Stating your values.
Examining your motivations.
Clarifying your beliefs and policies.
This is not something we are often asked to do as human beings.
I was reminded of this during a recent discussion with our wonderful client St James Ethics Centre about personal ethics. It seems that - although our beliefs and values impact every decision we make (big or small) - it's rare for us, as people, to write them down and hold to them.
Yet, we are absolutely asked to do this when we start a company. Especially one which claims to be values-led and prioritise purpose over profit, which we do.
Yvonne and I are lucky enough to be like-minded and what I call 'like-hearted'. Our guts usually tell us the same thing about what is right or wrong, which is what makes us work so well together as founders. Sometimes we disagree, but the really important decisions are easy and our reasoning is often shared. When it's just the two of you, your values = the company's values.
But you can run into trouble when your team grows. You can no longer assume that a head, heart or gut understanding runs throughout the entire team. Yes, some people will have a natural affiliation with you and your values. But how do you make sure of this good fit? And how do you communicate those values that are most important to you?
Writing down your purpose, beliefs and motivations helps you check yourself against them - ensure you're staying true to them and to your own North Star. It also helps other people check themselves against them. Some people will not want to work with you, others will throw themselves your way.
So writing these down makes sense. However, when it comes to doing this, the things you're typically asked to write down are: Your values. Your purpose. Your mission statement.
We tried this - and in fact we were guided through this process by our brilliant business mentor at the Creative Industries Innovation Centre. But, despite being, as mentioned, like-hearted and like-minded, the words Yvonne and I came up with were incredibly different. The meaning and importance we ascribed to certain pieces of language varied enormously. And it felt as though we continued to come out with staid, vague, language that could have applied to any company, rather than to our very unique one.
This didn't work so well for us. But what would work for us as a company?
We started playing around with 'design principles'? We often create these to guide us through a project - created alongside a client and then held up as a way to know what to say 'yes' or 'no' to, and to remind everyone, at all points throughout the project, of the ultimate vision.
Then we started to feel as though perhaps we needed to write down 'value statements' rather than 'values'. Things that implied how someone might act, how they might approach a situation, things had more grit and direction and less compromise and vagueness.
Eventually we landed on the idea of.. saying some things. Saying some things that felt good to say and we felt were important. Many of them were pieces of collected wisdom or tried and tested life lessons. Others were our stated aims, others were policies. One thing was certain - if these words didn't feel right to you, or perhaps worse, didn't mean anything to you - then you weren't the right fit to work with us.
The year before we had been inspired by the 'imperfect manifesto' written by Cloth Fabric's Julie Paterson at Design your Day Job. When we looked around, other companies had what they called manifestos too.
So we've ended up writing the Wildwon Manifesto. It sure is a nice feeling to have it out there. And an even nicer feeling when clients, friends and strangers mention that they like it or relate to it.
And for further reading, or if you are inspired to write your own, here are 5 of our favourite manifestos.