Organisational Identity LO11440

Bob Williams (
Mon, 16 Dec 1996 10:17:58 +1200

Replying to LO11415 --

>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.

[Snip] (For reasons of space not coherence or relevance]

The list co-ordinator asked for the derivation of the concepts of
purposive and purposeful. The earliest reference I can find is by Ackoff
in 1971, but I am sure the concept predates that.

Ackoff states that a purposive system is a multi-goal seeking system in
which the goals have a common property. The property is system's purpose.
A purposeful system displays "will"; it can change its goals under
constant conditions.

What is interesting for me in this thread whether just because human
activity systems contain purposeful humans, the system itself is
purposeful. I can think of a number of organisations where the
individuals have great purpose, and these purposes may even be the same
(eg to make the organisation be really effective and efficient). Yet from
an observer's point of view the organisation does not display that
purpose, and indeed appears to be pursuing goals which none of the
participants seek.



"Only Connect" - E.M. Forster

Thought for the day :- If you tied buttered toast to the back of a cat and
dropped it from a height, what would happen?


Bob Williams <>

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