Where does this fascination for processes come from? I think processes can be beneficial, but at the same time inhibit our ability to deal with the often-chaotic “reality”. By wrapping “reality” in a process we hope to stay in control, reduce the complexity of the world. We hope that the process will serve as a guide and tell us how to interact in a group. Instead of trying to stay calm, interacting freely with the people around us to solve the problem at hand, we look for salvation in a process.
At work we have this wonderful restaurant. Food is tasty and it serves as a meeting point where people from different departments mix, chat, laugh and eat. Between 12:00-13:30 around 800 meals are served. The whole restaurant team is fabulous, serving fresh, local food, always trying to provide the best possible service. The drawing below shows a map of the restaurant.
The blue line indicates the route I have to take to get a salad: First I get a tray and plate, circle around the salad bar selecting the salads I would like to eat, walk up to the cash point, pay with my badge and sit down at a table with my friends. Easy.
Does this blue route show the reality? Not really. It shows an idealistic, simplified version of reality.
This is a much more accurate picture what happens at lunchtime. Some people opting for the salad bar, some for the Asian special, some for the daily menu. What a beautiful chaos! The only drawback being, that waiting on an empty stomach behind someone who is just finishing the last bit of avocado salad one had been hoping for, can be devastating experience.
While I enjoy to opportunity to talk to people around the salad bar, ask about their favorite dish, chat with the cooks, most people get quite upset if they have to wait longer than 15s. It did not take long until a large majority asked for a process improvement. The restaurant manager did a careful study, observed the flow through the restaurant and came up with the following ingenious solution: Move the cash point, build a wall around the salad bar and hang up a few signs to make all people walk in the same direction.
As you can see, that process improvement worked! Congratulations. The way people are guided through the restaurant is now much clearer. The lunch experience just became more efficient, the waiting time on the salad bar was reduced from 15s to 5s. But will the process improvement make people calmer, make them appreciate their food more and create a more respectful environment?
Reality is often hard to grasp. Life and work are getting more and more complicated. If we don’t pay attention, the chaos around us seeps into our heads.
Instead of learning to detach us from the chaos around us we try to control reality. We squeeze reality through a chute and out comes a nicely structure process. We will feel an immediate release, the process feels much safer to us than the chaotic reality. Sooner or later the process seeps into our heads. Instead of interacting with the people around us, reacting to the situations compassionately, we will start referring to the internalized process every time anything annoys us.
But life and work cannot be expressed as a process. A process can never teach us patience. As Pema Chodron puts it nicely: “Patience is not learned in safety, when everything is harmonious and going well. Patience implies willingness to be alive rather than trying to seek harmony”.