Why the president of Pixar doesn’t believe in mission statements

How will YOU change the world?
How will YOU change the world?
Image: AP/Ted S. Warren
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Respect. Integrity. Communication. Excellence. Now those are some values worth getting behind!

They’re also the values of the company responsible for one of the largest accounting fraud schemes in history—Enron.

Corporate values and mission statements are often like iceberg lettuce—cold, a bit crunchy, and void of any real substance. Coca-Cola wants to ”refresh the world in mind, body, and spirit.” Starbucks wants to “inspire and nurture the human spirit.” Virgin Atlantic wants to “embrace the human spirit and let it fly.” (After reading through the mission statements of the Fortune 500, you too might want to embrace a spirit.)

Mission statements get plastered on office walls and then forgotten about, which is why Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, doesn’t believe in them.

At messaging company Slack’s annual summit last week, Catmull told the crowd that Pixar, which he cofounded, doesn’t have a mission statement. “When you come up with a mission statement, you come up with an answer,” Catmull said. “And an answer is the wrong place to start a discussion.”

Instead, Catmull believes deciding what a company values and where it’s headed should be an ongoing dialogue among employees—not an immutable doctrine passed down from the powers that be.

When it comes to values, Catmull thinks companies tend to pick principles “that could be on anyone’s list.” Values only matter if they can be disagreed with, he said.

Catmull has led Pixar to produce 20 feature films and win 16 Academy Awards. The studio has not been without its challenges, but even without a mission statement, Pixar has found its direction.