Direction and value

Targets, goals, purpose. They are all ways of describing the direction we are heading. Does it matter which name we give them?

Well, yes, I think it does. Target sounds to me like something you do on the way to something else. It is not the overall purpose of your action. System thinkers like to talk about a system having a purpose. That is, what it exists to achieve. A target can never be a reason for existence.

Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, wrote about the unique humanness of having a purpose.

We have learnt, in our cultural setting, to classify behavior into ‘means’ and ‘ends’ and if we go on defining ends as separate from means and apply the social sciences as crudely instrumental means, using the recipes of science to manipulate people, we shall arrive at a totalitarian rather than a democratic system of life.

The solution she offers is that we look for the

direction and values

implicit in the means, rather than looking ahead to a blueprinted goal and thinking of this goal as justifying of nor justifying manipulative means (from Bateson, 2000).

I think about this every time we talk about the mess of our economy. Someone there certainly did focus on an optimistic, hoped-for goal and rather forget about the direction and value in each action to get there. Direction and value would not allow real people to suffer in the execution of an economic theory.

Direction and value mean muddling in more or less the right direction rather than striding accurately the wrong way. There was a great paper called the Use and Abuse of the logical framework approach (Bakewell and Garbutt, 2005), which had a figure that totally resonated with me.

bakewell and garbutt feeling their way to the goal 2005I love this figure. It is entitled “feeling your way to the goal” and i think it renders so well the trickiness of getting lots of people to move in one direction – more or less. Concerted action, with all the actors free to do what they like. Not social engineering, making people head towards a goal they have no say about.

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One comment

  1. […] we think ‘Does this add Value? Does it take us towards the Direction we want to go?’ I blogged about this once before in a slightly different context (about the ethics of planning in social […]

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