How often do you explore the question, "
How did this happen
?" or "
How did we get here - into this situation?
" These are questions that, when used wisely, enable you to learn from experience. Then there is the question "
How can we make something happen?
can be anything.
To answer these questions, use process thinking:
Everything is caused by something.
Every event, feeling, thought, word or action, miracles included, is the result of a process.
A process is a set of steps. Processes are performed to accomplish something - produce a widget, process a claim, paint a picture, etc. On a personal level, processes occur internally (digestion, circulation, emotional responses) and in all our relationships. A process leads to an outcome. Every outcome is the result of a process. An outcome may be an event, good or bad mood, peace, prosperity, chronic pollution, corruption or war.
Events are moments in time and as the process goes on, they continue to unfold. As they unfold, a chain of events creates conditions which trigger or effect processes and lead to more events and outcomes in a never-ending cycle of cause and effect.
Look to Your Process
If the outcomes are important to you and if you want to manage future outcomes so that they are more to your liking, look to your process. This applies whether your motivation is perfecting yourself so you can serve the greater good or perfecting the way you do things so you can do them faster, better and cheaper.
Process thinking enables the conscious choice of action to achieve an end. Process thinking focuses on preparation and effort. Whether in sports, business or personal behavior, process thinking sees that what you do and how you do it drives the outcome.
Here is an example:
- Someone says something
- You perceive it as an insult. This is the result of an internal thought process that is triggered by the something said and influenced by past conditioning - beliefs, values, biases, judgments, habits.
- You become angry - you feel the physical and psychological symptoms of anger
- You may observe the anger and return to a state of calm mind, objectively assessing what has been said and acting consciously to address the needs of the situation
- You may react - withdraw or become aggressive
Chains of Events
In either case, you set off a chain of events. If you consciously choose, there is a higher probability of a positive outcome. If you withdraw, you may not reveal useful information, reinforce some negative self-image or image of the other person, yell at someone else sometime later, get an ulcer, etc. If you become aggressive, you may make an enemy, lose the respect of your teammates, overlook the validity of the criticism and lose the opportunity to grow and learn from it.
In a business process experiencing chronic complaints from customers, a knee-jerk response may be to think it is because employees are incompetent, lazy or both. Fire them and get smarter ones. A process thinking response takes the time and effort to find where the cause lies in the process. Is the hiring process broken, are tools and procedures inadequate, is it poor training, improper automation, or a combination? Address the causes to resolve the issue. Remove the symptom and you invite the issue to reemerge.
Process thinking applies fact-based analysis and logic to identify the cause(s) and then seeks to address them. It assesses the concrete facts as well as feeling tones and subjective views. It confronts beliefs and biases.
Process thinking leads to transparency and makes it harder for greedy interests to prevail by denying cause and effect realities - for example, ignoring the strong relationship between the use of coal and gasoline in a city like Beijing, Mexico City or L.A. and air pollution.
Process thinking confronts magical-thinking. Yes, there is magic and miracles do happen. However, avoid giving up and attributing some condition (for example, bureaucratic dysfunction, global warming or poverty) to a higher power - whether divine or not - and assuming nothing can be done about it.
Process thinking confronts ignorance. It makes it difficult to deny that a process is in play when there are chronic errors, substance abuse, lying, over spending, low energy and productivity, or depression.
The Power of Process Thinking
The power of process thinking is that with an understanding of causes and the underlying process, it becomes possible to change the process to change the outcome. For example, improve training to improve performance. Cultivate greater mindfulness so you can improve your emotional intelligence and get better at handling reactivity. To reduce air pollution in cities like Beijing, Mexico City and LA stop using coal and gasoline. To address personal issues, stop denying that you have a problem and delve into the ugly, painful realities driving your behavior.
Don't Expect Perfection. Don't expect that because you can describe your process and design it to produce a desired result, you will achieve perfection or see immediate improvement.
Consider the lead time to a change in results - if you change the training, how long is the learning curve.
Consider the side effects - if you stop using coal, what happens to coal miners and to businesses that are using coal as their energy source? If you automate a process performed by humans, what happens to the humans? How long and how many slip-ups will there be on the road to higher emotional intelligence? If you become less reactive, what happens to your relationships?
Processes are often unpredictable. People respond differently depending on their mood. Multiple causes interact in a complex system making for uncertainty. Habits are hard to break. Change may be resisted passively or actively.
However, having a well-designed and well-understood process based on process thinking, tends to maximize success. A well-designed process enables flexibility. It is resilient and self-correcting - accepting slip-ups and imperfections and using them as fuel for learning. In my book,
, I emphasize process thinking and its use in assessing performance: "Have expectations been satisfied? What can be learned from the experience ... to improve performance?"
Use the Power of Process Thinking
Everything is caused by something - a process; a set of steps, influenced by prevailing conditions.
With this as a core understanding, take the time and effort to analyze the process. Identify causes and factors that drive success. Consider side effects. Change the process in a way that you think will create the outcomes you want. Make your process resilient and self-correcting. Then, patiently and diligently work the process to achieve your goals - assessing and adjusting as you go.
2017 George Pitagorsky