People, Purpose, Process, & Data
A Necessary Unity
Business seems to have this relentless passion for seeking
one dimensional answers to complex problems. I'm not sure that
it's really one dimensional answers they seek as much as simple
easy answers. American business has weathered the last five decades
of management fads, each fad proclaiming to be "the Answer"
to all that is sought. And yet, in a few short years each fad
is declared to be flawed, and replaced by the next fad, in an
apparently never ending sequence. All I have to say about this
is, "If one looks for the answers in the wrong place then
they shouldn't be surprised if they find the wrong answers."
So where is the right place to look?
What follows will provide an elaboration of the meaningfulness
implied in the following diagram.
When Alice asked the King of Hearts how to play the game he
said, "Begin at the beginning, go until you reach the end,
and then stop." For business the beginning is Purpose.
Purpose being the reason why the business exists. As I
talk with senior management about purpose I get all kinds of answers
such as, to make money, to deliver service, to beat the competition,
to be the best, to be number one or two in our industry, etc.
Each of these statements of purpose is simply a distinct statement
of Theodore Levitt's definition of the Purpose of any business,
"To create and keep a customer." And this Purpose
is fundamentally accomplished through the delivery of customer
perceived value. Whatever the business sets out to accomplish
is achieved through a specific response to this Purpose.
People should employ Data to create, or define,
the purpose of the business. Businesses fail because they have
no Purpose, have the wrong Purpose, or are not "on
Purpose." Purpose provides the lens though
which all the activity of the business should be focused in order
to ensure the effectiveness of action.
People should continue to employ Data to determine
if the Purpose is still appropriate. People should
also use the Data to ensure the business is on Purpose.
On Purpose implying that the actions of the business are
in fact aligned with the Purpose, i.e. effective.
As a slight aside let me offer a few words about Data.
We have evolved over the years from Data Management, to Information
Management, to Knowledge Management, and I'm surprised someone
hasn't started to hawk Wisdom Management by now. Data
is the only thing that's real, information and knowledge are
just interpretations of Data. The establishment of Purpose
must be based on "real" Data, not the Data
we select or the assumptions, conclusions, and beliefs we form
from the Data. We need to focus on the "real"
People should employ Purpose to define the Process(es)
which enable the business to remain "on Purpose."
Process(es) here refers not simply to Process(es)
such as manufacturing, distribution, etc., but to every Process
which defines activity within the business. Process essentially
implies the design of the organization. Businesses with an appropriate
Purpose fail because they are not "on Purpose."
These organizations are essentially incoherent as activity within
the organization is not aligned through the lens of Purpose.
For activity to be "on Purpose" it needs to be creating
customer perceived value, otherwise it's just overhead.
Once the Process(es) are defined People should
employ the Process(es) to define the Data necessary
to support the Process(es). Data which does not
support the Process(es) or enable the People to
ascertain whether the Purpose continues to be appropriate
is simply noise. Noise which detracts the People in the
organization from being "on Purpose."
In conclusion, what the above diagram represents is an identification
of the four foundational components which must be integrated if
a business is to be successful. The detail of how to integrate
them will probably take a book or two.
- Collins, James C. and Porras, Jerry I. Built to Last.
- Fritz, Robert. Corporate Tides. Berrett-Koehler. 1996
- Goldstein, Jeffrey. The Unshackled Organization. Productivity
- Levitt, Theodore. The Marketing Imagination. The Free
- Scott-Morgan, Peter. The Unwritten Rules of the Game.
Date: Sun, Aug 18, 1996 4:31 PM EST
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Linda Dilliplane)
I just read your article. It was well written and easy to understand.
The only thought that ran across my mind when I read it was after
"For activity to be "On Purpose" it needs to be
creating customer perceived value, otherwise it's just overhead."
Everyone in the organization needs to know, understand and be
on the same wavelength as to what the purpose is and what it takes
to be "On Purpose". This can mean many different things
to different people.
While the above thought is very basic, and perhaps it is implied,
sometimes it needs to be said.
I beleive most employees really try to do whatever their bosses
ask of them but many times lack of coherent communication and/or
feedback derails the best of intentions. I see this as a major
problem in small and large businesses, large institutions, etc.
Once everyone knows what is expected and the unwritten rules also
reflect what is expected, then a united organization can do wonderful
things that were impossible before.
Just my thoughts.
Date: Sun, Aug 18, 1996 7:04 PM EST
From: MALHOTRA@vms.cis.pitt.edu (Yogesh Malhotra)
Thanks for your response. You had inquired about my comments regarding
the new archetype: "People, Purpose, Process, & Data:
A Necessary Unity". Here are my thoughts, not necessarily
presented in the most organized manner, but as they occurred to
me while reading through your article. Further, these thoughts
are a reflection of my existing 'system of constructs' and are
based upon my construal of the various concepts that you have
talked about in your article. Feel free to reject any of these
thoughts as they do not map on your conceptualization.
First, Purpose, as discussed in your article seems to differ from
the traditional concept of Goal. As mentioned very rightly by
you, most businesses are fixated on the static interpretation
of the Purpose in terms of the Products [and also Processes].
However, considering a dynamically and nonlinearly changing environment,
it is difficult to pin down a specific goal or purpose. Hence,
we hear a lot of talk of Learning Organizations and the need for
a 'shared Vision'. Your interpretation of Purpose seems to relate
to this notion of Vision which, as you have pointed out, must
relate to the [extant or potential] customers.
Second, People should employ Data to determine if the Purpose
is still appropriate. Let me thing through this!! One, we have
argued that the business has a long-term Vision (Purpose) in terms
of creation and sustenance of customers. Two, we realize that
Data doesn't have any intrinsic information value, it is only
through their individual interpretations ('constructions') that
People assign meaning to Data. Third, Data may be suggestive about
the past, but not so about the future. This relates to the ongoing
debate about the 'death of Strategic Planning.' Also, it might
be difficult to understand what is "real" Data. As long
as Data is based on some aspect of Measurement, we would always
be bound by the limitations of our Measures. Furthermore, most
businesses are laying greater thrust upon Vision, Creativity,
Insights, etc., etc. in competing in the hyperturbulent environment.
Data, like history, is good for learning from the past, however,
it may not necessarily help in projecting the future. Furthermore,
consideration of historical Data for projecting the future may
be responsible for the 'Success Trap' due to the 'Theory of Business'
being out of alignment with dynamically changing Reality (see
Drucker, Nadler). I think you are saying the same thing when contrasting
'Purpose' and "On Purpose".
A discontinuously changing future demands discontinuous strategies.
Companies cannot compete by incremental improvements in any one
aspect (such as cost or quality). They would need to focus on
the complementarities (Porter) of business to devise discontinous
strategies and anticipate the future. In that sense, the 'complementarity'
of People, Purpose, Process & Data is certainly the touchstone
for future competitive [or should I say co-operative (Moore)]
survival. This is the emerging future of competition which will
be less and less related to data and would need a greater emphasis
on the dialectical processes of knowledge creation.
Date: Sun, Aug 18, 1996 8:37 PM EST
From: email@example.com (jack hirschfeld)
Gene, I checked out your PPPD piece and have a few comments:
In general, I like this piece of work, which states some important
ideas about purpose in a clear and easily understood manner. On
balance I think it was worth a bit of sleeplessness. There are
a few place where I think there could be some improvement from
my perspective, and there are one or two things that are worth
further discussion, in my opinion.
Regarding your preamble-- I disagree with your remarks about "business".
What you say holds true enough for a certain group of corporate
managers, but I have found that many managers don't know very
much about the business of their companies. The stuff about fads
is certainly not true for most entrepreneurs, who are very wary
of business "gurus".
In my opinion, the phenomenon you have pointed to arises from
a different habit of business people, namely, that they are always
seeking to increase yield. Different people may be looking for
different yields, but that is the desired outcome whether they
are looking to reduce head count, improve performance, reduce
cycle time, cut expenses, increase learning, "manage knowledge",
capture market share, retain customers, or understand system dynamics.
I like the diagram a lot, but I fear the label "people"
may be too generic.
As for your discussion of "data", I find myself disagreeing
with your description of it. I think I understand your point of
view regarding facts, but I do not share your opinion that opinions
are not facts. People's assumptions, their analyses and their
beliefs may, to my thinking, all be forms of data, depending on
the context. We used to have a sign up in our office which said,
"Without data, it's just another opinion.*" The asterisk
took you to some fine print at the bottom of the poster which
said, "Unless of course you're important enough for your
opinion to be data."
Finally, the use of P words makes for easy commitment to memory,
but generates some awkward alliterative effects in the paragraph
that begins "People should employ process..."
Date: Sun, Aug 18, 1996 11:22 PM EST
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Mike Bolan)
I read your purpose etc. material with interest.
To provide feedback I must disclose a different view of organization.
The following ideas are as things seem to me currently....
Business people usually try to devise purposes such as the ones
that you identified. They are projecting their ideas and wishes
onto the business.
As far as I can establish, no organization can survive for long
unless the organizations environment co-operates in some way (derived
from Beer's Viable Systems work)
Any organization, including schools of fish and swarms of bees,
exist in some kind of relationship with their environment i.e.
they strike an inter-dependent balance with their environment.
The balance struck always involves an exchange of various things
with their environment. In the case of bees, their environment
provides flowers which the bees use as a source of food. In so
doing, the bees pollinate the flowers etc...
In the case of a business, the organization needs certain things
from the environment, authority to operate, money, staff, premises
and so on. The organization must provide certain things back to
the environment in exchange....if it fails to do this then it
will not be tolerated for too long (maybe decades, maybe a lot
I don't think that customer perceived value is always the key
determinant (it often is in competitive situations) but monopolies
for example can often survive for many years without delivering
useful value. What would happen in the US if the IRS depended
on voluntary contributions do you think? Try stake holder perceived
value using Ackoff's stakeholder exchange ideas (Creating the
Corporate Future p31) and I think you'll be closer.
I also worry about business "creating" customers. This
doesn't ring true to me. People develop needs and wants, sometimes
centered around marketing materials or products offered, and often
not. Customers may flock to a business but I can't see how the
business 'creates' the customers. (try the attached Action Logic
By looking at the exchanges that organizations must achieve to
survive (I call them critical exchanges) we can see that whatever
purpose statement is developed, it must allow focus on achievement
of those critical exchanges.
Therefore the purpose of an organization is to deliver its outputs
to a community in some competitive way (no more effective and
available way of achieving the same result)
Built to Last (Porras) appears to support such a view.
>The establishment of Purpose must be based on "real"
Data, not the Data
>we select or the assumptions, conclusions, and beliefs we
form from the Data.
>We need to focus on the "real" Data.
We could talk a long time about what is "real" and I
suspect we'd be forced to conclude that our perceptions were the
only things that were "real".
I don't know that it is useful to think that everything is data.
Try the diagrams in Bill Scherkenbach's book "Deming's Road
to Continual Improvement" 1991 SPC Press pp 190 - 205 or
so which graphically describes Demings idea of a "theory
When we lump everything together into one undifferentiated whole
and call it all data, we lose the distinctions. What is the purpose
of dropping the distinctions?
I agree about how purpose drives process and so on. Overall, I
think the approach is useful and should be tested with inputs
from viable organizations to see where any weaknesses exist.
And this is the diagram Mike sent along with his comments:
Best of luck
Date: Mon, Aug 19, 1996 12:11 AM EST
From: email@example.com (Mike Bolan)
Here's a little more feedback on Purpose et al
According to Ackoff, a useful systems paradigm is (more or less):
1) Identify system of interest (SOI)
2) Identify the system(s) that contain the SOI
3) Show how the roles and functions of the SOI contribute to the
containing systems purpose
This means that to develop a purpose statement we must iterate
between 1) and 2) and that we must understand the next higher
level of recursion in order to make sense of any SOI.
What is the next higher level of recursion for a business/organization.
I have it that it is the community (or a community if it is confined
in some way).
Useful purpose statements must therefore deal with the containing
systems needs - the next level of recursion.
This same issue applies to data. Whether we represent it as data,
information, knowledge or whatever, depends upon the level of
recursion that we're working with. One man's data is another man's
information and so on.
What do you think?
Date: Mon, Aug 19, 1996 1:06 AM EST
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Raed Muhammad Abdulla Shams)
Reading Linda's comment just reminds me of the Japanese wisdom
that says: "Tell me and I'll forget. Show me and I may remember.
Involve me and I'll understand".
Date: Mon, Aug 19, 1996 7:23 AM EST
From: email@example.com (Brian G. Kelley)
I think the article is right on target about the problems associated
with management thinking. I do have a few points that I think
are important. Rather than an apparently neverending sequence,
I see it as a natural evolution and refinement as we incorporate
mofe and more of your four foundational components into those
models. I think that each of those new theories reflects an additional
facet of the complexity involved in the complex of people, purpose,
process and data you identify in your article.
An example would be THeory X and THeory Y Management, THeory X
management (purpose/boss) developed as the shortest route to accomplishing
a purpose through people, and worked well as long as the relationship
with the people wasn't taken into consideration. When you take
the relationship with the employees into consideration, Theory
Y (employee/purpose) might become the theory of choice. THen,
after encountering the shortcomings of Theory Y, and the inherent
shortcomings of Theory X, a new model arose, Situational Leadership,
(Theory Z?) to address the shortcomings of both. Situational Leadership
went beyond the people/purpose relationship and is based on the
purpose/people(boss+ees)/process vertex of the complex.
I think that each new model of management might be explained in
terms of its focus on one of the multiple vertices in the model.
You are right about the material may require two or three or even
Which brings me to my next point. The complexity of the system,
based on the number of relationships within the system. If you
have only one factor in the system you only have one factor to
explore. When you add the second factor, you don't just have two
factors, you now have three items, the first factor a, the second
factor b, and the relationship between those factors a/b. Adding
a third factor creates creates a complex of seven items: the original
three factors, and the four relationships between those three
factors***. The fourth factor creates a complex of 15 items, and
so on. This is the level of your basic model: four factors,people,
purpose, process, and data, and the eleven relationships between
the factors. The actual formula is 2 raised to the Nth power,
where N=the number of factors, minus one.
This is where the real complexity begins to develop. If we look
at the people portion, we could further subdivide a corporation
into all the stakeholders: the stockholders, the board, the executive
committee, the management team, the supervisors, the employees,
the suppliers, the customers, and society at large. By just expanding
one of the original factors into subsets we now have the other
three factors, purpose, process, and data, with the nine identified
subsets, we create a complex of 2 raised to the 12th power minus
1 (4095) items. That occurs without considering the multiple processes,
purposes, or data, that might be added to the mix.
***This is the nub of the problem and inherently suggests an approach
for your future expansions. According to George Miller, we can
only process approximately seven items at a time. If that is true,
then if my hypothesis is correct, we can only present three factors
at a time with any hope of other people understanding what we
are talking about. One approach that Miller suggests is to chunk
the information. Chunking is organizing information into aggregates
of information that are processed as units. That is one of the
reasons that I chose to use THeory X (one chunk or factor) and
Theory Y (another chunk or factor) as examples. The combination
of THeory X and Theory Y when added to process (the third chunk
or factor), almost automatically leads to the model of situational
leadership with its four quadrants.
If I go back to the people subsets, I could group them in a number
- Inside the company and outside the company,
- management, labor, and the public,
- company, suppliers, consumers
Each subset that I pick has basic assumptions connected with
it and if I understand your article, those assumptions would define
(for me), the purpose of the company, the data I consider important
and examine, the processes I use to accomplish the purposes of
By suggesting that people engage in a process of examining multiple
subsets of each of the four factors, you will help them create
a multi-faceted perspective of the company or organization, which
will be more useful in determining any actions to be taken.
After I read it last night, I wanted to sleep on it, and give
you your feedback without studying it again. After I examine it
again I will probably give you some more feedback, but this time
in more measured form.
Thanks for writing it and giving me a chance to ramble, it is
a great way to start a day.
Date: Mon, Aug 19, 1996 9:04 AM EST
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Barry A. Clemson)
I have to react to your characterization of data vs information
One person's data is merely noise to another person, and vice
versa. As Jack Herschfield points out, the only real data we have
is our individual perceptions... even with something as "objective"
as length or counting, all we really have is a set of conventions
and a perception of those conventions being properly or improperly
applied to, for example, count the number of beans (is this a
bean or a pebble?) or measure the lenght of the board.
As soon as we start to deal with organizations, the situation
becomes enormously complicated precisely because everybody THINKS
they are in more agreement on the conventions and perceptions
than they really are. Paradoxically, there are also areas wherer
there is more agreement than anyone realizes.
Center for Organizational Systems Engineering
Date: Sun, Aug 25, 1996 8:24 AM EST
From: email@example.com (frank billot)
A few words about your PPPD work.
The Data part of it has already brought much commentaries,
I will try to bring my (small) contribution to your beautiful
As we all know, data are not facts, facts are not information,
information is not knowledge... In my opinion, there is no real
data, even on the perception level. Out there, it seems that we
are just having electromagnetic phenomenas. From those we pick
only a part, through our sense limitations (for example, we can
only hear and see a limited set of frequencies), and even through
our cultural and personnal filters.
Even raw perception is not a certainty. For example, about
20% of the visual information we receive in the brain comes from
the eye, the rest seemingly comes from other parts of the brain.
On top of that, most of the data treated by our organism does
not reach our consciousness.
We are constructing our reality. From the context, we use one
frame of reference or another to attribute a meaning to elements
of the "background", making them appear as separate,
and becoming the "foreground". As state it the Gestaltists,
people tend to perceive the simplest form consistent with the
In other words, we have to cut the world into separate elements,
it does not appear to us as a continual flow of signs. Hence,
we developp ourselves through internalization of models, that
prevent us from having to deal with direct experience.
I propose to consider ourselves and the world as a system having
three parts : -
- the world -
- our representation of the world -
- ourselves (to simplify, because we may wonder of what is
left if we throw our representations, but it would be too long
We actually only deal with the world through our representations,
that is why it matters so much to expand our mindsets.
In this regard, "noise" in the sense of incomprehensible
data (or out of purpose), can become a source of future understanding.
A metaphor of this, is the story of a women that realizes after
years, that her husband did spend his hours of outwork with another
woman; then all the forgotten clues become significant, and help
redraw the behaviour of the husband.
When noise is transformed into information, that is relevant
data, disorder is reduced and new meanings can be found.Reaching
negative entropy is not through eliminating noise, rather through
finding a pathway to integrate them into a larger picture. The
idea behind this is to provide more choices, more "power".
Cherishing noises from the viewpoint "If I know that I don't
know, I have a chance to let it be known". This set of mind
helps encountering change and complexity, inducing curiosity and
enthousiasm for the unknown or incomprehensible, rather than frustration
That being said, I agree with your idea that purpose is fundamental
I would expand it to any human activity, under the word "meaning".
The way we build meanings from a world of insignificant signs
(does anyone think that they do have a meaning in themselves,
separately from the observer ?) can be enlightened by the systems
to be continued... if you feel like, because these thoughts
are just gathered from here and there; Associates, forgive by
advance the "affirmativeness" of my talks, there are
mostly due to my lack of ease in english
theWay of Systems
Copyright © 2004 Gene Bellinger