We break process not to simply find holes in it and patch or improve them,
but to rethink it entirely to constantly and consistently find entirely newer and better ways of doing things.
Process is designed to let us be stupid.
Though this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Process has a positive side. It affords us consistency, reliability, simplicity, repeatability, and repeatability. It allows us to take complex tasks and break them down into much simpler parts to be executed by specialists or even automated by machines.
At an extreme, process takes the world we live in and quantizes it into easy-to-manage, binary decisions and actions: Do or don’t do. Ultimately, what it really affords us is efficiency. By optimizing each part of a process – through specialization, experience, and blind repetition – we can optimize the whole and create faster, bigger, stronger, better systems.
The other effect of this optimized worldview is that it reduces cognitive load. By boiling a complex sequence down to a series of simple steps, the true efficiency comes in never having to question the world around you, but instead simply becoming a master of your small domain. By allowing our world to exist between the confines of our inflows and outputs, we slowly lose our ability to think beyond our stations and ourselves. We turn the brilliance and inquisitive nature of the human mind into a simple cog to be plugged into someone’s process. And because we’re lazy, we gladly bury our complications, trusting that the giants whose shoulders we stand upon were facing the right
direction and pointing us the right way when they set our course. For the most part, they probably were. For the most part, you can feel comfort while standing on those broad shoulders, gazing off into the great beyond to which their ancient, wise fingers point.
“For the most part.” You had to see that one coming.
The dawn of industrialization introduced more processes into our lives in the past 100 years than had ever existed prior in the whole of human history. And yes, these processes have brought us massive efficiencies and vaulted our advancements forward exponentially. However, who’s to say that these processes will continue to hold as the best way forward? Process isn’t bad; it’s simply fragile. What works today has no guarantee of working tomorrow. As the world we live in continues to change at an ever-accelerating pace, this risk should scare us more and more.
Yet with the way we blindly charge forward, we don’t seem to be afraid. And even in lieu of catastrophic failure, what if our processes are holding us back, with our complacency and laziness being the only factors getting in the way of even greater breakthroughs and innovations? How often do we stop and take the time to step back and see the bigger picture; To truly evaluate what we’re doing in a context broader than what’s expected of us, asking questions that might at first seem foolish? How often do we ask “why?”
Featured in the MISC 2015 : The Creative Process Issue.
Shane Saunderson is the head of health devices at Idea Couture. He is based in Toronto, Canada.