Sunday, 21 March 2010 00:00

Process Stifles Creativity

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Dallas Building Inspection Process

A couple Friday's ago, I was in a meeting and I reiterated my mantra, "Process stifles creativity." A friend, well, I think she still is, nearly jumped out of her chair. "I need to correct you," she barked, "Only poorly implemented process stifle creativity." The suddenness and passion in her response caused the gentleman sitting between us to slide his chair back quickly in order to avoid being tangled in any physical altercation. The room was full of jeers for us to settle the dispute in the parking lot. Realizing I had just stepped in a hornet's nest, I made a joke of it. However, her attack does not dissuade me.

Processes Purpose

I should have added a little clarity, since the offended friend is a co-author of the Association of Business Process Management's (ABPMP), Business Process Management Common Body Of Knowledge. But, the truth of the situation is that we were both out of order in this strictly facilitated meeting and I could say no more. Everyone missed that process had muted the interchange, when the abrupt cessation should have underscored my point. Process not only stifles creativity, but also innovation, passion, imagination and creativity—as it should; otherwise, it would fail to serve a purpose.

Process tells people what to do—the actions, the order, and the expected results. If the results are not as anticipated, the process is analyzed and altered to bring its results back to acceptable values. This new process is followed until the next unexpected output brings it to our attention and we layer on more process. People are not rewarded for being creative with the process; in fact, the reaction is quite the opposite.

Lack of Process is not Always the Precursor of Anarchy

As with our heavily facilitated meeting, if people were allowed to talk without being managed, the fear is that certain individuals would dominate the conversation (as with your's truly) and only one view would be heard or the meeting would degenerate into a cacophony of conversations, with no one being heard. Allowing innovation on how to conduct this meeting would certainly result in failure. Or, would it? Somehow, our day-to-day intercourse continues quite well without slipping into anarchy. As responsible individuals we stop, let others talk, and listen to what they say.

If you want open conversation, innovative thinking, and wild ideas, you drop the level of process and allow people to wander. People try new approaches, think outside the norm, and premier products and exemplary processes come into being. Yes, processes. Once we have a better way to do something we want to capture and implement that so others can use it. Therefore, I stick by my brash statement that process stifles creativity and let you conclude whether that is bad.

Process is to Anarchy as Management is to Leadership

I will conclude my discussion with a comparison: process is to anarchy as management is to leadership. Process and management are very close cousins. Managing people and projects is the act of imposing process to gain predictability. Process gives us the tool to foretell an action's outcome. Without it, planning would fail. It gives us confidence that we will achieve a given output. In addition, process comforts us. With it, we can manage, telling people to follow process and we have few concerns. If something goes wrong, either the person did not follow process or the process is wrong. The manager has little culpability.

On the other hand, leadership tolerates anarchy. It forms a set of malleable fabric walls that guide people in a direction to achieve a vision. Leaders take responsibility for reaching a goal; team members take responsibility for their actions contributing to that effort. The rules are scant. People are accountable and trusted. In this environment, there is little requirement for process. Creativity is enabled and the visions are attained.

Maybe process, by removing the need for leadership, is the reason so many projects fail.

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