When you think about these three words in succession, it's likely that they blend together. They did for me.
That was, until a personal mentor of mine, Bruce Jaffe (to which Bruce adds that his framework was helped by one of his mentors, Jim Collins), put some additional context behind them. The discussion was around tying a bigger vision to a project that I've been working on and how these three words prove to be crucial along the way.
Whether you're starting your own company or grinding for somebody else, they dictate everything, from product development to market positioning to hiring.
The practical breakdown that he provided was extremely valuable, so I couldn't help but share. Instead of trying to regurgitate Bruce's email, I've added the key points of each term below, edited down a bit for consumption purposes.
Vision is an end state that you can articulate. It is a purpose for why the company exists. These do not have to be foundational. The most famous of visions was Bill Gates’s ‘a computer on every desktop, in every home’ – that’s all he had to say, and everyone knew why Microsoft was the place to work 20 years ago. Ted Turner had a vision of a 24-hour news channel, and Henry Ford had the vision of cars being driven by everyone, not just the elite. You don't have to have a vision that is this big, but you should have something that describes an end state of the world that you are building a service to enable or tap into.
Mission is the big challenge ahead of everyone, which is hard enough to get all the competitive juices flowing, yet it is also a challenge which everyone knows they can and will achieve. Reebok’s ‘Beat Nike’ mission was a fantastic example. What did every employee of Reebok want to do every day? Well it was pretty clear. Missions are generally met, and then a new mission is set out.
For a startup, the mission is the most important thing – I’d argue more important than the vision or the strategy. Key metrics are generally the sign of achieving a mission. However, sometimes it is simply financial (go IPO, Make $100m in revenue, etc. have all been fine missions).
Strategy is the set of tactics that you use to achieve your mission or vision (or both). It is critical for success of the company and without a strategy the vision and mission are not achievable. That said, it is the easiest to articulate, yet the least valuable when it comes to creating your dream team.
As an entrepreneur, it's tough to get out of your own head. There are so many day to day tasks that prevent long-term thinking from happening. In that vein, hopefully this provides an exit from your own mind and an outlet for the future.