Thor describes my purpose


I sit next to the photocopier at work.

About 3 times a day somebody printing some papers off will ask me if I have a stapler they can borrow, to staple their papers together.

This is a question I am asked predictably. It is my single most common type of demand. Is this a value demand though? Well, it is caused by a failure to do something, the failure of the photocopier to staple things automatically as people want, so it is probably a failure demand. But at least it is a predictable demand.

However I do not own a stapler.
So my capability at meeting demand, whether it is value or failure, is zero.

Regardless, I think that my purpose, if derived from my surroundings, would be to offer paper stapling services. I could do this! This isn’t beyond my ability to change and move with the times.

However what is beyond my ability is to change work and make it go all systemsy.  Which is entirely fine, cos the people who are in charge of the design and management of work are actually the managers here, that’s their job, and if everybody else was also changing the design and management of the work then it would be total chaos.

So I just stick to carrying out my duties in as avuncular and self deprecating manner as seems fit. I describe myself as a copy-and-paster, and enjoy acting out my role of “corporate harlot“, not being bothered about the authenticity or actual worth of the work as long as blocks of text or tables of numbers are passed to me by some arbitrary deadline for me to spiff up and make it look nice and apply a spell check, if this happens, then all is good.

The metaphor I use is pipes and plumbing.


Imagine a sequence of pipes connecting people. People all over the council send me things, it is my job to ensure that there are pipes there connecting me and them so this stuff can flow between me and them.

It ISN’T my job to be concerned about the stuff that flows through the pipes. If it is sewage or clean fresh water is immaterial, what matters is that it flows. So I’m a plumber, which is a fine and noble profession.

Talk like this tends to alarm people. I’ve noticed they act like I’ve just started talking about my hemorrhoids or something, lean back in their seat and try and pretend I’m not saying these awful words. Like it is dangerous talk. Now I’m being polite really, cos I think the same about most corporate work, in a normal ordinary command and control organisation this type of work is mainly waste with little chance of being good for the end client/customer/resident. But strutting around pointing out the pointlessness of others work isn’t polite, so I stick to my own.


NOT cool. Possibly incorrect too.

This is not the ideal way to pass the time, but time is going to pass anyway. I boldly claimed at the top of this post that in some way “My Purpose” is to be revealed by Thor within the post, and all I’ve talked about is staple providing services and a metaphor about plumbing. Locating and articulating purpose in an entertaining or educational way, why you might expect something, especially given the name of this blog but it might not be possible at an individual level, especially when I don’t have a self-defined purpose. All systems have a purpose, but not necessarily a node within it.

Handily I found a thing about a phrase or word that the man who invented Lean the Toyota Production System used to describe anything that wasn’t work….moving around. Here it is…

He taught people to call all motion that adds value to products “truly working.” Motion that is not adding value is simply called “moving around.”

By clearly separating the use of these symbols, he taught trainees how to tell the difference between non-value-added work and value-added work by creating awareness of that difference with his creative use of spelling.

In this way, he shows us that the most effective approach is to eliminate unnecessary “moving around () ” and create “true work ()” with the full participation of the shop floor as the first step.

I love this. Moving around, if you’re not doing value work than may as well be flapping your arms about a bit. Now if you’re a typist like me, value work and waste work isn’t moving around, it’s typing.

Or as Thor describes it here “Hitting the machine with the words that come out of it“. See, I got to the point in the end. My purpose is to hit the machine with the words that come out of it. Like I’m doing right now.

 So if I hit the machine in the right way, then the words that come out of it please people, and it contributes to the gaiety of the organisation in some way. I’m under no illusion that this can possibly change or improve because the thinking of top management cannot change. Well it could, obviously, but it won’t.

Performance management/reporting/ analysis/whatever is a system condition, a symptom of management thinking, so we’re lumped with it. Whilst decision making is separate from the work, then the decision makers will need reports to make these decisions, and I’ll continue to hit the machine to make the words come out.

This entry was posted in command and control, public sector, purpose, systems thinking and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Thor describes my purpose

  1. fatjacques says:

    How often do your commenters suggest you get a job whet you can get all systemsy?


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      Oooh, simply LOADS. but as a former colleague memorably described to me once, being a policy officer leaves you “practically skill-less”. There’s loads of “business analyst” jobs where the purpose is to make everything digital and online. But for the life of me, i can’t find anything useful


      • Charles Beauregard says:

        It’s also not that easy to get a systemsy job.

        I worked at my first organisation for 6 years, and the next one 5 years. Then I discovered systemsy stuff, and have been at 6 organisations since, averaging less than 18 months at each one. Only one of these was fixed-term – all the others were permanent.

        At little like in Quantum Leap, I find myself leaping from job to job, striving to put right what has gone wrong and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap to somewhere genuinely systemsy.

        Most of my jobs titles in some way relate to improving service or quality, but none of them actually do that. Instead my duties generally relate to helping senior leaders pretend things are improving. I was even at one place that was a bit systemsy, but my job there definitely wasn’t.

        My advice – TP – is that if your job fits in with your home life, gives you income security, etc, then stay there. Carry on venting and inspiring us through your blog, and make a difference that way. If I had the imagination and ability to write a funny and insightful blog then I’d probably do the same.

        In the meantime, the chances are I’ll carry on leaping like Sam Beckett (cue music


        • ThinkPurpose says:

          I’m quite lazy, inertia keeps me in one spot. But with regards to job security, somebody pointed out that in my office the people with the most job security are the ones on fixed term 2 and 3 year contracts. They know they’re there for years at a stretch. The rest of us with allegedly permanent jobs, are on 12 month contracts renewed once a year at restructure time. Currently I’ve got 8 months left to go till next restructure, then i might have another 12 or zero.

          I AM totally aware now that there’s no such thing as a real job in the only line of work I’m qualified for, which is good to know, or rather better than NOT knowing. And it’s amazing how many DON’T KNOW THIS.
          Just the other day some otherwise clever person said when talking about a measure “they’d want to know if it’s not hitting it’s target, cos otherwise how would they know it is under performing?” How indeed.


  2. antlerboy says:

    Aha! So, my honourable friend, what would you say to the claim that the first bit (the stapler) demonstrates that ‘designing against demand’ is actually only ‘doing the plumbing’?

    i.e. if you met your most predictable demand, you’d just be more efficiently conducting the shit.

    I do understand that you distinguish failure vs value demand (quite appropriately, I reckon) . Naturally, though, those are context dependent. Level one: meeting demand for staplers is value. See it as failure, and making the photocopier put in staples is value demand. But what if the printing doesn’t add any value? What the next horizon? and the next?

    I think your juxtaposition of stapler demand and plumbing is actually quite a valuable one.

    (PS – in Barry Oshry’s power+systems framework, noticing that your work is like being a pipe might be a clue that you’re a /middle/. Good luck finding the value demand in that world! )

    Liked by 1 person

    • ThinkPurpose says:

      I was partially taking the Mickey.
      You wouldn’t start at a printer. You’d start at the customer, the real one. Not somebody who doesn’t have stapled reports. That’s not demand. It’s just some people moving around.
      I’m suggesting you don’t start anywhere other than where the customer/client/resident/real person is.
      No need to go up levels or horizons, start where they are, cos that’s purpose.


    • Thanks for sharing that video. Many interesting insights for such a short time.


  3. Bob Ainsworth says:

    The word arbitrary has popped up in a lot of my conversations the past year when we get our ‘Information Dissected In respect Of Team Stats’ (or IDIOTS) passed round to show us how ‘well’ we are doing. So much so that today we were asked what our team score was regarding a specific stat. My reply of ‘arbitrary’ was met with disdain.


  4. Info says:

    Ahh… Still stapling are we? What? Paper? How quaint! I think the problem here is that you’ve not yet gone digital. Bright young ‘un will be round tomorrow with a box of phablets to sort this lot out. Back the week after to optimise the photocopying process with a bit of robotics. You’re welcome.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      You jest, but an email came from the CEO yesterday saying how our move to a new Cloud technology would bring improvements and efficiencies. Cos that’s what is holding us all back, pieces of paper. If it weren’t for that darned papyrus, well we’d be IN THE STRATOSPHERE
      You know that thing I often repeat on here, thinking->system->performance ?
      Well it’s all wrong, it SHOULD be..


      • jaqueslecont says:

        I think you must have achieved Zen. You can now let it wash over you.

        Having been “one of the improvement guys” I couldn’t take it anymore, so I lied, cheated and stole my way to an operations manager job. It is better as I can actually connect my actions with consequence, but I still have to read emails from “improvement executives” demanding that we hit whatever fantastical target is flavour of the month. Usually just “bill this much” but quite often “close this many jobs” or “utilise this many hours labour”.

        I can smile about it now though, so maybe I’m closer to systems zen too?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s