I have two strange obsessions that seem to rule my life. Technology, is perhaps the obvious one. I love tech, anything that can do something, solve a problem, make some part of your life or work smarter, faster or more efficient. I’d say this is a healthy obsession and I’m far from being alone on that.
The other, well it’s slightly more strange. I seem to be invariably drawn to the way things are done. Processes, policies and procedures. Unhealthy I know, I think I could be a process geek, if that’s actually a thing…
Working in IT, using technology to improve processes and deliver better business outcomes, is a great combination of a healthy and unhealthy interest – like tech and process.
I’ve built a career out of it really, but what I’ve always found is the tools – the software, that you need to embody process are rarely up to the task of tackling things like common sense.
Jobsworths, bad ways of doing things and nobody taking their initiative on fixing obvious problems and doing things in a better way are perhaps the biggest frustration of my life.
Common Sense Business Process
I actually wrote this article in 2016 back from a trip from New York, having managed not to get stuck in the snow. This is in itself fascinating, as the snow had just hit as I arrived and again, the process geek in me was amazed at how organised the New Yorkers were at dealing with what was their second most recorded amount of snow in history.
However, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to realise that they take lots of common sense steps when these events occur. I noted that the trash collection wasn’t happening, heaps of snow at the side of sidewalks where rubbish bags are usually left. But, I did see some refuse trucks driving around – someone had clearly had a great idea about putting snow ploughs on the front of them. This is what I like to think of as simple common sense process.
The USA is a fascinating place for the fusion of process and technology. Process, policies and procedures range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Rules upon rules and plenty without any common sense to enforce them. With some of the cleverest people in the world developing some of the world’s best technology, to make the enforcement of the rules quicker!
Team USA also has a lot more money to throw at problems than UK Plc. Bad process can be countered by spending money and throwing labour at it. Something that the UK can’t do, leading us to quite often be elegant in our solutions to problems and being much more cost effective. Sadly, we rely on software that’s mostly from the USA that has inherent process and business process, forcing our industries quite often to work in a Team USA way.
Stupid Business Process
I walked around the Metropolitan Museum of Art with my backpack, as I went in a chap said to keep it by my side – I assumed as I walked in to a hall with sculptures and statues, this was a common sense provision not to clip anything. As I moved into other areas, I was once again carrying it on my back, where I was then told to carry it just on one shoulder.
Although, everything in that gallery was in cases and not risk of anything. Having a social conscious, some degree of common sense, as I walked into the more open areas of the museum I thought that was fine, besides there was some crazy lady going round touching the antique wood carvings in the gallery that the staff did not seem to care about. As I reached the renaissance art, I was told that on my shoulder was not good enough and I shouldn’t be carrying it at all. Even though there was a wire around the artwork that was further away than my backpack would be, should I be so inclined to disregard common sense and walk backwards directly into a piece of art.
Unfortunately, that chap did receive my opinions on the inconsistencies of their policies and their deep rooted assumption that I was stupid by default. I pointed out that if I’d known their policy was better explained on entry, I’d have happily not taken my bag, but I’d applied some common-sense based on my experiences in other great museums of the world. He seemed to wish that he hadn’t engaged with me after that.
I did wander round the d’art wondering whether the ‘crazy museum lady talking to herself and touching the items’ lady was still at large and whether my bag was a bigger risk than the fact that they probably didn’t want to engage with her at all.
Smarter Business Process
They say culture should lead you to the expansion of your horizons and understanding. I wandered around the rest of the museum not inspired with what was there, but with how the place was run. I hated it. From the moment you go in with the ‘name your price’ ticket which you feel bullied into paying full price, then after you’ve shelled out on an audio-guide rental then realise you could have got it free on your mobile phone with the free Wi-Fi. They were clearly selective in the rules, policies and procedures they wanted to share with you and when.
My revelation, was that the vast majority of processes I come across assume I’m an idiotic lemming and want to treat me as such. However, I feel there is nothing more infuriating in this world than the idiot who enforces a stupid process.
Prescription vs a Guiding Hand
We all agree that we need rules, processes and in some way consistency, but how can we stop people being treated as idiots, by even bigger idiots?
Well the thing is, technology for many, many years has been rather stupid and idiotic too. IT is a great way of enforcing a process and set of rules, that’s basically how programming works. It’s never been great at being a guiding hand. However, the next great leap is coming. Smarter systems that can just check-in on you and see that you’re heading in the right direction instead of telling what to do and when, with no real explanation are on the horizon.
Parents guide their kids, set boundaries and watch them figure out things for themselves. This is really the way IT should work with us to help us along and not really tell us what to do.
Rules, policies and procedures are great – but they all assume that YOU are the lowest common denominator. The fact is, most people are more sophisticated in their understanding and actions than most rules give them credit for. What we need is to give people just enough information for them to make their own informed decision.
If I was told at the entrance of the museum that they’d had breakages and rather than just carrying my bag around for the statues it would be all of the museum, then I’d have happily gone off and checked it in. Giving people just enough, not too much, information to make a decision themselves is very important.
The future of process
There’s another benefit to allowing people to get from point A to point B in their own way, but safely and securely.
If you prescribe how everything should be done, without questioning it and force everyone to work, act and do everything in the same way, we lose any creativity and innovation. Focusing on an outcome with some boundaries that can be set allows people to get from A to B in their own way, safe in the knowledge that the boundaries were set.
This isn’t rocket science is it? Remember the good old-days before our university system churned out 95% lawyers and 5% everyone else? You had to take responsibility for your own actions and make your own decisions and be conscious of those outcomes impact on yourself and others. Sometimes I wonder whether people are these days more reckless because the rules, processes and regulations allow them to take their brain out and not consider whether there are any consequences of their actions.
Getting IT to work in this way and have a tool that when I was working on ISO 9001 and other standards for companies has been a long vision of mine. In fact, I set up Unleashed to begin developing an infrastructure of a business that could pivot into this area. One day, we’ll have the resources to make it!
Want to know more – feel free to reach out @chrisrogan