Corporate self or selves?

No sooner did I complete that last post than I found this excellent entry by Chris Corrigan. Here’s a big chunk from it:

I believe that an organization’s vision is as messy and apparently incoherent as the organization itself. Ask around in organizations with which you work and see if anyone actually has the vision statement committed to memory. They generally don’t. Which isn’t to say that individuals don’t have a vision. But ask them what their vision for the organization is and maybe what they think the organization’s vision is and start a conversation about the difference between the two.

When I run Open Space meetings and we are doing visioning and the agenda gets set, I point the sponsors to the wall and invite them to look at the two dozen or 40 or 50 topics there and say “There is your vision.” The sum total of where everyone in the organization wants to go IS the vision for the organization. Diluting these nuggets of intrinsic motivation down to one fairly empty statement in an effort to extrinsically motivate people does nothing to work with the actual vision that is there.

Vision is a personal thing. In Ojibway culture, one needs to spend a lot of time cultivating a vision. In Ojibway cosmology, humans were given the unique gift to dream and have visions. In fact, human self-fulfillment comes through visioning. It is something which lives deep in the person. When groups of people come together, the vision that motivates them is their own. If that vision connects with others, then you have an organization. If not, then people don’t come together to work.

You can point to commonalities in the visions of people within an organization. For instance, a development NGO might have a motherhood vision statement that says “we’re here to help” because that is a component of nearly everyone’s personal vision. But to say that “this is our vision, and everything we do is motivated by that” isn’t really true. Actions are undertaken by individuals for a greater purpose that simply the “organizational vision.”

So I guess I’m saying that organizations aren’t in fact singular, coherent wholes. They are networks of individuals that come together and come apart all within the frame of a larger mission such as “making cars” or “providing medical care” or “loaning money.” These little networks appear and disappear as they are needed, not because of a vision created to extrinsically motivate behaviour.

(Thanks also to whetever piece of software is scrambling Chris’ RSS feed at the moment, which mysteriously shoved this item from January into my aggregator this morning. A little chaos can be a good thing.)

3 thoughts on “Corporate self or selves?

  1. Chris Corrigan

    Holy cow John! That’s a relative “oldie” but a goodie eh? Maybe I have the RSS feed set up to randomly select “highlights” from my career in blogging.

    (Feed seems to be perfomring fine now, btw)

    Thanks for being such a generous reader of my work.

  2. Tom Asacker

    Corporate selves?

    I’m getting a little exasperated with all of the philosophical blogging about brands, missions, visions, etc.

    Let us never forget that the game of business is a transactional one. Meaning that if your company’s purpose is anything other than providing what people want in order to get them to exchange their time, attention and ultimately money for it, you’re misguided, at best.

    Now . . . if you want to take that money and reinvest part of it in improving people’s lives and the world at large, I’m one of your fans. But please stay focused on the desires of the markeplace, or you’ll have no money, and hence no ability to make a difference in anyone’s life . . . except perhaps your own and your children’s.

    Stay passionate . . . and focused!!!


  3. Chris Corrigan


    What could possibly be wrong with philosophical blogging? With thinking about how things work and why?

    What if what people want is a workplace that is a pleasure to be in, and work that is meaningful to the themselves and the world? Then my business is to try and get them there, and to do that I have to draw on lots of thinking about what makes people tick.

    I’m a fan of getting down to work, as I think John’s quote from my post makes clear. So if we are to get down to work and do it well, doesn’t it behoove us to understand optimal work experiences and organizational structures? The very things that are going to make business actually happen?

    Not all business is about making hierarchies to sell widgets to people who don’t want them. Understanding what is emerging in the world is a very important aspect of finding the leading edge that will differentiate your performance in the marketplace. It’s called “innovation” and without it, we wouldn’t have comment boxes on weblogs, among other things. Some of us are paid to think about these things, and then find ways to put them into action. That’s my business.

    As to your point about visions and missions, I don’t think I’m saying anything differently than you have written about mission-driven companies.


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