Speaking of process

The word "process" means different things depending on the context. It's a favorite word of mine having been a licensed architect, organization development consultant, video producer, strategy advisor and instructional designer. In my contexts, process is open-ended, exploratory, creative and surprising. It's an essential aspect of change models, PLE's and reflective practicing.

This week, Aloof Schipperke alerted me to other connotations of the word "process" in his/her contexts of Enterprise Architecture and large IT implementations. We've been exploring his/her frustration with a lack of conversation in the process of design work and the profession in general. Rather than tackle the issue head on, we've explored revising the Cluetrain metaphor of "markets are conversations". Yesterday, Aloof connected the ways I characterized reflexive thinking to defenses against more conversational processes in his/her post: I won't be wrong if you don't talk.

Of course I've been reflecting on the different connotations of the word"process". This relates to a previous exploration of the word "learning" as a noun or a verb. This morning I related four different connotations of the word to different sized contexts.

Big is a problem: Large size projects, teams, organizations, and markets can be used as an excuse to avoid initiative. Conversations are too much to ask and "not in my job description". Things are "in process", meaning they are on hold or lost in the shuffle. Keeping disclosures to a minimum keeps each pawn free of scrutiny and disentangled from vicious rumors.

Bigger is better: "Size is the prize" when the focus in on delivery of quality products. The mechanisms are scalable because the quality is extrinsic, built into the specs. Conversations are unilateral and defended against contradiction by the reliable use of reflexive thinking. Things are getting processed in push models that make things happen consistently. The process of designing, changing, conversing or learning is procedural. The expansion of scope and production responsibilities necessitates keeping the complexity under control and by the book.

Small is beautiful: "One customer at a time" eliminates centralized control of mass production and merchandising. Factories get reconfigured as customizing service organizations. Markets become conversations where customers relate and reciprocate with providers to support the services they are receiving with their permission. Each participant is processing their experience. Customers are processing what they buy so to make the best use, get the most value and save the most time. Service providers are processing what they are learning from the beta releases, prototypes and customer feedback.

Small is scalable: "Small pieces loosely joined" makes it possible to scale the customized service. Small nodes join expansive networks. Customizing becomes the responsibility of the empowered consumers who are free to combine the solutions of their choosing. Networks facilitate the searching, finding, sharing and subscribing to a personal aggregation of resources. Each provider is a drop in the ocean or cell in the one body of indescribably complex processes. Each component is essential to countless processes that are unforeseen, mysterious and surprising to uncover.

This reflection on the connotations of "process" suggests that authentic, bilateral conversations occur in "small" contexts. Big contexts defeat the essential reciprocities and invoke defenses against conversing, as Aloof suggests.

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