Two words

Two words are enough to convey meaning and mission, to inspire and guide.

I came across Benjamin Zander’s fabulous TED Talk years ago. It is a must watch, and I require it of all our new student employees before their first training session. There is usually a bit of pause when they see it’s a talk about classical music. Classical music? How fascinating and relevant could this be? Watch and see:

Near the end of the talk Zander says he realized that while his occupation is a symphony conductor, his calling was to “awaken possibility” in others. When he said that I realized those two words speak for my calling as well. That’s what drives and delights me, awakening possibility in myself and others. And, as he said, you know you’ve done it when you see “shining eyes” looking back at you. I live for those moments.

In my work in higher education I tell our campus tour leaders their mission is to awaken possibility, too, as they introduce high school students to the wonders of college life. We want high school students to leave excited about new possibilities about what education could be for them no matter where they choose to enroll. We are not selling our brand. We are aiming higher and offering a gift they can take with them anywhere.

Too many organizations have committee-created mission statements that don’t resonate and can’t be recited by anyone except maybe those who were on the committee. But what if, instead of a mission statement, you had a mantra, even just two simple words, two words that articulate simply and powerfully why you do what you do, what you are about?

If being awesome is the goal, clarity and simplicity of purpose are crucial for an organization, a family, and, especially, an individual.

Steve Jobs returned to rescue Apple in 1997. The company was on the verge of bankruptcy. The products were not great and the employees were demoralized. One of his first and most important actions was the creation of the famous “Think different” campaign. Just those two words alongside the Apple logo overlaid on the image of an iconic, world-changing personality appeared on billboards and the back cover of magazines, reminding the world why Apple was special. Those two words reconnected Apple employees with its core values and reminded everyone why Apple became great originally. That two word campaign was the turning point for Apple, which continues to rock the world with its different approach to technology.

Can you sum up your organization’s purpose in a couple of words? What about your own work? What is your calling? Can you narrow it to a couple of meaningful words?

Do you…
spread love
create beauty
solve problems
connect people
generate ideas
serve selflessly
explore frontiers
research mysteries
make art
educate children
nurture health
empower underdogs
enlighten minds
arouse hearts
provoke action

You get the idea. Give this some thought and explore how to get to the essence of what’s most important for you or your organization. Then clarify and simplify and point yourself and your people in that direction with as few as two simple words.


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