virgin Atlantic. "To grow a profitable airline where people love to fly and where people love to work."

And by the way, a great mission does not always spell success. One of the most intriguing mission statements I ran across was developed by Toyota North America, which pledges:

"To attract and attain customers with high-valued products and services and the most satisfying ownership experience in America."
This statement says nothing about what the company actually sells -- cars and trucks -- but puts customer satisfaction at the heart of everything it does. We'll see if this goal pulls Toyota through its current troubles.

Do you have a favorite corporate one-liner? How would you express your company's mission, values and aspirations -- in one sentence?

(Sign image by au tiger01, CC 2.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.