01 Mission: Your Destination

Informal conversations are often unpredictable. They take us to unexpected places, and this is what makes them valuable. You have to be attentive, curious, and sensitive. You have to be open and authentic. Not all informal interactions create a positive experience. At the same time, no one expects an informal interaction to have any value except for satisfying the people engaged in it. The outcome of informal interactions can be life-changing, but we are not planning them with that in mind, nor should we. Any practical outcome of an informal interaction is a pleasant bonus. The value of informal communication lies in the interaction itself. 

In contrast, when we communicate with the intention to achieve something together, be it to accomplish a task at work, design a new product, plan a family vacation, increase sales, or start up a business, our conversations must be more than just pleasant — they have to be meaningful and value-oriented. We cannot afford to spend so much time and energy on emails, meetings, and chats with nothing more than the hope they will provide value. While we can’t know the concrete outcome of each interaction in advance, we’d better plan them so they have an effective outcome. We can’t leave the value of our interactions to chance. 

But how can we ensure that our interactions have value? How can we evaluate the meaningfulness of an email or a meeting? How can we fine-tune the way we communicate so that it has an even greater value? The key to all these questions lies in defining the mission each interaction should serve.

Value is hard to quantify when it comes to communication, but it is easy to phrase qualitatively. As long as we progress toward a predefined destination, we are in the right direction. As long as our interactions help us move one step closer to realizing our mission, they carry value. Before each interaction, we should ask what mission it serves and whether it will help us move toward it. A more proactive approach is to design each interaction such that it takes us one step closer to a predefined destination. When every interaction directly affects our mission, everyone involved is more engaged and focused. When communication is mission-oriented, it is no longer an overhead; it becomes an essential part of achieving our goals. 

While we can certainly have multiple missions in parallel, the mission is never the expected outcome of a concrete email, meeting, conversation, or message. The mission is an overarching goal no single interaction can realize. It will not dictate the next step but rather where we are heading. We might have a meeting with the intent of defining our sales strategy, but we need to understand first if our goal is to increase revenues, increase profit, or penetrate new markets. We might send an email with various design options for an upcoming product, but if we didn’t define the problem the product should solve, we wouldn’t have anything to focus the discussion on. If we plan our next family vacation, we’d better consider whether our goal is to rest, have new experiences, or bond as a family. The quality of our interactions is tightly coupled with their results, and to have effective results, we must know what we are trying to achieve. 

With no mission to serve as our lighthouse, no interaction can be effective. We might lead the perfect meeting and reach actionable outcomes that take us in the wrong direction. We might write a perfectly articulated email that conveys a coherent message, but if that message doesn’t serve a grander, predefined goal, it is useless. When we don’t know where we are heading, it doesn’t matter how fast we run. Unfortunately, most of our emails, meetings, and conversations lack this grounding context. It is common for contemporary interactions to lack any definition of a desired outcome. Still, even the interactions that start with a concrete target often lack any reference to the overarching mission: Why are we having this discussion to begin with? To communicate effectively and create great things together, we must ensure all our interactions start with defining, communicating, and understanding the grander mission. 

A well-defined mission is essential to ensure that each interaction pushes us forward in the right direction. It is no less critical when you consider the content of the interaction: what we share, what kind of insights we look for, what data is relevant, what to include, and what should be left out of this particular conversation. The mission is a lens through which we can evaluate each bit of the interaction and the communication flow as a whole to make them laser-focused, deep, and meaningful. We don’t want to arbitrarily limit the information and ideas people share. Co-creation depends on being open to ideas and perspectives we didn’t expect. At the same time, we don’t want this openness to come at the expense of being focused and effective. One question that can help us balance these two real needs is whether this new information or fresh insight promotes our mission or not. This is not always a simple question to answer, but at this point, it is the only question that matters.

Defining the overarching mission is not always trivial; agreeing on it with the people we communicate with is even less so. In many cases, we need to have a preliminary discussion on our mission before starting the more concrete interactions. This is not an overhead; it is a critical navigation tool. Never begin a communication flow without a well-defined mission. If you’ve already defined the mission, ensure any following interaction can take you one step closer to realizing it. Meaningful, value-oriented communication always starts with an overarching mission in mind.

Reflection and Practice

Look at each of the meetings you had in the past week. Try to capture the mission of each of the meetings in a short sentence. 

Remember, the mission is not the desired outcome of the specific meeting; it is an overarching objective the meeting is associated with and should promote.

Do the same for each email you’ve sent and received in the past day. 

  • For how many emails and meetings did you manage to identify a clear mission?
  • In retrospect, how many of these interactions have been focused on promoting the mission and have managed to do so?

Consider how you can improve your communication in light of your findings.

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