…And What Are We Doing?

Mission statements are easy to ignore. In our day to day lives with emails pouring in, phones ringing, and having to deal with our supervisors, subordinates, and patrons, it is hard to take the time to sit back and reflect on why we are here, and why our museum matters.

Yet a mission statement can be an unending source of inspiration for both employees and patrons.  In a few words it can explain what we do, who we do it for, and why we do it.  Rather than being dragged out every five years for a strategic planning process, a good mission statement can guide us through our day-to-day work.

By far, my favorite mission statement I encountered in my research for this post was that of the Monterey Bay Aquarium: “The mission of the Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the oceans”.  To me, it is just about perfect.  I know almost nothing about the Monterey Bay Aquarium, other than that it is a large and well-regarded aquarium in California.  Yet from that extraordinarily brief statement I can envision a sprawling, diverse, multifaceted institution making a difference in the world through its educational mission.

There is much that is implicit in the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s short mission statement.  Who does the Aquarium serve?  The mission statement doesn’t say specifically.  However, the oceans are a worldwide feature that affects every person on the planet.  Therefore, if the mission is to inspire their conservation, then the community served is the general public.  How does the Aquarium do this?  Again, it doesn’t say.  Yet if the mission is to “inspire,” then one can easily imagine exhibits, public programs, and special events that fulfill that function.

There is no set formula for mission statements.  The mission of the Monterey Bay Aquarium fits for a large, nationally known institution.  A smaller, regional aquarium would want a much more focused and specific mission.  However, if I were creating a strategic plan for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I would feel confident plotting out programs, exhibitions, and budgets.  If I were a regular employee, I would feel good and motivated about what I was doing at my job.  And if I were part of the general public (as I am now) I would want to visit this institution, and explore its diverse offerings.  That is the power of a strong mission statement.

Jacob Barry

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5 Responses to …And What Are We Doing?

  1. eannlaird says:

    I love that the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s mission statement is so precise and to the point. It makes some of the paragraph long mission statements I’ve seen seem rather unnecessary and long winded!

    • jacobcbarry says:

      I completely agree, and the brevity of the statement is one of the main reasons I like it. However, I think that the supporting documents (vision, guiding principals, etc.) are essential in this case, because the mission statement is so broad.

  2. Eric Nardone says:

    Hello Jacob,

    I work for the Monterey Bay Aquarium and would like to thank you for your post. As an employee I feel a strong connection to our mission statement and it is constantly being referenced by staff and volunteers in meetings and hallway discussions. I can’t say the same for the mission statements of other institutions where I’ve worked. In my past experience, mission statements were words only referenced in annual reports and by executives at company wide meetings. I rarely found them inspirational or relevant to my daily work. By contrast, our mission statement seems to come up almost every day. That doesn’t mean we always agree on how to best “inspire conservation of the oceans,” but at least it keeps us focused and engaged in trying to fulfill this goal.

    Thanks again. Come visit us sometime and let us know if we’re succeeding in our mission!


    • jacobcbarry says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment Eric! I was actually wondering how your mission statement is used in the day-to-day operations of the aquarium, so it is great to hear from an employee. You’ve confirmed my suspicion that your brief and memorable mission statement can referred to for guidance and inspiration by employees at all levels.

  3. Gretchen Sorin says:

    Jacob, I agree with you comments about the Monteray Bay Aquarium. My favorite mission statements are those that are easy to remember and that are inspiring. The aquarium’s mission is really a BHAG–a big hairy audacious goal.

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