The discovery of human process genius. Possibly based on true events
Once upon a time there was a tribe of 42 (why 42 you ask? Something galactic!), living out of a cave. By this time human beings had been sheltering in caves for about 190,000 years without much change. One clear and warm night, one of the tribe, Sally Smart (no-one could remember how they came up with her name, but this tribe sure loved giving people and things names) thought she saw something in the sky flying hi, and she was inspired! The next day, she talked to her whole tribe at breakfast (grains with fruit, another hill tribe would later refer to this as Muesli) and said: “That’s it, I’m done. No more cave, draughty winds, hitting my head constantly, not being able to stand up, just not nice. Always the mice and rats, it can’t be healthy. And then having to share with the bears in winter! We should build ourselves nice accommodations! I’ve thought of calling them villas, and we could have a couple and together call them a village!”
The tribe thought this was insane. Sally with her ideas again. For since they could remember, they had been living in caves, and what was good for their ancestors surely would be good enough for all of future too. Also, how would that work? They hadn’t done anything new or interesting at least the last 100 years. If anyone had ideas, they were good at saying “nay!”, and other tribes would always refer to them as the ‘Naysayers’.
This time Sally was really inspired though. And by chance there was a patch of sand next to the cave entrance, and for no reason but boredom she had been forming shapes with her toes — and then she had had the most brilliant other idea: what if building these accommodations was broken down into a series of steps, which allowed to think through how to do it best. It just didn’t seem possible to do it in a day, and to think about the whole project in one go (it seemed ‘kom plax’, an idiom of the tribe they used when a mountain just seemed too big or too steep to scale). Her sister had also often been dabbling her toes in the sand, and so in honor of her she thought of calling this Pro Sis (her elder sister had always said to ‘go sis’, which as a baby she had mispronounced as ‘pro sis’ and it had stuck; over time and speaking fast as Sally liked to do, this would meld to ‘process’).
The tribe thought this was insane too. Ned Nonono said: “Toe dabbling to build accommodations? How should that help?! Give me a break!” And Sally obliged him and broke an animal bone for him as was custom. Sally had one more big idea, and she got it because she had been watching her friends Epi and Fanny get totally engrossed in playing token games, with 12 different tokens that each meant something special — they would play it all day and all winter long, to the point where they would not even join in hunting and gathering, and were likely to get pushed out of the tribe for it (naturally Sally thought of this as her having an epifanny).
What happened next
In the Naysayers tribe, they could not remember how they came up with fire, but they loved it. It kept the tribe warm, and they could eat foods and digest them which the other animals couldn’t. Evenings they would sit staring at the fire for hours, and their name for it was ‘teevee’. Now after breakfast Sally suggested they do a teevee session and brought them all together at the sand pit and she said: “We’re going to figure out the ‘process’ of how to build our accommodations, the how. Let’s do it all together, it will be so much more fun if we all join in. And we’ll all benefit if we can be successful.” The tribe had been lucky with a good hunt the day before, so they really had nothing else to do and thought ‘how bad can it be?’ So they indulged Sally and gathered around and listened and watched, even Ned.
Sally drew a straight line in the sand from left to right, and she drew a triangle lying on its side to signify the start (much later people would think of this as an invitation to hit and play), and she had a little cone like a mountain to represent the accommodation as their goal (one of the elders, Tee Pee, would as part of the process come up with the idea of using poles and animal skins in the shape of conical tents; much later Jim Neee would have the dangerous urge to bring teevee inside, and then they would leave a whole in the top for the smoke to get out). She borrowed the 12 tokens from Epi and Fanny and she said: “So what do we really need here? We need logs together with some covering. So we need to gather the logs, and figure out what covering will keep out the rain and wind.” And she picked the token with something like a ‘G’ on it, and laid it to the right of the triangle, so everyone could begin to see a line forming to the end result, the cone. This reminded one of the elders of a line of mountains, and because his name was Pla Aan they would over time also refer to the process as a plan.
This made sense to the tribe! It was like going for a walk or a climb, with steps or important waypoints on the way. Now that Sally had broken it down for them, they paid a bit more attention. Sure, this is something they could do. But then Ned, Ned of all people (well of the 42 anyway) said: “But where will we put all this, shouldn’t we have space for this? Here in front of the cave is not that attractive. I would actually know a great elevated place close to the river, warmed by the sun in the morning, so we would have the water close by and could swim and not smell so much anymore.” Everyone nodded, smells had been bad and not having to carry the water all the time would be great — and they began looking at Ned in a completely new way. And they thought Sally would now be challenged and perhaps step back and go and hide. Little did they know of Sally’s determination! She pulled out another token, the one with a ‘C’, and she pushed the G a bit to the right and placed it between the start triangle and the G.
Sane, who was a bit full of herself sometimes, said: “This is absolute sanity!” With this move by Sally, everyone got really excited. Epi and Fanny mostly because of their love of games, but everyone joined in really at that point — all 42. And Sally loved seeing the whole tribe being included, even those usually too shy to say anything at all (or whose teeth were missing, and their mumbling could not be understood)! Tokens could be moved around to make sense, to talk about how to do things in the right order! Of course they should clear that place first, then do the gathering of the other materials! From there with the rest of the tokens, in just minutes they laid out the rest of the process, adding the ‘A’ token for figuring out the accommodation architecture, a ‘P’ token for preparing of the materials to be fit together, a ‘B’ token for the actual building, a ‘D’ token for decoration and so on. Everyone had good ideas about which steps were necessary, and everyone could help think through in which order they would be. It was there for them, right in front of their eyes, the line in the sand, the beginning and the goal, the tokens as symbols of necessary steps they would take. One of the tribe’s kids had taken on the task of holding the tokens and moving them around for everyone (to help Sally out a bit, and also to get into her favors, she seemed so AWESOME; that is why later they would also refer to this as child’s play).
They all shouted and danced around now in their favorite Naysayers tribe way (Musi and Cal usually led them in this) and could barely stop themselves from getting started right away. A new song and joint rhythm and feeling came to them through all of this, a new sense of flow (what people only thinking about people would later call this) and they decided to call it Genius. But then one of the elders Nev Er stepped up and said: “Wait! Hold on. Stop. This looks like it will take at least 6 weeks to do. Winter is coming in 4 weeks. We should do this in the spring and spend another winter in the cave with the bears.” Sudden gloom settled over them, and even Sally had no great idea this time. They starred at the sand patch with the start and goal, and the tokens all lined up. It seemed so simple, but now what? Like the little dams they built to have water deep enough to swim in the creek, here now was a barrier, so they all exclaimed “dam!”
After quite a bit of awkward silence, after earlier feeling so good about themselves and being strong together, finally Gri Tt suggested they drink some of their wonder water for inspiration and keep going even stronger. And with that Opti Mum thought they could just get into the details a bit more, and pushed them to think about each step and how long it would take. And Opti said: “Let’s look at the first step again. Clearing the place. What if we’re not all doing the same thing, but some of us who are stronger and bigger move the earth and rocks, while some are better at levelling the spaces for each building? Could we do it in 6 days instead of 10?” And the others thought that was great, because they felt each had their very own superpowers! And now they were on a roll, and thought how they could use special tools they called shovvels (usually to fend off attacks from bears in winter) to be faster. Opti was very pleased, but not done. “What if we made Ned the lead for this clearing step, he knows the location, and he can be our one throat to choke (don’t ask!) to make sure we are on time and everyone is working together as they should, all questions are answered?” They all agreed, it seemed so obvious.
And now, again this was so simple that everyone could have ideas and join in. And methodically and with much pleasure they went through each step, and thought of how to improve it, who should be active in what roles, and who should be the lead for each. Someone had recently found a way to cut logs really fast (his name was Saw Yer, and yes you can already imagine what this was later called), they thought how animal skin covered them as clothing to be warm (in a very functional way, only later Pru De would be the one to suggest certain body parts needed to always be covered) and could also cover the logs or accommodations, how they needed fewer logs as the animal skin was airtight and would hold even with just a few logs, making the whole construction lighter and faster, and so on and so on.
Noon was coming up and they were getting hungry with all their excitement and thinking, even though they were essentially sitting around a sand pit. In just hours they had discovered something completely new about themselves and their tribe. They now had an actionable plan to build accommodations in 3 weeks, in time for winter. Instead of their usual chaos and shouting and bickering, everyone knew what to do. And everyone was committed, because everyone had been part of the planning. Each and everyone was highly motivated to start right away. They had never experienced anything like it, it was like the flow of hunting and gathering, when they together where all somehow in the zone together, just now it was sitting down and using their minds (again later they came up with a prize they would award to people who were really really good at this, based on their notion of climbing ‘intel’ and excelling ‘egence’). And forever more they would refer to this day in their history as Process Genius.
Can we juice this?
With so much happening for the Naysayers in just one morning, you would think that would have to be it. But oh no! They noticed that the venison lunch they had after all the planning and Process Genius seemed one of the most delicious and satisfying they had ever had. Did that go together? Doing great things and getting rewarded well? It sure did. From that initial intuition they decided to make it something explicit. They just enjoyed it so much to be successful with each other, that they didn’t mind if it sometimes seemed as if they were bragging to each other how well they were getting things done. So they said after each step they would ring their big gold gong (they had no idea the metal was precious, they just collected it from their creek because it had a nice warm shimmer to it). And they found that this motivated everyone to do even better! And so they even came up with small gold gongs that could be rung when individuals had done their piece as part of a step (or token). Why be stingy with ringing gongs?!
Unbelievably, they finished their accommodations in 2 weeks, 2 weeks ahead of winter. So they used the extra time to build an additional secure storage for grain and meat. Sally was elected as their chieftain and took on the new name of ‘Sally Hi-flier’, and was forevermore carried around on a shield. And over time the tribe became known as the Hi-fliers instead of the Naysayers. And just in that winter alone they thought of ways of roasting a special bean and then grinding it and mixing with hot water for a black invigorating morning beverage, as well as of smoking some of their meats to last longer and to add better taste, as well as a better and more romantic way to have weddings.
Because they now all had so much less to do and so much more time — especially starting the day fresh with coffee, they could travel more! And they would go around telling other tribes of their hi-flying (because they did this a lot and were so good at it, they became known as the Frequent Hi-fliers), and all the other tribes needed was a sandpit, 12 tokens or something similar — and then they would have their very own process genius! And it turned out that all the other tribes loved starting their process genius too and began using it just the same. As if their process genius had been waiting to be activated and practiced, drowned out by a lot of senseless shouting, as if they just lacked the right words and ideas and games. And they all innovated and changed their tribes for the better. And soon they even came together across tribes to think about best processes, and process engineering, and the masters of improvisation practiced what they called process design. Another tribe even came up with something similar for numbers once these were invented, and they called this Excel (a misunderstanding of a guy who was great with his axe and could cut very exact down to the elbow, an old measurement). And then people would use Excel to create whole worlds of numbers and charts, just like they had built new worlds of processes and knowledge of ‘how’ with hi-flying.
Until one day the kids too discovered hi-flying, and that their insatiable appetite for challenges and learning could be organized into processes that allowed them to understand how to understand, when to build off rules and when to improvise, how to get out from the parental oppression and spend more time arguing and be super creative. Soon, all tribes wanted to have these young apprentices join their tribe, and they would offer great gifts for them to join and build magnificent projects and other shiny new things.
And the rest is modern history.
Until some folks in the strange land of California 12,017 years later thought to have the hi-flying be available to everyone on the Internet for anyone to come together as a virtual tribe, to use their very own process genius and be a winner.