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Institutions: what are they good for?

Institutions: what are they good for?

David Toole reflects on the purpose of institutions at Faith and Leadership blog:

David Toole: What are institutions for?

Institutions at their best are the definitive expression of what it means to be human, and their purpose is to generate creativity by organizing human efforts to a common end.

Posted at Faith and Leadership blog

Wendell Berry once asked an incisive question: “What are people for?” Berry posed this question to make the point that the shifts from country to city that were redefining the demographics of America (and of the world) were not an obvious advance in the human condition.

It is only a small step from Berry’s question to this one: “What are institutions for?”

We live almost entirely within institutions of one sort or another. We are, as Robert Greenleaf once said, “institution-bound.” Moreover, we are in the habit of making grand claims about our institutions — often about their failures, sometimes about their successes. But we rarely pause to ask ourselves about their purpose.

Peter Drucker once defined an institution as “an instrument for the organization of human efforts to a common end.”

. . .

The lesson is simple: human accomplishment depends upon the ways in which human beings organize themselves and their efforts toward a common end; conversely, human failure on any significant scale is often the result of poor or misdirected organization.


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You are right, Pepper Marts – institutions need to do self-examination as much as individuals do….

Pepper Marts

It seems to me that the major problem with institutions is the propensity to develop a bureaucracy whose chief sin is idolatry. Members of an institutional body are encouraged to idolize that body and put its welfare ahead of whatever the original purpose may have been. This assertion is equally descriptive of governments and their military services, of corporations, and of the Churches. The first victim of this institutional idolatry is truth; the second is beauty.

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