I have a friend who loves to draw linear process maps. Start, box>box>box>box, End. Occasionally there is a decision loop. Neat, pretty, controllable.
He doesn’t care for my commentary that his process maps are a selective slice of a much more complex set of interlocking processes with many feedback loops and threshold states, creating multiple Nash equilibrium points. There is no finish line.
“I can’t manage that,” he says flatly.
(You can imagine our fun conversations about economic policy at state and government levels.)
Compare gardening vs. an engineering problem. I’m not putting down engineering – that’s a critical skillset! Both operate inside the laws of thermodynamics. The point I want to emphasize here is the dangerous idea of well-defined, perfectly-manageable Start and Stop.
Think about the work we associate with gardening:
- Prepare the soil
- Prepare the seeds
- Clean up for winter
Every step is a starting point. You can identify a “finish” but it’s still a cycle through the seasons. One flows into another. The farmer does not cause growth; he focuses on creating favorable conditions for useful crop growth and harvestable yield. Your garden is just one of many in the biosphere, using the same water cycle and climate drivers.
A leadership challenge for now and the future is to become good at determining when and where you can impose rigid controls, and where you have no realistic hope of rigid controls. In the latter case, you need to think more about how to create favorable environments. We’ll have less and less we can control with typical management tactics; we’ll have more frequent situations where we need to manage conditions rather than directly managing processes. Humility is a prerequisite.
Related insight from Stephen Covey: You manage things, you lead people.
Take a few minutes this week and consider your opportunities for fostering the right conditions for success rather than controlling specific parts of a linear process.
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