Shared Purposes and Principles

Excerpted from Part Six of

Super-Smart Democracies: Dissolving Neoliberalism, Elitism and Managerialism’.

The purpose of a system is what it does. Stafford Beer

Purpose and principles constitute what Dee Hock calls the ‘genetic code’, the DNA, of a purposeful human system.1 It is against them that all decisions and acts will be judged. They bind the community together. Moreover, he insists that,

A compelling purpose, and powerful beliefs about conduct in pursuit of it, seemed to me infinitely more sensible and robust than mechanical plans, detailed objectives and predetermined outcomes.

An effective statement of purpose will identify and bind the community together. When properly done, it can usually be expressed in a single sentence.

With a shared purpose, members of the community will say,

If we could achieve that, my life would have meaning.

Dee Hock is equally emphatic on the importance of shared principles.

Once the purpose has been clearly stated, the next step is to define, with the same clarity, conviction and common understanding, the principles by which those involved will be guided in pursuit of that purpose.

Principles typically have high ethical and moral content, and developing them requires engaging the whole person, not just the intellect.

In Super-Smart Democracies, the Shared Purpose, the DNA, of them all will be to ‘co-create increasingly just, sustainable and super-smart communities, organisations, enterprises, municipalities, services and states.’

Within that over-arching Shared Purpose, however, each of the communities, organisations, enterprises, municipalities, services and states, will have to develop a set of shared purposes and principles that fit its own situation and challenges. Each will have the Super-Smart Democracies DNA, and each will use ensembles of participative, cybernetic and soft-systems processes in order to develop the set of shared purposes and principles that, as Dee Hock says, will ‘bind them together’ as a community.

1Dee Hock, Birth of the Chaordic Age, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, 1999.

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