Enterprise and organisation as ends and means

Ends and means are not the same: everyone knows it’s not a good idea to mix them up.

The same is true of ‘enterprise’ and ‘organisation’. The enterprise represents the ends of what we do; the organisation is part of the means. It’s really important not to mix them up.

[Apologies, but this is another one where the words we use are really important: if we don’t have the right words, we can’t describe the concept we need. I’ll use English here, where those two words ‘enterprise’ and ‘organisation’ can draw these distinctions: but in other languages we may have to use other words entirely to convey those same meanings. Let me know what you’d use in your language, perhaps? – thanks.]

The enterprise is the ‘why’ of what we do; the organisation is part of the ‘how’. Don’t mix them up!

The enterprise is about emotion, ‘the animal spirits of the entrepreneur’; often the whole point of the organisation is that it doesn’t express emotion. Don’t mix them up!

The enterprise is inherently about something uncertain; the organisation is all about making things certain. Don’t mix them up!

If we mix them up, we confuse ends with means; the ‘how’ becomes its own ‘why’, the pre-packaged ‘solution’ itself becomes the supposed requirement. Not a good idea…

If we mix them up, we apply emotion to things about which we need to be dispassionate – oh the joys of office-politics… – and fail to use emotion and drive to get things moving again in the direction that we need.

If we mix them up, we confuse ourselves about what is certain, and what is not; we confuse activity with direction; we confuse mere repetition with purpose.

If we mix them up, we end up with an organisation that has no enterprise, whose only real belief is a narcissistic obsession with itself, vapid, emotionless, devoid of meaning, purpose or reason. “An empty thunder, signifying nothing”: how well does that fit your own organisation right now?

If you want your organisation to have enterprise – an end or purpose that means something to everyone in the organisation – then you’ll realise just how important it is to maintain a clear distinction between ‘enterprise’ and ‘organisation’.

The organisation is not the enterprise; the enterprise is not the organisation.

They’re not the same: don’t mix them up!

[Update 05dec11: In a comment below, Stuart Boardman reminds me (thanks Stuart!) that some people here may not be familiar with the way I use the word ‘enterprise’. There are several standard dictionary-meanings, but the one that’s most useful here is from the early days of economics: ‘the animal spirits of the entrepreneur’ – the sense that aligns with the usual meaning of ‘to be enterprising’.

For more details, perhaps take a look at the brief slidedeck ‘What is an enterprise‘, up on Slideshare.

The content of slide 5 from this slidedeck there may also be useful for this:

Hope this helps, anyway.]

2 Comments on “Enterprise and organisation as ends and means

  1. Tom. An excellent, concise post. My only reservation is that the reader probably already needs to be aware of (or happen to share) your definition of “enterprise”. For me this is not an issue but some people might need it explained, which of course you have done more than once elsewhere. A pointer perhaps?

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