Conor on Having the Wrong Mission

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Conor reshapes the classic story of three men building a cathedral:

In the distance I see the construction site of a future cathedral. I approach the site and see three men laying bricks.


I approach the first man and ask “what are you doing?” He says “I am laying bricks.”


I approach the second man and ask “what are you doing?” He says “I am the world’s best stonecutter.”


I approach the third man and ask “what are you doing?” He says “I am building a cathedral.”

The change is the answer of the second man, and Conor then analyses the danger of being focused on being the best. While it has some good aspects, Conor argues that it is not a mission:

Deciding to be the best that you can be at your job is a good thing. However, it is not a mission. It is not linked to an outcome that improves society.


It is possible to be the best stonecutter and allow a terrible cathedral to be built around you. It is possible to be the best stonecutter and say nothing when you watch the plumber do a poor job with cheap tools. It is possible to be the best stonecutter and watch the project fail around you and walk away saying “it wasn’t my job to look at finances, it wasn’t my job to make sure plumbing was done well… I did my bit”. This is why it is dangerous for people on your team to limit their mission to being the best at their job.

I like this line of thinking, and the emphasis on taking joint responsibility for the bigger game (project, initiative, workstream). And therefore I wonder if the answer of the third man should be changed too in order to reflect this greater responsibility. For example, something like:

We are building a cathedral.” (while gesturing around to the other workers on the building site)
I am building a cathedral, in collaboration with the other workers you see here.”

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