Process. Some love it, some hate it, some are indifferent. There’s too much of it, too little of it. Everyone talks about it. Creative process, decision process, purchasing process. Processes are everywhere. A process is a process is a process, right? One thing, then another, then another. Basically, all the same, right? Wrong.
From the perspective of the three levels of perceived reality (potential, development, outcomes), we see three completely different understandings of what a process is. Process as transaction. Process as network. Process as pathway.
Process as transaction. When seeing process as transaction, the focus is on the outcomes, the nouns. Process, here, is defined as, a “sequence of interdependent and linked procedures which, at every stage, consume one or more resources (employee time, energy, machines, money) to convert inputs (data, material, parts, etc.) into outputs. These outputs then serve as inputs for the next stage until a known goal or end result is reached.” From this perspective of process, you might start by working on the outline of a paper we are writing, then giving it to me, I would write the first section, then I would give it to another person who would write the second section, then we might hand it off to a fourth colleague to edit. A series of transactions, where we exchange parts of the whole with each other. The focus is on efficiency of the process, maximizing outputs while minimizing inputs, in an orderly fashion.
Process as network. When seeing process as a network, the focus is on the continuing development of relationships, the verbs and nouns. Process, in this way, is “characterized by its: purpose, roles, responsibilities, entry criteria, inputs, next step, exit criteria, outputs, work instructions, tools, techniques, and special considerations.” From this way of seeing process, you want to get clear, as a group and individuals, what the relationships are, how information and materials will flow back and forth, how the individuals will work together, and what the outcomes look like. A set of relationships, through which information and materials flow over time and space, resulting in outcomes. The focus is on the core organizing principles of inclusion of each person, transparency in accountability and deliverables, and achievement of the desired outcomes.
Process as pathway. When seeing process as a pathway, the focus is on the possibilities imagined, and the pathway of relationships to an outcome, which provides feedback on the possibility seen. Process, in this way, “focuses on needfinding, understanding, creating, thinking, and doing. At the core of this process is a bias towards action and creation: by creating and testing something, you can continue to learn and improve upon your initial ideas.” From this vantage of process, you want to imagine a new possibility, see what a possible outcome might look like, and find a pathway of steps to realize it, to make it real, then seeing how it worked, in reality, and learning about how that shapes what you imagined, and then rethink the process of manifestation. An imagination of a new possibility, a pathway of relationships to manifest an outcome, with feedback to the possibility seen. The focus is on choice–choice of one of infinite possibilities, of one of infinite pathways, of one of infinite outcomes, of seeing, understanding, and integrating the feedback from reality–all to see all of these choices anew. Feedback-seeking imagination.
We mean completely different things about why and how we connect nodes in a process. The term process is problematic. Maybe we could simply state what we actually mean. Transactions of resources. Networks of relationships. Pathways of manifestation.
Note: I thank my colleague JLT for inspiring and clarifying this insight, over breakfast, a few stories, and a couple of more cups of coffee.