Mistakeholders

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"Stakeholders" is a 25-year-old piece of management-speak that has been adopted enthusiastically by some software professionals. Thus "Understanding Organizational Stakeholders for Design Success":

The term was introduced in a seminal book by R. Edward Freeman called Strategic Management (1984). The word stakeholder was used to stand in contrast to the neoclassical view of the firm as catering to stockholders. Freeman used the term stakeholder analysis to remind management that it was in the long-term interests of the company to pay attention to the interests of those who have an impact on or are impacted by the activities of the company. The present article uses the "stakeholder analysis" concept to extend the focus of user experience practitioners beyond the end user, to the organizational context of the [software] project.

This leads to a pun that (like most flashes of inspiration) is obvious in retrospect:

The people who have come to rely on features that are actually implementation errors are called 'mistakeholders'.

(The link attributes this to Chip Morningstar on friam, 2/5/2010, though I haven't been able to find it there.)

Generalizing back from software design to social and cultural change in general, it's worth noting that most of the people affected by most policy changes are in some sense mistakeholders.  This follows logically from the fact that most of the consequences of any policy are unanticipated adaptations and interactions.

Publishing opportunity of the day: there appear to be more than 18,000 books about stakeholders, but none so far about the (arguably much larger category of)  mistakeholders.  Open opportunities include  Mistakeholder strategy: the world of emergent profits, or Monetizing unintended consequences: How to win by targeting mistakeholders.



13 Comments

  1. Ryan Denzer-King said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 12:17 pm

    I may be the only reader who needs clarification, but I wanted to note that the word "mistakeholder" itself is more than two days old.

  2. peter said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 12:19 pm

    I don't know if labeling the word "stakeholders" as "management-speak" is meant to be derogatory. If so, it is worth noting that within software development the word has a precise, well-understood, and useful meaning. The word may be of recent usage within software development, but the concept behind it has long been around. As long ago as 1988, computer scientist Anthony Finkelstein (then at Imperial College, London) and his research collaborators were using formal models of dialog adopted from the philosophy of argumentation to support the creation of software specifications by multiple participants.

    And the profound notion underlying this idea – that statements may be understood as the outcomes of dialogs between some participants (so-called "game semantics" for logical languages) – is due separately to Charles Hamblin (1957), Paul Lorenzen (1960), and Jaakko Hintikka (1968).

  3. John Cowan said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 1:26 pm

    The Recency Illusion strikes!

    The OED3 defines stakeholder in this sense as "A person, company, etc., with a concern or (esp. financial) interest in ensuring the success of an organization, business, system, etc." and dates it to 1821. In the (London) Times this sentence appeared in the December 27 issue: "We have ourselves … the opinions of respectable men, with whom we have no … interest in common, beyond that which belongs to all good subjects of the same Government, and stakeholders in one system of liberty, property, laws, morals, and national prosperity." The older literal sense of someone who holds both sides of a bet goes back to 1708.

  4. Drew Ward said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 1:56 pm

    I took several courses in college dealing with international development efforts and many of the writings dated to the 1950's and 60's and used the term stakeholders. Perhaps it was later adapted for widespread usage in the business community, but at least in the realm of persons having a stake in a given outcome, it's been in active use (even in US gov't documents) since a time well predating the 1980's.

  5. uberVU - social comments said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 2:30 pm

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by PhilosophyFeeds: Language Log: Mistakeholders http://goo.gl/fb/yUUi

  6. Rubrick said,

    February 7, 2010 @ 7:09 pm

    myl: "This follows logically from the fact that most of the consequences of any policy are unanticipated adaptations and interactions."

    Surely calling this a "fact" without citing evidence is a bit disingenuous. I suspect the assertion is generally true, but would be a pretty tricky thing to measure (starting with effectively defining "any", "policy", "unanticipated", "adaptation", and "interaction").

  7. Terry Collmann said,

    February 8, 2010 @ 9:17 am

    Rubrick: the Law of Unintended Consequences is as universal (if, sadly, not as widely recognised) as Murphy's Law.

  8. peters said,

    February 8, 2010 @ 3:03 pm

    In law school, before the 1984 publication date of Freeman's book, we were taught that a stakeholder is one stuck holding a stake–a bank with a checking account, say, or an insurance company with the proceeds of a life insurance policy–that is claimed by several others. The stakeholder doesn't claim to own the stake, but wants not to be sued for giving it to the wrong person. A federal procedural rule allows the stakeholder to file a court action naming all of the claimants as defendants and let them fight among themselves.

  9. Ken Grabach said,

    February 10, 2010 @ 12:07 pm

    Huh. I was not aware 'stakeholder' was a phrase coined in a management book of the 1980s. It always struck me as a metaphor from mining and prospecting, that holders of mine claims (or stakes) might have been called stakeholders. It never invoked stock holders to me.

    OED quotes references as early as 1708, showing more than one context, including a stake in a wager, or in an auction. And in the business and technology context, there are references earlier than 1984.

  10. Ken Grabach said,

    February 10, 2010 @ 12:08 pm

    Sorry, I did not notice that John Cowan had already made note of this.

  11. Tony D said,

    February 10, 2010 @ 4:29 pm

    The mid-80s introduction of "stakeholder" as an alternative to "stockholder" strikes me as one that doesn't deserve to be disparaged as management-speak, or diluted by extending it into software projects and further into mistakeholder. Costco is an example of a company that makes the stakeholder distinction (take a look a this November 2003 article from Fortune, for example). The distinction is a legitimate management reaction to the the pressures Wall Street puts on widely-traded public companies,

  12. test said,

    February 15, 2010 @ 6:55 am

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  13. Ten Knowledge Areas Went Out to Dine…One Got Ignored and Then There Were Nine | The Papercut Project Manager said,

    October 27, 2011 @ 10:09 am

    […] Mistakeholders (languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu) […]

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