Eclectic antics & observations on design, writing and demolishing the status quo
Monday, March 9, 2009
Process, Part 1
I recently came across a quote by Edward Deming. He said "If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing." I'm sure he's correct (who am I to disagree with Deming?), but I think we tend to go too far in applying the wisdom of his observation.
If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing. Fine. That does not mean you aren't doing it well. It just means you don't "know" what you're doing.
And by "know," of course, Deming meant something very specific, a modernist, positivist type of explicit knowledge. And as long as we restrict knowledge to that category, then Deming is correct. But I humbly suggest there are other kinds of knowing, which are just as rigorous, dependable and correct as the academic, statistical, word-and-number-based knowledge. Donald Schon, for example, talks about "knowledge-in-action."
So, I can juggle. I can't necessarily describe my juggling as a process. Does that mean I don't know what I'm doing? Sure, if we limit the word "know" to only describe explicit, conscious awareness. But there's a type of muscle memory involved in things like juggling. There is a sort of knowledge in my hands and arms (and eyes, etc) that results in doing things for which I have no process-based explanation.
I'm not a fan of the process-based worldview, which only acknowledges a single kind of knowledge. I find it unnecessarily limiting and self-destructively arrogant. That approach does have a track record of increasing efficiency in repetitive tasks, but as I've written elsewhere, there's a cost associated with this approach.