Expertise and Experience in Process Management
Blog: Colin Crofts - Business Process Improvement
I have often discussions with experts in all walks of life and business. Experts come in many flavors, with many titles, certificates, and acronyms to their name. They usually come with a lack of experience too. In my diction expertise and experience are not the same. In process management experts sell methodology and practice. A boilerplate template and the necessary bureaucracy which most certainly won’t increase agility.
Yes, we do need people who are very knowledgeable about one thing. For pure research it does make sense to have theoretical scientists who study to expand the theory. I proud myself to be a generalist and to know a lot about a lot. I learn from expert knowledge but always apply it in the real world. I learned a lot more from failure. Because I do large changes in small steps, most failures are small too and corrections are easy and affordable. The lessons are however ‚priceless‘.
Over the years I came to the conclusion that nothing stands for itself. In Quantum physics all theories have to stand up to a cosmological proof of how the universe evolved. Quantum physics changes your understanding of spontaneity and causality. Everything is connected. There are in fact no segregated fields of science and those we use are purely artificial. There is also no border between science, philosophy and art. There can’t be one without the others. They make each other better. I am one in this opinion with Edward O. Wilson, a magnificent biologist. He wrote the most amazing book called ‚Consilience‘ in which he calls for an end of scientific segregation.
What can be gained from looking over the edge of your plate rather than just deeper down Alice’s rabbit hole? I found that there is but one purpose in life and that is to improve my life by improving the lives of those around me, most of all my family, friends and colleagues. To do so does not require expertise of any kind. It needs experience and humble acceptance. It needs the ability to come to good decisions about things that have potential. Looking for guaranteed outcomes through a rigid procedure means to invite huge failures.
These days experts proclaim all sorts of do’s and don’ts that ignore the larger picture. They use shortsighted logic that targets one symptom, just like in medical treatments. That one blood value is out of a theoretical optimal range and it has to be corrected regardless of the reason why it is what it is and what the potential downsides of the treatment are. I wrote a three post series on naive intervention. Many did agree with me but still fail to see their own naïveté. Naive intervention happens in all complex systems such as the human body, a family, the economy or our climate. Shortsighted expert ignorance is the order of the day.
I find that most things are better left alone to allow natural dynamics. If at all, actions should be targeted at myself and not at others. Absolute control over our environment is an illusion and I do not mean a factory or lab. But take for example airplane crashes. Yes, we do fare better when we guide and share experience rather than being a control freak. As they say, it is better to teach people to feed themselves than to feed them.
Einstein was one of those who said: ‚Only the ignorant are certain‘ and that is the core problem with most experts. While I am steadfast in my intuitive beliefs and principles honed by experience and failure, I still leave a lot of room for being wrong and learning. While I oppose the ignorant naive activists with fervor, I still know that they make me better because there can be no progress without dissent and disagreement. Where all agree or are forced to agree, the future ends.
Logic would say that it is crazy for a 60 year old guy who is generally expected to be retiring soon, to buy a hyper-tuned 600 horsepower hatchback and compete with five to ten other crazy guys on a mixed tarmac and gravel race track in a world championship series? I ignore logic because the experience makes me a better person. I have a coach to teach me, but in the end I have to validate my learning. My coach Patrik Sandell is a world class racer himself and not a physics professor.
Cars and their drivers on a race track represent a dynamic, chaotic system that disregards control and predictability. The competitive element makes it however a valid comparison to doing business. The physics are secondary, but the drivers and teams are the key element. There are great drivers and dedicated team managers who lack the social skills that could make them successful in the long run. If I yell at my mechanics that might be as bad as a driving error. Even the regulatory frameworks put in place by FIA, fail to achieve too often the desired effect as in everyday business and politics. Regulation produces rule beating and bypass actions that often cause the opposite of what is intended.
Learning to race teaches me to be humble and pushes me to become better in everything. It forces me to stay physically fit, rebuild my reflexes and ability for split-second judgment. Every time I take another few tenths of a second off my lap time, I have learned — something. Being fast is not about driving like a nutcase but rather truly about teamwork — and actually economics. Any unnecessary correction or movement of steering wheel, tires or car wastes energy and reduces momentum. It is not about being in perfect control but giving up control just enough to let the system take care of things by itself. I guide it, nudge it, correct it and the least amount will make me the fastest. Just as in life and business …
Driving fast is therefore mostly about efficiency, but not about who uses the minimum amount of fuel as in the over-regulated Formula One. Which are the least amount of actions that take me to the target in the shortest time. Sounds familiar? But try to code a race in a flow-diagram! I do train for example in a simulator, but not to find out what the perfect process is, but simply to produce the repetitive motor action that automates the driving skill. I then train on an ice track that is much more slippery to learn how to apply that skill in the real world. When racing time comes everything is different in each heat despite driving the same laps about 20 times. The track, the weather, the other drivers, my car, and my emotional state they all represent parameter input that changes the process in a chaotic system.
The inert momentum of the car is something that you need to get a feel for intuitively as you have no time to think and apply logic. Like in business there is simply no way to gather the information in time, process it, apply the logic and then perform a correction. It is all much too late and too often oversimplified logic. You have to feel it that when you apply a corrective action one way, momentum will swing it to the opposite. You see race drivers move the steering wheel in short left and right movements because that way they can react faster and avoid large changes in momentum. Like in a fighter plane you give up stability as a trade off. One intentionally destabilizes the car to make it more agile and responsive by using what is called a lift-off (from the throttle) into a Scandinavian flick. You do illogical things such as being at full throttle into a tight corner while breaking hard. Breaking harder before the apex allows you to accelerate faster out of the corner. Not logical at all until you gain the experience.
All processes in your business are the same chaotic structures. If you try to make them predictable then you kill the agility. The goals are stable and the outcomes remains desirable but the path of actions is different each time. The hardest part is to unlearn our demand for control and stability. Like in an aerobatic plane it is the instability that gives you agility. Not more control and more bureaucracy and more monitoring as suggested by process experts. In dynamic situations you need to empower people to act, just like a race driver needs to have power at the wheels at all times as otherwise he simply spins out. They need be allowed to react intuitively to something unexpected to be efficient and fast. That is totally illogical to experts, but it is a simple fact of life.
Many business or process experts are like the ‘couch experts’ in racing. They will make all sorts of comments about a race driver or business skills, but they have nowhere close the ability to do it any better because they never tried it and do not have the balls to try. I propose that many consulting firms just fill a market space where weak management structures in large corporations require external consultants to take decisions for a management team that is too afraid to take them. The best consultants have however the experience and have run a business themselves. Anyone else you can simply ignore …
No matter if you see it or you don’t. Real life happens at the race track.
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