Sociocracy – If Not the Word “Aim”, then What?

150103 aimDuring the last several years I’ve lost count of the number of hours I’ve spent privy to conversations discussing the misleading nature of the word “Aim” and seeking to find a suitable alternative that describes more accurately what we mean by the word… erm… “Aim”… in sociocracy!

Tonight the following question crossed my screen and it prompted this brief post…

I’ve been asked this question so many times, and never been able to give a clear answer. Does anyone know why in sociocracy we use the term “Aims” instead of “Objectives”?

My answer as follows:

Both “yes” and “no”!

The thing is, the word “Aim” in itself is misleading!

What we’re really taking about when using the word “Aim” is “Products” / “Services” / “Raw Materials” / “Experiences” / “Transformations”. (I’m ever grateful to my friend Nathaniel Whitestone for this definition)

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As well as the fact that an “Aim” can be both physical or non-physical, it’s also the case that “Aims” are both inwards looking (to the organisation itself) and outwards looking (to the customer, member, resident etc).

So, whereas an “Aim” in an organisation may be “administration” or “management” or “building maintenance”, an “Aim” of an organisation may be a “software application”, or a “shared laundry”, or a “legal advice walk-in center”.

At the highest level the organisation itself is an “Aim”!  Equally, every Circle (department / domain), by nature of its existence has at its centre a unique “Aim” or “Aims”.

When I lead a workshop, the workshop is an “Aim” that I deliver to my “customers”. So too are the Hand-outs, the follow-up emails, the Flip Chart Photographs, etc.

It’s vital that Circles know what their “Aim/s” are. One, because an aimless circle is impossible to imagine – although it’s not so difficult to imagine groups of people who haven’t clarified the aim they’re gathered around! – and two, because all “policy proposals” relate to a Circles “Aim/s” and are developed when a Circle runs into an issue or challenge that requires an innovative strategy and that until now they’ve not established agreement around, regarding how to approach it.

In consent decision making, we raise “Objections” to policy or policy proposals in light of discovering a reason why continuing as proposed may harm the “Aim” of the circle, the shared “Aims” of the organisation, or someones ability to contribute to that “Aim”.

So you see, the word “Objective” is not entirely accurate either, and the word “Aim” is completely misleading because it commonly implies “target” or “the point we’re heading for”!

We can say “Purpose”, yet “purpose” can also be interpreted to imply a wider scope that includes Vision and Mission as well.

So, what to do?

My all-time favourite term until now is “Unique Value Provision” (UVProvision).

 It’s a bit of a mouthful… none the less, I’ll shortly be adding it to my literature. I like “UVProvision” because in Business Development we refer to the “Unique Value Proposition” or UVP and among this audience at least, people immediately get what I’m talking about.

The term “Unique Value Provision” also points to the fact that organisations distribute leadership and decision making authority across semi-autonomous teams, defined on the basis of the different “Aims” / “UVProvisions” that they serve and maintain.

I think that the word “Deliverable” also turns the light on for many people, only it’s a less favorable term within communities and many social transformation groups because of it’s easy association with sales and commercial services.

Perhaps you have some suggestions that you consider noteworthy. If so, please use the contact form if you’re be willing to share your inspiration. For sure, an alternative to the word “Aim” is long overdue!

11 Comments

  1. Thanks for the article James.
    It makes a lot of things clearer. Well, nothing better that what you proposed comes to my mind yet, and if it will, I will share.
    Have a nice day:)

    • James

      6th January 2015 at 4:45 am

      Thanks for the feedback Vahagn – “good enough for now”, “safe enough to try” as my dear Friend Diana Leafe Christian taught me to put it!

  2. Thanks James. What I take from this article is not get caught up in the dictionary or funding world definition of the word aim, but to make sure we all agree on “our” definition of the term aim form a sociocratic perspective (i.e. Nathaniel Whitestone’s definition or services, products, raw materials, experiences or transformations). That works very well for me.

    • James

      6th January 2015 at 5:32 am

      Exactly Rakesh. I think that this principle of putting energy into establishing the meaning that another other intends to convey, rather than energy into arguing for the supremacy of some meaning I ascribe to a particular word, is in general a far more effective approach to communication. For me, the significance of this cannot be overstated and I can only wonder at the implications for humanity if a large proportion of our communications were conducted in such an inquiring way!

  3. Nenad Maljkovic

    5th January 2015 at 9:32 am

    “Deliverable” works for me in this context the way it is used in project management: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deliverable

    “Unique Value Provision” is nice, but it may even more remind to sales and commercial services ( as in USP – Unique Selling Proposition or UVP – Unique Value Proposition).

    • James

      6th January 2015 at 5:46 am

      Thanks for your feedback Nenad.

      This Wikipedia definition of “Deliverable”:

      >”a tangible or intangible object produced as a result of the project that is intended to be delivered to a customer”

      is absolutely to the point.

      Thank you for sharing the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deliverable

      Adding a clarification that a deliverable may be both “inward” and “outward” looking, sufficiently satisfies my desire for clarity.

      On UVProvision, yes I see your point. I also resonate with Ruth’s observation in the next comment where she speaks to the fact that this term:

      >”makes clear that the circle is there to create some value to the system and is therefore a valuable part of the system”

      I think that a challenge we face is that we’re dealing with concepts that until now lack adequate acknowledgement among a broad enough populous for them to have been integrated as a part of the consensus reality of our time.

      • Well, yes… On the other hand, language follows culture, not the other way around. As practitioners we need to develop our lingo and at the same time be careful not to load the language in a cult-like way, if you know what I mean :)

        • James

          7th January 2015 at 3:44 pm

          >On the other hand, language follows culture, not the other way around.

          Is what you’re suggesting that as cultures transforms, shifts and morphs, so new language (or at least agreed associations relating to certain terms) emerge? For example, how now for example we may relate to sociocracy as a “code” or an “operating system” – language that just a few years ago would have been meaningless in this context.

          People talk about sociocracy as a social “technology”. Again these terms have context in light of the culture.

          Also though, language can be used to “influence – engineer even – culture. For example Edward Bernays’ “torches of Freedom”! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torches_of_Freedom

          Or utilising Marshall Rosenberg’s Non Violent Communication, in order to deepen empathy for diversity and transform cultures of violence into more compassionate arenas. .. sometimes!!

          Skillful means is to develop capacity to utilise tools such as language in order to achieve the desired ends. Obviously the intention woven within the choice to apply the term, is what is crucial in determining integrity.

          Therefore I think that language can also be used to influence culture. Although perhaps it’s accurate to say, the associations that can then be applied metaphorically to aid new understanding, such as in this post where we look to “aim” or “deliverable”, have already been flavored with meaning in their first iteration.

          >be careful not to load the language in a cult-like way…

          I’m not sure I do understand what you mean by this comment.

          I’d value your clarification on this.

          The real life challenge with the word “aim” has been that few people have actually understood what is intended by it. As a trainer, I seek to use words to convey meaning that people are most likely to understand. Simply because then the additional energy required in polishing that understanding is less than that which may be required when a term is completely ambiguous.

          I run into problems though because I’m teaching in different cultural settings at different times. And because the degree of willingness by others to step out of their identification with culturally presumed associations, varies!

          I think that in sharing a methodology like sociocracy, whatever the language we use, most important is ensuring that others understand the intended meaning… from there they can define this any way they like, and can bring it into harmony with the culturally accepted norms. A universally agreeable glossary of terms is probably going to be valuable in this context, but certainly alone, falls far short of guaranteeing the transmission of the wisdom that is intended to be conveyed.

          Interestingly the literal meaning of the word “cult” is derived from the Latin “cultus”, meaning “care” or “adoration”.

          The word “culture” shares the same route… but maybe you already saw this. My lights have only just come on 😉

          This comment from the New World Encyclopedia,

          >>”Thus, every human being belongs to a “cult” in its most general sense, because everyone belongs to a culture which is conveyed by the language they speak and the habits they have formed.

          Do cultures just happen? Are they engineered? Which came first… ? These are interesting questions!

          Thanks for the stimulus to consider them :)

          • Nenad Maljkovic

            9th January 2015 at 8:18 pm

            Interesting… :)

            What I had in mind was that language is developed by speakers, not by some authority deciding what’s the right word to be used. And “special lanugage” is one of characteristics of cults (according to M. Scott Peck) and that’s the same to a degree for any profession.

            And maybe my comments are too general and missing the point… :)

            Anyway, translating some terms used in sociocracy, or in permaculture, or in any book… from English to Croatian is another layer of the issue you are adressing by looking for the right words.

  4. Value proposition goes to the point, not as catchy as aim though!
    It also makes it clear that the circle is there to create some value to the system and therefore is a valuable part of the system.

    • James

      6th January 2015 at 5:52 am

      Thank you for your comment Ruth.

      Actually, it was during a conversation with you where you spoke to “Aim” as being the “Unique Value Proposition” that the penny dropped for me of the correlation. I simply then adjusted “Proposition” to “Provision” to bring it into the actuality of the moment.

      I like the fact that as a trainer I can use these terms “UVP” and “Deliverable” and that for those with a positive association to the term, it’s a fast track way to convey the meaning that is actually intended.

      I’m delighted that at least these terms bring more clarity than the word “Aim” – despite the absence of being so “catchy” or of single syllable!

      Thank you for the inspiration!

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