Mission and measurement don’t mix

On one hand, we hear organisations talk about mission and vision, goals and direction. Abstract things. Intangible and immeasurable. Lofty ideas and ideal outcomes.

On the other hand, those same organisations want to know the schedule, measure the progress, manage the resources. Concrete, tangible things. Outputs. Inventory.

Philosophically, this distinction is thousands of years old. Heraclitus thought that everything changes all the time, that the world is in constant flux. For him, intangible things that are constantly in a state of becoming, much like the sometimes unachievable missions of organisations, can never be, they can never materialise. Parmenides viewed reality as static. In his world you can measure things, they are predictable. It is his thinking on which we built most of our scientific knowledge and our ability to measure the world and our activities in it.

The problem isn’t us having these two views on the world or wanting to have a vision of what could be achieved and a schedule for achieving it, the problem is expecting to be able translate between them. Our organisations can have a mission, and they can measure and manage their efforts, but we can never connect the two. The schedule doesn’t tell us if we’re heading in the right direction. Mission and management don’t mix.