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.

More tomorrow...


Kimmer said...

This reminds me of Jenna bowling with the Wii. She made some comment about not wanting to know how to do it, she just wanted to do it. Since she kept bowling strikes, who can argue with that? :)

Mark said...

Interesting topic (and Happy Birthday, btw).

To continue your juggling example - would it make a difference if, say you had a customer who paid you for every ball that was caught and fired you if you dropped too many balls? I would think that in that case, you might be well served to "know" a bit more about how you are able to juggle - and perhaps even improve the process as best you can.

Of course, that arrangement would probably take most of the fun out of juggling, and it probably would be less entertaining, etc etc. But suppose your customer doesn't want to be entertained - suppose they just want someone to catch every ball....

I'll buy the "different types of knowledge" argument. But I'm not sure that I would go so far as to say they are equally dependable and correct - both have areas where they outshine the other.

Mark said...

And yeah - Jenna as a Wii bowling champion is a great example!

The Dan Ward said...

Good points M & K - and I think there's no contradiction in saying the different forms of knowling are "equally dependable and correct - in their own areas/contexts."

To answer Mark's question, I suspect that overthinking & overanalyzing the "juggling process" would actually result in dropping MORE and increase my risk of getting fired. Some activities are simply ill-suited to the process treatment.

(but I could be wrong)

Gabe said...

I agree; especially with the juggling anecdote. I have a similar one with the gymnastics. I've been practicing for the last 8 months and have found there is definitely a process of some sort in getting me to understand, and my body to inherently perform various tricks. But it's not really explainable.

There are steps I've taken and some basics I practice time and again, but when you actually pull off a trick, it's so much more than the individual components that make up the trick. Balancing in a hand stand for's way more than just flipping onto your hands and then holding your self in position. There are nuances of muscle control and body position so fine as to be imperceptable. And it's different day-to-day. I know somethings going on, I just don't know what....after a while, you just do it.