Paper Purpose


“the direction in which a compass needle normally points, towards the horizon on the left-hand side of a person facing east, or the part of the horizon lying in this direction”

Now you have those careful clear words from the Oxford dictionary, can you point North from where you are reading this?

I doubt you can. The definition won’t have helped much anyway, no matter how well it is written all it can do is paint a picture in your head. You still have to match that up against reality. Writing something clearly does not mean it is real or useful.

I’ve said it once already, but it bears repeating.

Carefully enunciated and simply worded sentences are not the same as clarity of purpose.

There is a difference. Anybody who works in an organisation will have come across a document with things written in it telling you what you are supposed to do. Job descriptions, plans, strategies, policies etc. This is how command and control organisations work at disseminating direction and accumulating feedback. They don’t really have a choice, it’s either write it down and distribute it, or they’d have to shout it from a big megaphone. I am glad they chose paper.

They don’t have to try to control reality through paper, but if they didn’t they’d have to choose to be something other than command and control, and that is a genuinely difficult thing to do. Hence all the Paper Purposes in the world.

20120907-223948.jpgThere’s no shame in paper. Real purpose isn’t carved in granite. It’s an Aunt Sally, something set up to be knocked down. That’s it’s strength. Test purpose against reality, find out where it doesn’t quite fit, knock it down and alter it and set it up again for more testing.

So, what’s the difference between a Paper Purpose and a real one then?

Paper Purpose comes from inside the organisation.
Real purpose come from outside.

Paper Purpose is artfully crafted from nothing.
Real purpose is forensically excavated from the muddy earth of the work.

Paper Purpose is tested in the workplace against opinion and becomes consensus.
Real purpose is tested in the work against reality and becomes knowledge.

Paper Purpose is honed and smoothed until acceptable and pleasing.
Real purpose is used because it is useful.

Paper Purpose is permanent until another more fitting one is written and agreed.
Real purpose is temporary until a more useful and accurate one is discovered.

Paper Purpose is always written down but not necessarily remembered.
Real purpose is always understood, so there’s not much need to write it down.

Paper Purpose can be made into an aeroplane.
Real purpose directs thinking to help solve people’s problems.


This entry was posted in clarity of purpose, command and control, purpose, systems thinking, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Paper Purpose

  1. Re writing down versus knowing, I find the same parallel in music


  2. Profound post, TP. I particularly like “Real purpose is forensically excavated from the muddy earth of the work.”

    May I suggest a buiid on “Real purpose directs thinking to help solve people’s problems.”?

    Here goes: “Real purpose directs thinking to creating value for customers, investors, other stakeholder groups, and the wider ecosystem”?

    Rationale:Why do you want to solve a problem? Either to stop the generation of anti-value (an experience of physical pain or emotional upset arising from a poorly designed or malfunctioning value generator, or from the denial of previously received—and possibly taken for granted—value) or to boost your capability to create value generators.

    A value generator is value in latent form – something tangible or intangible that generates experiential (in contrast to economic) value when the user interacts with it. Examples of value generator include products, services, customer experiences and community facilities.

    You can read more about these ideas in the Creative Action section of my website.

    Thanks TP, and best wishes from Bristol.



    • ThinkPurpose says:

      For some reason WordPress put all versions of your main reply into the spam filter. So that’s why it didn’t look like it was working as when in spam filter it’s not “in moderation” so you wouldn’t get that “waiting for moderation” message.


  3. Pingback: What is Tiny Data and why is it crucial? | thinkpurpose

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