Seth Godin writes about process and why smart people are often resistant to creating processes. In short, he concludes that it is because it threatens your reliance on intuition. I think that’s a pretty astute observation, and certainly one of the main reasons that intuitive people often have very little process in their lives and in their companies. I have that problem in spades, and I think it exists for 3 reasons.
People that don’t know me well would likely be pretty surprised that I am a natural resistor to process. After all, Ripple is a very process driven company. Hiring process, service delivery process, sales process, even a process process. But it wasn’t always that way, because I resisted process early in my career. Why would I do that? Clearly you cannot build a sustainable company based on doing things differently every time (this is an observation that becomes clearer in hindsight of course). Well, here is why :
1. Personal pride. Being the type of person that can think quickly and excel under pressure is a quality that makes you feel special and look smart. I like feeling special and looking smart. Those are the personal qualities that make me unique, the things I am good at. So long as my company would succeed with those qualities, it seemed that I was doing something right. Or, more likely, they were "proving" me right. And I like to be right.
2. Personal fear. An extension of that, is that you wonder if you can still excel if you give others those tools (which is basically what you are doing when you create a process). That is, will you stop being special and just be one of the crowd? That is a little personal fear lingering in those who are lucky enough to be intuitive. Am I somehow gifted? Or did I get lucky? If it’s luck, my gift will go away once I give people the same tools.
3. Fear that you will ruin things. I had an additional fear. I had built a company that was highly dependent on a staff that was similarly quick thinking. And while all of that quick thinking is impressive, it is risky. No process leads to inconsistency. And unless you are selling designer jeans, inconsistency is not a quality people want to buy. My fear was that processes would drive the genius and humanity out of my company. Needless to say, it didn’t. In fact it had just the opposite effect.
Here’s the thing: Process is the tool that allows you to think deeper and more creatively. It appears counter-intuitive at first because it seems like you are creating robotic tasks out of what were only yesterday strokes of genius. That’s because you are creating robotic tasks out of what were only yesterday strokes of genius. But you know what? That leaves room to create another stroke of genius today for something new instead of recreating yesterday’s stroke of genius. And if you are gifted and not lucky, that’s how you grow. And if you are lucky? Well that’s good intel to have.
It’s important to recognize that having a process driven culture is not exclusive of having a creative and intuitive one. In fact they work best together. Process is by its nature evolutionary, and thus needs the original mutation to get it off the ground. To get to a decent process you have to have the original insight or idea, and then prototype it with very little tangible information. That’s where intuitive, quick thinking types excel. So all is not lost my ADD friends! We are still useful! Until there is some real data, ideas and processes need to be driven by hunches, experience, quick thinking and intuition. There can’t be a process for something that does not yet exist.
So create, then create a process, then hone that process. Every time.
Extra Credit: So how did I come to embrace process, keep my ego intact, and create a process driven company? Well, I rarely single out members of my team because they are all so proficient at kicking ass that it rarely behooves me to call one out. But when my dear friend Homer Bartlett came on board nearly 4 years ago, he began, slowly…to infuse the culture with process. He began to lead, and process was his chosen tool of leadership. He is now the IT Services Manager, and Ripple is awash in efficient processes (and many that are not yet efficient). He slowly helped to change the culture, eventually sold me on the idea, and the rest is history. Now everyone at every level of the company is involved in the execution of processes. Moreover, every person is involved in the creation of processes. It is simply a part of our culture now, and depends on no one individual. But I can trace it back to an individual – and I owe him a long overdue thank-you.