Sunday, March 31, 2024

"The Purpose Of A System Is What It Does..."

From Forbes Magazine, September 13, 2021:

The Purpose Of A System Is What It Does, Not What It Claims To Do 

Stafford Beer, British theorist, consultant, and professor at the Manchester Business School, coined and frequently used the phrase “The purpose of a system is what it does” (POSIWID) to explain that the observed purpose of a system is often at odds with the intentions of those who design, operate, and promote it. For example, applying POSIWID, one might ask if the purpose of an education system is to help children grow into well-rounded individuals, or is it to train them to pass tests? “There is after all,” Beer observed, “no point in claiming that the purpose of a system is to do what it constantly fails to do.”

POSIWID stands above judgement and partisan opinion when considering any system - all one has to do is take note of its actions and outputs. And when those actions and outputs don’t align with what the system claims as its purpose, it jeopardizes the trust, confidence, and loyalty of those who work inside the system and those whom the system purports to serve....


Using this heuristic to look at systems like education or government helps focus on the fact that in a system, as opposed, possibly, to a one-off event, the result is the reality to focus upon. 

Reality is not the intentions of the systems designers and the systems implementers and reality is surely not the protestations or explanations, excuses or justifications that surround most human endeavors.

The end result of a system, is what the system is meant to do. For the rest it is hard to put it better than:

"Ils ne se servent de la pensée que pour autoriser leurs injustices,
et emploient les paroles que pour déguiser leurs pensées"
François-Marie Arouet--'Voltaire', Dialogue xiv. Le Chapon et la Poularde (1766).

"Men use thought only to justify their wrong doings, and employ speech only to conceal their thoughts"