Organisational Identity LO11415

Fri, 13 Dec 1996 10:56:51 GMT+2

Replying to LO011401
Bob Williams wrote

"In general terms, a "purposeful" system responds to a stated and
conscious purpose, analagous perhaps to the missions, goals, visions and
all that stuff developed consciously by one or perhaps all the actors. A
"purposive" system behaves as if it had a purpose of its own - quite
distinct from the intentional purposes of its actors. I have used the
concepts a lot to guide me through difficult times, although they are not
without their problems....."


I use this distinction myself with the following amplification. A
purposive system (e.g. a designed system) does not include a
decision-maker within its boundary. Rather, the decision-maker resides in
a wider system. Well known systems of this kind are machines, laws, rules
and regulations, poems, and so on, and on. However, a purposeful system
DOES have a decision-maker within its boundary which is why (as you so
rightly point out) it can set its own objectives. All human activity
systems fall into this latter category. A milling machine is a purposive
system (a 'hard' system) and we would purchase it on the strength of
certain design criteria and specifications. Joe and his milling machine
represents a purposeful system (a 'soft' system). Note the new position of
the system boundary which now includes Joe. And note also that a far
reaching transformation has taken place regarding the performance measures
used for this latter system. No longer are we interested in the machine
specs per se but in 'soft' issues such as: productivity, quality,
efficiency, utilisation, etc. all of which are dependent on JOE (and his
weltanschauung - sorry to bring this up again!). Furthermore, all these
measures are fuzzy - What is quality? What is productivity? - there are
many definitions from organisation to organisation. There is more, we can
'engineer' a purposeful system very effectively by using systems thinking,
and LO concepts and methodologies. If we regard Joe and his machine as a
purposive system (some people do make this error) then we rob the human
activity system of all its richness, and we will press our systems
engineering activity in hard terms - a mistake that can create serious
problems. As an example, IMHO, the early use of Operations Research
methodology, with its heavy emphasis on "optimisation" did just this.
Russell Ackof, aware of the situation, wrote his well known contribution
"The Future of OR is Past" to warn us of the gross mistake that was being
perpetrated. He followed this by an article on how to resurrect OR - by
recognising the human aspect.


Keith Sandrock Systems/Johannesburg Technologies
FAX 27-11-339-7997



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