The other day I found an old sketchbook with drawings by me as a kid. Apparently I was drawing processes at the age of 5. They were assembly lines with conveyor belts running from one machine to the next, adding parts to a toy and finally wrapping it. Is that why I became a business consultant with a focus on process management? Is this a skillset we were born with?
Since the success or failure of processes (i.e. do processes perform and deliver the way we need them to?) is fully dependent on the people performing them and the responsibilities they are willing to take (and are given) it is a prerequisite that they understand process. What if we are really born with that understanding and can only partially learn it? What if it is something in our brain that determines whether we can understand the concept?
Research shows there is a difference in the development of the brain before and after the age of 7 related to the way we learn. Before the age of 7, we learn more spontaneously, and after that, we learn from a more concrete perspective; looking for rules and structures to help us. So do we learn process by playing and not by applying rules and structure? I think developers of business simulations and serious gaming would agree. Hopefully adults are still able to learn this way.
I do find it remarkable that many people I work with in designing, implementing and managing processes have a hard time understanding the concept of process, and even more the execution of work by means of processes. Sometimes I feel like Neo in The Matrix (am I the only one seeing this?). At the same time I always find a select group of people in organizations that ‘get’ processes right away. Even when these people are not educated or experienced in process management.
It takes a lot of energy preaching and teaching (even by gaming) the first group before we get a process working and it takes no effort at all to get the second group ‘in sync’ with the process effort. It feels like we already were in sync before we ever met!
Fortunately I’ve seen a lot of people learning the concept of process and successfully adapting their work to it. The learning difficulties in the beginning of the efforts may have been determined by resistance to change more then by the abilities of the brain. Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief (or change); denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance, teach us that it might take a while to accept the new possibilities process can bring us and that we are not learning much when our emotions are in one of the first four stages.
So neurological, pedagogical and psychological perspectives to learning process tell us to guide people through their emotions first, and then teach them by playing. Apply rules and structures afterwards to pin down what they have already learned. I’m sure you’ve seen change programs that did it exactly the other way around…
Still, I wonder: where did those drawings come from when I was a toddler?
If you have similar experiences, please share them!
Paul MacLean, Contrasting functions of limbic and neocortical systems of the brain and their relevance to psychophysiological aspects of medicine, The American Journal of Medicine, Volume 25, Issue 4 ,
Pages 611-626, 1958
Robert Isaacson, The Limbic System, Springer, 1974
Paul MacLean, The Triune Brain in Evolution, Springer, 1990
Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, On death and dying, Simon & Schuster, 1997
S.M. Goorhuis-Brouwer, Kinderlijke ontwikkeling: van spelen naar leren, Tijdschrift voor orthopedagogiek, 43, pages 67-74, 2004
Web: serendip.brynmawr.edu and thebrain.mcgill.ca