“Don’t be evil.” “Move fast with stable infrastructure.” “Think different.”
What are these? Google’s, Facebook’s and Apple’s company mantras.
Mantra has a few definitions, but the most popular one is a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation. The Sanskrit definition translates to a thought behind a word or action.
A mantra should not be confused with a mission statement, which is a few-sentences-long summation of the company’s goals and underlying philosophies. A mantra, on the other hand, is meant to be very short and catchy, and to communicate an important theme of the company’s culture.
While not every company has a mantra, they definitely should. At Kaltura, we chose our mantra (“be open, flexible, and collaborative”) early on, which has made for a more successful and rewarding journey for the company at large, and for the individuals within the organization as well.
Why have a mantra?
Mantras help organizations decide, communicate and align everyone around who they want to be, as opposed to what they want to do. Having clarity, conviction and passion about the organization is far more important and rewarding than focusing solely on where the company is going.
A mantra helps companies stay true to its original intentions every day. It reminds its employees of who they are at the core, beyond the product they sell or the services they offer. Companies often change course and pivot, but a mantra is like a torch that keeps everyone warm and close, and lights the way forward in the dark.
For example, Google’s mantra, “Don’t be evil,” was the brainchild of one of its engineers, Amit Patel, who wrote it on a whiteboard during a client meeting. “Don’t be evil” is short, simple and sums up the culture of Google, as well as one of its core company values.
Facebook’s mantra, “Move fast with stable infrastructure,” sums up the company’s goal of continually growing and developing new ideas.
Apple’s mantra, “Think different,” perfectly encompasses the value the company puts on creativity.
Our mantra affected our technological decisions (building an open and flexible platform) and business decisions (launching an open-source project and community). It also shaped how we interact with people both inside and outside of the company. It impacted our hiring criteria, our partnership strategy, our marketing methods, and much more.
How to choose a mantra.
Mantras should be a short and simple phrase. Leave the long, complicated sentences for the mission statement.
The best way to come up with a mantra is to think of a few core power words that would communicate to everyone what value is to be held sacred in the company. Is it to be open? Help solve a problem? Create new ideas? Think about what the company stands for. What is the common philosophy to bring to life and promote through the venture?
Go through this practice before even finalizing the founding team, as it helps crystallize commonalities or differences in people’s character and aspirations. If a common mantra that everyone is passionate about cannot be agreed upon, it may say something about the fit of the founding group.
At Kaltura, my fellow co-founders and I shared a passion for multiculturalism, pluralism and collaboration. We chose each other as partners and agreed on “being open, flexible, and collaborative” before we even chose our target industry (video), let alone solidified our mission statement (to be the leading video technology company, enabling any video experience).
Thinking about starting a company? Determine a mantra first. Already have a company but no mantra? As Nike would tell you, “Just do it!”
Related: Make a List, Check it Twice