Three Very Short Stories – Mission And Purpose

Published on

The success of a business is dependent on various factors, including a clear vision, shared purpose, and effective communication. These factors can not only motivate employees but also lead to the achievement of extraordinary results.

The leaders of Porsche, Cintas, and Helzberg Diamonds have shared the following short stories, highlighting the importance of prioritizing the mission and purpose of a business over the pursuit of money. By doing so, a business is more likely to create a culture of passion and dedication among its employees, resulting in increased productivity, efficiency, and long-term success.

Get The Full Ray Dalio Series in PDF

Get the entire 10-part series on Ray Dalio in PDF. Save it to your desktop, read it on your tablet, or email to your colleagues

Q4 2022 hedge fund letters, conferences and more


‘Building the Cathedral’

“I used to tell the story about a man walking down the street in the middle of a big city and how he came upon a construction site. Bulldozers and earthmoving machines were busy on the site. People were working hard.

He came across three men in a ditch. He asked the first man, "What are you doing?" "I'm digging a ditch," the first man said. Our protagonist asked the second man, "What are you doing?" "We're digging a ditch for the water line for that building going up over there," the second man said.

Our protagonist asked the third man, "What are you doing?" The man looked up and replied, "We're building a cathedral. It will be a big beautiful cathedral with five big tall spires and beautiful stained glass windows. It will seat 500 people. It will be the most beautiful church in this city. That's what we're doing."

Every time I'd tell that story, I'd ask my audience which of those men do you think is most motivated. Obviously the man building a beautiful church will be more committed than the others because he shares a vision.

He may be in a ditch, but he is proud of what he is doing. That simple story demonstrates why it's important to have a vision and share it with everyone.” Richard Farmer, Cintas [Founder]

‘Busting Rocks’

“There is a wonderful old story about the importance of knowing "why we are here." Three men were working on a construction site. All three were performing exactly the same task. A passerby asked the first one, "What are you doing here?"

The answer was, "I am busting rocks." The passerby asked the second man the same question. (Remember, he was doing the same thing as the first man.) This time the answer was, "I am earning my living."

These are two possible views of work. They differ slightly in their perspective, but neither is a good answer to the question, why are we here? If the people in the organization believe they are busting rocks in order to earn a living, how might they decide to improve their job?

They might ask: How can I bust fewer rocks for more money? And what is management thinking? How can I get people to bust more rocks for less money? This is unlikely to result in a happy relationship; it is certainly not the key to getting extraordinary results.

I have known many highly educated and experienced managers who view management in that adversarial manner. When the passerby asked the third man what he was doing, he got a very different answer. The third man's answer was, I am helping my colleagues build a temple.

It is not the activity that defines a job, but how someone sees their activity in the context of an organisation’s culture and style that matters. If people are working together to build a temple, the hammers are not as heavy, the rocks are not as hard, and the days are not as long.

It is no longer the same task. It is not what people are doing, but how they view their collective effort as part of a mission that puts passion into the activity; passion that can lead to extraordinary results. To create and sustain real driving force, people must build a temple together, not bust rocks for a living.

The definition of the temple is not only a statement of what is to be accomplished, but includes a value statement of what will not be done (or tolerated) in the process. There are always rules and values associated with a temple.

"We will never go to any race without the objective of winning" turned out to be such a statement. It is up to management to define the temple. If management cannot (or will not) communicate what sort of a temple the organization is building, the work ethic can easily become: How can I bust fewer rocks for more money?” Peter Schutz, Porsche [CEO 1981-1987]

‘The Wheelbarrow Story’

“When a young Charles Percy (later Senator Percy) was the head of Bell and Howell (a maker of fine cameras at that time), he increased productivity to an amazing extent. When asked how he did it, he said he used the ‘Wheelbarrow Story.’

Percy explained that he did not believe in merely telling a worker in the factory to wheelbarrow needed parts to the other side of the plant. His philosophy was that the worker would perform the task better and more willingly if his supervisor took the time to explain the task's importance to the success of the entire plant.

For example, the production line depends on wheelbarrowing those parts to the right place at the right time. “Production shuts down without your efforts.”

Another true example, this time of how to discourage associates from buying into an operation's success. A consultant asked the manager of an incredibly expensive new warehouse, '“Were you consulted on the new design? How is it working?"


To which the manager replied, "It's a disaster! The big shots built it with the advice of some egghead consultant who came in from out of town. Do you think this individual will go out of his way to prove the new warehouse works? I don't think so.” Bennett Helzberg, CEO [Helzberg Diamonds - A BRK Company]


These three short stories highlight the importance of having a clear mission and purpose that goes beyond just making money. Having a purpose-driven organization can motivate employees, foster a positive work culture, and lead to better results in the long run.

When management also instills employee ownership and a culture of empowerment, the outcomes can be remarkable. From the story of building a cathedral to the wheelbarrow story, the moral of the story is that when employees see their collective effort as part of a mission, it can lead to extraordinary results.


Schutz, P., & Woollard, R. (1991). “The Driving Force: Extraordinary Results with Ordinary People.” Business One Irwin.

Farmer, R. (2004). “Rags to riches: How Corporate Culture Spawned a Great Company.” Orange Frazer Press.

Helzberg, B. (2003). “What I learned before I sold to Warren Buffett: An Entrepreneur's Guide to Developing a Highly Successful Company.” John Wiley & Sons.

Follow us on Twitter : @mastersinvest

Visit the Blog Archive


Article by Investment Masters Class