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Do Corporations Have “Goals”?

Does a corporation possess goals?  What is a goal?


From the Wikipedia definition of “goal”,

A goal or objective is a desired result a person or a system envisions, plans and commits to achieve—a personal or organizational desired end-point in some sort of assumed development…

The error in this definition is the inclusion of the idea that a non-conscious system could possess a goal.  This is an example of fallacy of reification I described a few days ago.  Systems, including companies, do not possess goals, people do.

In corporate settings various charters, such as project or program charters, describe sets of goals the activity is associated with.  It is frequent that participants in these activities then associate these goals with the activity itself, as if the activity was a conscious animal of some kind.  I believe the fallacy of reification is strongly associated with the phenomenon of failing to question these goals when real life data comes in conflict with them.

It is expedient to think that the activity “lives” in some say.  Each human can only hold so much information in their heads at any one time.  The human social capacity has known limits famously described by Robin Dunbar,


Perhaps it is easier to believe that the activity is a single person, perhaps a person who must be obeyed, than to continue to track all of the people who contributed to the identification of any one goal or another.  When reality conflicts with these goal, how many people bother to draw together the participants necessary to reexamine these goals?  What do people do with conflicting goals of very long-lived activities, perhaps with such goals as those written into a corporate charter by people who might even be long dead?

Reification can serve as a convenient mental proxy for the myriad other players involved in the initial identification of goals and other elements of human value in complex collaborative situations.  It is easy to forget that reification is an energy saving convenience.  The epistemological worldview that results from reification however does not reflect metaphysical reality.  Written goals are associated with people, fallible people who should never lose sight of objective reality.  If a goal conflicts with reality, one must muster the energy to seek the collaborators necessary to adjust the conflicted goals.


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