03 February 2011

Living Somebody Else's Life - Beyond Inherited Goals to Corporate Transformation

We inherit goals. Personally, we find ourselves living within systems that have been designed by previous generations for their goals. Not just people but even institutions inherit goals.

The new nation-state first saw itself in a role like that of the Medieval Church. The church made itself responsible for the souls of its congregants and the early kings' gave themselves a similar role. The resultant chaos and bloodshed that came from centuries of religious wars was atrocious. It literally took centuries for the nation-state to ignore the goal of the church and instead focus on goals like the safety and prosperity of its citizens.

The corporation, too, seems to have first accepted the goal of the previously dominant institution. In this case, the corporation tries to imitate the goal of the bank, to make money, or, more specifically, to provide a return on capital. This misses the point. I've heard Russell Ackoff and Peter Drucker each make the point that profit is to a corporation what oxygen is to a person: vital but by no means its goal.

Corporations today, like the nation-state after the Reformation, is the most dominant institution. One of the keys to it realizing its potential to make life better for communities is that it treat profit not as the goal but as just one of its necessary conditions. Even if this were all that were involved in transforming the corporation, it would mean a large shift in how we think about our world. The good news is that once people begin thinking about the goal of the corporation beyond making money they will begin the process of reinvention. Then we will more often see the many and way cool things it can be.

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