This World Is A Great Wiggly Affair
“This world is a great wiggly affair. Clouds are wiggly, waters are wiggly, plants are wiggly, mountains are wiggly, people are wiggly. But people are always trying to straighten things out.
Look, you see we live in a rectangular box, all the time; look at the bookshelves, see, everything’s straightened out. So wherever you look around nature and you find things often straightened out you know people have been around. They’re always trying to put things in boxes. Those boxes are classifiers, pigeonholes. Words are labels on boxes.
But the real world is wiggly, wiggly, wiggly.
Now when you have a wiggly system like a cloud, how much wiggle is a wiggle? Well, you have to draw the line somewhere. And so people come to sorts of agreements about, uh, how much of a wiggle is a wiggle; that is to say a thing. One wiggle, you can always reduce any one wiggle into sub-wiggles. Or see it as a subordinate wiggle in a bigger wiggle. But there’s no real fixed rule about it.”
This quote has sat with me for some time. At first I enjoyed it because of the fun rantiness of it. One long deep thought about the world around us, which I often have, but never share.
We are compelled to try and order everything in our life. Nature is opposing this at all times: always changing, moving forward… being wiggly.
A large part of my early career was in the accounting and home building space while going through college. Both of these industries are heavily reliant on well thought-out processes to squeeze as many dollars as possible. I LOVED it. Nothing felt more amazing then getting your numbers to align, or for zero change-orders to come in. But there was something inherently wrong with the way I was working on a day to day basis. My thinking became automated.
Having a set process of what you do everyday is lovely, but it typically doesn’t change to take in the nuances that day brings. The process typically doesn’t try to learn how it can serve the client better. It offers the user an escape to zone out, but while the user is zoned out the world has wiggled out of sync with the purpose of the process.
And that, to me, is how businesses are lost.
We can overcome this, not by less process but by building guiding frameworks that are broad enough to give us a path forward without detailing everything out. The framework helps point out what to watch for. You build something, check it against your framework, and move on.
Here’s how Jeff Bezos of Amazon puts it in his annual shareholders letter, posted April 12, 2017, when asked, “Jeff, what does Day 2 look like?”
As companies get larger and more complex, there’s a tendency to manage to proxies. This comes in many shapes and sizes, and it’s dangerous, subtle, and very Day 2.
A common example is process as proxy. Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing. This can happen very easily in large organizations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right. Gulp. It’s not that rare to hear a junior leader defend a bad outcome with something like, “Well, we followed the process.” A more experienced leader will use it as an opportunity to investigate and improve the process. The process is not the thing. It’s always worth asking, do we own the process or does the process own us?
What excites me is that some of the top companies in the world are letting go of control…and getting wiggly:
- Amazon is taking over the world, not by setting the company in concrete, but by flowing with the tides.
- Toyota dominated the car industry by marrying the traditional assembly line with the freedom of their workers to make changes how they saw fit.
- Tesla has built some of the best cars in the world using “Flexible Automation”.
This is the perfect place to play Will Smith — Get Jiggy With It, but I have to play the song that introduced me to original quote…
STRFKR — Florida
Originally published at my old blog on May 20, 2014.