A mission statement. Every company should have one, and every company should have put a great deal of time and effort into its creation. A mission statement should be general enough that it allows a company much room for business expansion, and therefore growth, but it should also be specific enough that it guides a company toward opportunities that suit it best, and steers the company clear of disparate opportunities.

Operating with a strong, visible mission statement, a company and its employees and shareholders know what the organization stands for and is driving to accomplish. Everyone can rally around the cause -- or the goal.

Operating without a strong or spirited enough mission statement, a company is much more likely to bounce from one apparent opportunity to the next, and thus is much less likely to become a large leader in any area. This undirected approach typically does not create optimal or lasting value for shareholders -- or for the company's customers!

Young Rule Breakers will often have mission statements that evolve comparatively rapidly, as the company strives to find its lasting business focus. Before long, however, a mission statement should gel and, if it's good, last. As it lasts, it should lead the company forward. (It will not be shallow, gimmicky, or clich�, the way that less-than-thoughtful mission statements are.)

You, as an investor, should know the mission statement at each company you own. To gain renewed bearing on our companies in preparation for next week's Quest for Rule Breakers 2001 seminar (join us now if you're interested!), I researched all of the mission statements of our companies last November. When it came to Excite@Home (Nasdaq: ATHM), I could not find its mission statement. (If you do, please post it on the ATHM board.)

The six companies that we currently own have mission statements, and Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX) has one that shines brighter than most. It is:

"Establish Starbucks as the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles as we grow. The following five guiding principles will help us measure the appropriateness of our decisions:

1) Provide a great work environment and treat each other with respect and dignity. 2) Apply the highest standards of excellence to the purchasing, roasting, and fresh delivery of our coffee. 3) Develop enthusiastically satisfied customers all of the time. 4) Contribute positively to our communities and our environment. 5) Recognize that profitability is essential to our future success."

Young eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) also has a good mission statement. Its eight-word mission is: "We help people trade practically anything on earth." It then expounds, adding, "eBay was founded with the belief that people are basically good. We believe that each of our customers, whether a buyer or a seller, is an individual who deserves to be treated with respect.

We will continue to enhance the online trading experiences of all -- collectors, hobbyists, dealers, small business, unique item seekers, bargain hunters, opportunistic sellers, and browsers. The growth of the eBay community comes from meeting and exceeding the expectations of these special people."

Amgen (Nasdaq: AMGN) also has a mission statement that is broad enough, yet specific enough: "To be the world leader in developing and delivering important, cost-effective therapeutics based on advances in cellular and molecular biology."

Except for America Online (NYSE: AOL), which is in flux with Time Warner, the mission statements of our other Rule Breakers can be found here:

Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) mission

Celera Genomics (NYSE: CRA) mission

Human Genome Sciences (Nasdaq: HGSI) mission

In December, we discussed the Rule Breaker's hybrid mission. Mission statements, like the setting of realistic goals, should be a part of your Foolish life, too.

So, what is your mission statement in life? And, shouldn't your marriage or partnership have a mission statement, too? You might want to call it something more, er, romantic. You might name it, as the French say, your raison d'�tre -- your reason for being. Create your mission, and then keep it to guide you.

All strong companies should have a clear mission statement. You can usually find the mission statements for your companies on their websites. Or, visit google.com and enter a company name with the words "mission statement." That usually gets results. Your mission tonight, should you choose to accept it, is this: Search for the mission statements at each of the companies you own. Are they strong? Do they need work? If they're tame, drop your company an email. If you like, share your companies' mission statements on the Rule Breaker Companies board.

Fool on!