Thoughts on Process

A thought experiment on the importance of process in organizations and creative endeavors.

Exhibit A: Process as a mechanical watch mechanism

Predictable, rigid, consistent, and unfortunately dependable. Achieving near perfect efficiency with every second — power in … time out. Counting, until it ultimately succumbs to time itself or elements of this world it cannot withstand. One screw breaks loose, the whole watch fails.

The mechanics of the watch are invariably its sole function — worn on its face. It only lives to count and to die.

Exhibit B: Process as a gas-powered vehicle engine

Unpredictable, inconsistent, ever-changing, and surprisingly dependable. Conceptually flawed and horribly inefficient. Leaking poison and accepting of anything that burns as fuel. Fuel in … power out. Fighting to meet the expectations set by its plastic suit, and human operator.

The gas powered engine allows for the wheel to exist, enabling the human operator to move freely through our world at increasing speeds. It lives to serve a higher function.

The proper analogy for human processes

It’s difficult to articulate the importance of process and its role in creativity. Above, we explore the watch and the car. Both effective and dauntingly intricate systems. But one, the car, more apt at describing human systems. It reveals processes, imperfect and inefficient, as a means to an end — not the end itself. But it also underlines the impact of having some process — you can’t drive a car without an engine. You can’t be creative without a process.

In comparing the two processes, you reveal that a watch mechanism could not power a car, it’s too rigid. It does not tolerate failure. A watch incapable of telling time is broken — an engine can run sub-optimally and still find purpose.

The modular engine ebbs as better, cheaper parts trickle into circulation. The watch and its gears, stay constant, and are slow to accommodate for change.

Changing our view of process

For any human to accept the importance of process, and overcome its apparent heft, they must first recognize their shortcomings without it.

Exhibit C: Process as a printed map

Folded, bulky, and immutable. Outdated at inception, a map’s dry ink cannot keep pace with our shifting planet. Yet, the maps curious owner can still find their place in the newer world.

Knowing their place, the owner can plot where they’ll go next. There, she’ll draw a new map — keeping the old one as a token of progress or a place to call home.

Direction cannot be captured in sound waves — absorbed by porous walls or dissolved into the ether. Direction needs documenting, so the curious human can find their way.

In conclusion

Many perceive process as a constraint to progress, when in fact it is a necessary part of any creative endeavor.