POSIWID -The Purpose of a System is what it does

"There is no point in confusing everyone with imaginary and hypothetical purpose statements that are oxymoronic, unless the purpose is to confuse."

John Raddall

Understanding purpose in the real world of rivers, trees and lions.

Stafford Beer was a pioneer of systems thinking and management cybernetics.  A maverick and a revolutionary thinker.

He coined the term POSIWID.  The purpose of a system is what it does. 

We are living in an age of paradox.  On the one hand the average lifespans of organisations are shrinking.  On the other hand there is an avalanche of new age fluffery about 'purpose'.

There is just one problem.  Much of the current literature on purpose sits in the imaginary and not the real world.

Let's test this.

Assume you live in a country where the current government is corrupt, incompetent and is rapidly destroying the economy.  If this pattern continues, a failed state is the inevitable conclusion.

Applying Beer's POSIWID principle, it is clear that the deep purpose of this government is crystal clear.  To destroy the economy.  And what the politicians declare as purpose is irrelevant.

A further example.  Assume that as a specie we are destroying our planet, 'our speck of dust on a sunbeam'.

In terms of POSIWID logic the purpose of Homo Sapiens is therefore simple.  It is to destroy the planet.  Q.E.D.

POSIWID in Organisations

Organisations are past masters at grandiose and imaginary purpose statements.  Facebook has been in the news this week for all the wrong reasons.  If the evidence given by the whistleblower is correct then a core purpose of the system is to generate hate, anger and division.  And possibly even violence.

The fundamental problem with high level corporate purpose statements, is that they are generally meaningless.  In the real world purpose based on the POSIWID principle evolves and cascades more like nested Russian dolls.

For a CEO of a bank the POSIWID is to deliver on the strategic objectives of the shareholders.  

For the bank teller the POSIWID is to deliver a professional service to customers every day.

For all practical purposes their POSIWIDS are mutually exclusive.

Using the POSIWID tool in your own daily life.

A good habit is to add POSIWID to your daily intellectual toolkit.  Whether you are discussing wine, relationships, global corporates or even philosophy and politics, Stafford Beer's POSIWID will give you the edge.

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