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Why Philosophy Matters (for business and you)

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Philosophy is important. It changes history because big ideas lead to big actions. Some of the most transformative political movements in history started as a purely philosophical project.

The closest thing to philosophy in business is a company’s mission statement. These statements lay out a vision of what the company wants to be, not just what it is. One can use a firm’s mission statement to learn about the company and its competencies beyond what’s contained in its product offering.

Flying high?

Compare the mission statements of Delta and Southwest Airlines. First Delta:

We—Delta’s employees, customers, and community partners together form a force for positive local and global change, dedicated to bettering standards of living and the environment where we and our customers live and work.

Now Southwest:

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.

Everyone knows that Southwest is widely regarded as a great U.S. airline; Delta is not. Could one deduce this from their mission statements? Of course! What the heck does “bettering standards of living and the environment” have to do with an airline? In short, nothing. It’s a noble goal and I applaud any company that embraces social responsibility among their goals. But as the central theme of their mission? How does that win customers and build enterprise value? This mission statement shows a lack of focus that might partially explain why Delta is in the financial trouble it is.

Southwest’s mission on the other hand is clear, to the point and makes sense in the context of their industry. One normally does not think of low-cost carriers as great service companies, but Southwest’s “disruptive technology” was service—so focusing on that element, rather than simply on cost or speed of service is reasonable, and differentiating.

Try before you buy

The take-away from this brief comparison is that, as a customer, an easy way to “try before you buy” is to look at the company’s mission statement. Does the statement provide a clear picture of how the business creates value? If the company does everything it says it will do, will you win? If the answer to these questions is not “yes,” then you may need to think about going with a different company. When the philosophy is not compelling, can you expect big actions are a result?

At Rackspace, we take philosophy seriously. It’s a part of everything we do here and drives our decision making process every day. So what’s our mission here at Rackspace? To state it simply — our mission is to be recognized as one of the world’s greatest service companies.

Learn more about how we are delivering on our mission at Rackspace.

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  • Michael Ferranti

    Thanks for commenting Ben. That’s one way to look at it, I’ll have to check out Jakob Nielsen.  Another way I look at it is to ask “if the mission statement was true, where would that put me as a customer”?  So what if Southwest Airlines DID deliver “the highest quality of Customer Service…with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.”?  Well that would be pretty awesome!  Sometimes though, companies will have mission statements that don’t bear on the products they sell.  Even if they’re true, they don’t change my world as a customer.  That’s a bad mission statement and a missed opportunity.  Thanks again for your thoughts!

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