The failure of intentions

I’m interested in people’s intentions within organisations, in the sense that I have often found them to be irrelevant to what the orgs do. It is easy for us to be convinced that our intentions count for a lot, yet we see orgs (the World Bank for example) that neither do what they claim to do nor fulfil the intentions of many of those in the org.

So does the World Bank fulfil the intentions of anyone? Are those at the top getting their way?

Is it partially in the failure of information flows (both upward and downward, and in and out) that intentions are lost in orgs?

But we cannot just look at ‘lack of transparency’ but imbalance of power. Information and power are not the same thing, and it could be that better information flow without redistribution of power would not solve the failure of intentions.

It could also be, of course, that intentions, while good, are misplaced. The question of why this might occur is interesting – and may be related to the participants in an organisation not being the same as those affected by the organisation.


  1. d

    I think information asymmetries, where multiple parties might be acting discordantly or leveraging information differences against each other, are an interesting thing to analyse.

    However I also wonder how insightful it might be to draw a distinction between the expression of judgement (and an action) by someone in the role of an individual vs that person in the role within some organisation. So someone who is dependent on salary (or other kind of payment_ in order to satisfy (perceived) necessities of every day life, experiences a kind of coercion that acts as a constraint on the ability for them to express judgement in certain situations.

    I think another potentially significant aspect relates to the risk and cogntive effort in confronting both formalisms that arise (intentionally or through inertia/convention) in an organisation. An example might be an employee in a library, for whom its easier to follow procedure rather than take a particular case on its own merits – denying extentension of a book loan, even though no one else wants the book.

    Maybe tangental, but in there are some results from maths (and economics) that seem to suggest at the impossibility of collective expression of preferences. Eg: Arrows Imposibility Theorem.

  2. preorg

    Are you saying that their salaried and hierarchically embedded role prevents them from exercising judgement (as in they withdraw from putting mental effort into it) or that it skews their judgement? Or both?

    1. d

      Not sure if I’m interpretting you correctly but lets see. In many contexts I see money as a form of coercion, since we have a (coerced) dependendence on it (ownership of capital goods are in the hands of a concentrated few). So if you are offering to pay me for something, you are able to exert some influence over my behaviour, since if I were to be impervious to that influence, it might effect your willingness to engage in a commercial interaction with me, and I ‘lose’ out.

      I’m not talking about the psychology of how we might make ourselves believe things that are convenient for our setting – like a (aspiring) boss thinking people (ie workers) are ultimately lazy, something which is a convenient belief to hold by a boss since laziness in this context is equivilant to not doing what is in his (perceived) interest.

      I think these kinds of things create ‘costs’ associated with doing things like “exercising judgement”, and that to understand the emergent behaviour in the interaction of people in an organisation, appreciating the role such costs play is probably helpful.

      1. preorg

        But if you start talking about abstract ‘costs’ you sound like an economist. It seems to me there is no such thing as an abstract cost, only differing concrete costs. I think that knowing how the specific cost operates psychologically does matter because it may affect your ability to change how it is operating.


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