Two Quotes of the Day – take your pick!

I had heard this before, but came across it again today and liked it anew.  It’s from Paul Batalden, a professor at Dartmouth Medical School in New Hampshire:

“Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”

It’s worth taking a moment to ponder that, for whatever kind of ‘system’ you may encounter in daily life!  The corollary, I guess, is that you can only change the overall results by changing something in the system that produced them.

Now, I know from long experience that as soon as you refer to a quotation, it turns out not actually to be from the person to whom it’s normally attributed.  There are lots of examples of this in the quotes I’ve posted here, and more in the collection on my personal site.   If Albert Einstein, for example, had been busy saying all the insightful things he is supposed to have said, he wouldn’t have had time to develop Special Relativity into the more all-encompassing General Relativity.

 But in this case, there is a nice article by Paul Batalden explaining the origins of the quote.  It came, via a chain of references, from Arthur Jones, an employee of Proctor & Gamble, who originally said:

“All organisations are perfectly designed to get the results they get!”

For many people, an organisation is the type of system where this is most poignant, but it applies to other things as well.

Batalden took the concept and broadened it from the special case of an organisation to the more widely-applicable one of a ‘system’ and so it became more useful as an idea…  much like General Relativity!

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I’ve never heard those versions of the quotes but they’re certainly much less cryptic than “the purpose of a system is what it does” which took me a long time to decode.

Do you know if the version I heard is related to yours?

    Yes, I think I’ve heard that before too, and also found it more opaque! Might be worthy of a little research…

    I admit I don’t understand the profound insight trying to be communicated.

    The “purpose” version seems like a warning not to speculate on the intent of the designers, but to focus solely on the consequences of the system.

    The “perfectly designed” seems like an even stronger statement of intentionality. Since perfect organizations are clearly an oxymoron, I guess this statement is also trying to redefine “design” without the normal connotation of purposefulness. But in that case, doesn’t the quote ignore stochasticity in systems?

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