Struggling with the Gap of Purpose

20151104_145251It has taken me a little while to figure out what this post should focus on. Previous posts established two distinct and quite different purposes for organizations and people.

The purpose of an organization is to be a viable economic entity.

The purpose of a person is to express identity.

These two purposes are not typical of the mainstream definitions of purpose of organizations and people and they illustrate real and important differences.  Differences that tend to be ignored in the OD world. The OD world has anthropomorphized organizations beyond the metaphorical and treats organizations like people.  And this treatment takes a decidedly psychological perspective.

My challenge in trying to figure out what this post should focus on was a result of my seeing a real gap in the purpose of organizations and people and struggling to illustrate this gap. What I eventually realized was that the present focus of OD simply does not see a gap, the problem mainstream OD creates is seeing both organizations and people as the same psychological entity! Two problems masquerading as one!

What brought me to this revelation was a walk with my dog and a visit to my favorite coffee shop. On the chalkboard of the coffee shop was a quote. ‘Our coffee is an experience that chalk is unable to convey.’ And I realized that….

‘Our identity is an experience that organizations are unable to convey!’

Yet when it is considered that organizations and people are the same, as mainstream OD does, then an organization SHOULD be able to convey our identity; at a very real and personal level.


I need to take a small step back at this point. Above I have been doing my own anthropomorphizing of organizations; treating ‘them’ as some kind of entity with qualities they simply do not have. It seems to be the only way to write about them in any coherent way. In earlier posts I said organizations are nothing more than the pattern of interactions between people; a fairly stable left loop of people hanging out doing stuff under the same company name.

So if there is a difference between the purpose of an organization and the purpose of people then the interactions we have within the economic context of an organization should be different from those we have within the context of expressing identity.

And if you say organizations and people are the same then interactions should be the same in both contexts. Well they aren’t and we all know and have experienced this. Mainstream OD with its focus on systems and psychology feeds this OUCH! constantly and this OUCH! is loaded with blame, shame and guilt.

The next few posts will look at a few of these:

  • Finding meaning in your work
  • Doing what you love
  • Character
  • Engagement
  • Motivation

And maybe more…. even typing these things just makes me want to scream!

Before the next post though, I would ask you to think about the last training or OD type initiative you were involved in. Think about what the interactions were like within that initiative and consider what the intentions of that initiative were.  You might want to even jot a few notes down so as we go through these next posts you can be ferociously gentle in your analysis of what was happening.


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