To a certain extent, process is everything at work. It needs to be there because people can’t just go off willy-nilly and do whatever the hell they want within their workflow, but the general idea of process is terrifying in the hands of most human beings. Rather than use it for good, they hide behind it (“can’t do that because it’s out of process scope”), use it as a weapon (“he/she didn’t follow process, and that’s a failure!”) and a whole host of other trifling bullshit. Plus, over the last 30-40 years, it’s just upsold the attitude that “product” and “process” matter, whereas “people” — i.e. employees — do not. We’re still digging out from that hole, and in the process (HA!) of trying to do that, we’ve been introduced to about 1,971 meaningless “thought leaders” talking about different “engagement” models and trying to solve problems with software instead of actual human interaction. This is not necessarily a “good” place.
Here’s the second tier of all this, too: this is happening at a time when the business/working world is generally thought to be busier and more complicated than ever. Everyone is on the cross about being busy, all the time. In reality, a lot of how “busy” you are is really just the fact that you opt into 27 pointless meetings per week and don’t manage your own time. People don’t realize that — and also, being busy is the currency of the modern world — so we’re always talking about how busy and complex and elaborate everything is. The normal human brain sees complexity and elaborate shit and thinks, “Well, this demands a complex solution!” This is just one of the reasons most people are total morons.
Here’s some research from Stanford University — much smarter people than me, obviously — tied to this book. There’s a lot of confusing buzzword stuff in that article, but here’s a key takeaway. There are essentially four “conditions” for “simple rules:”
- Limited in number
- Tailored to the person/org using them
- Applied to well-defined activities
- Open to flexibility and change from other sources
Alright, so look at those four bullet points. Now think about your job or work in general, right? Now try to tie “A” to “B.”
This is where it gets hard.
Limited in Number: LOL. No. Workplaces in general have boatloads of rules, and often contradicting rules. It’s like the Bible. Also, people tend to only really care about kind-of unwritten rules — i.e. guidelines around professionalism — and often kinda let deliverables skate. (Sadly, I’ve seen this at every place I work.) Work is often about controlling your message and your relationship to other people and your territory, and almost never actually about, well, work.
Tailored to the person/org using them: LOL. No. Rules at work are never tailored to the proper audience, because, well, 95 percent of managers don’t really understand motivation and about 67 percent of managers can’t name the strengths of their employees. How can you tailor something to someone if you don’t take the time to understand the people you’re tailoring for?
Applied to well-defined activities: ROFL. No. Very little about work is “well-defined.” Don’t believe me? Go here and here. You ever seen those stats that 55 percent of a manager’s job is ultimately things that have no impact for the company as a whole? I’m honestly surprised that number is so low.
Open to flexibility and… ROFLMAO. I can’t even. No. Work is almost never about flexibility. It’s about protecting your shit, son! Here’s the essential reason.
The four conditions for simple rule generation basically can’t be met in a modern workplace. So, what do we do?
We throw up our hands and say “Well, that’s how it is!”
(That’s the answer of most people.)
In reality, we just need to stop and think about different aspects of our work existence and how they relate back to each other: for example, when you think you’re slammed and you get headcount, what do you do with that headcount? Do you use it strategically or just rush to backfill without context? If you do the latter, you’re probably making yourself more slammed in the short-term and long-term. That sucks.
Another example: at work, do you think about what matters — the long-term goals and vision — or do you think about daily deliverables all the time? Probably the latter, right? Well, that’s going to stress you out like a motherfucker and you’re gonna design an insane amount of rules around the deliverables to protect and shield yourself.
And finally: are you a leader or a manager of others? What do you view your role as? Do you think you’re a driver of results, a big-shot dick? Or do you think you’re an empathetic coach? If you think about the latter more than the former, you might do a lot better.
Simplicity in a complex world: it can be achieved, but it does require us to stop and think once in a while.