At its simplest, a business process answers the question ‘How? By what method?’
Almost everything we do demands a process of some kind. So imagine – for example – that you’re a competitor in the Great British Bakeoff and you’re asked to make a sponge cake. You’ll need to decide how, exactly, you’re going to make it (assuming that Mr Hollywood and Ms Berry haven’t already given you the recipe…)
Or – if this is more your scene – imagine you’ve been given a kit car to assemble. Even if you choose to ignore the instruction book, you’ll still need to think about what to do, and in what order.
But assuming you did have a recipe, would that stifle your creativity? Would it mean you couldn’t make a sponge cake? Or build a kit car with your own long-desired modifications?
It wouldn’t, of course. And yet many people see business process as a constricting shell, stifling growth and creativity. Which could be why we’re so often asked to ‘think outside the box’.
But is business process a ‘box’? Does it really constrain you to that extent? Is it like a beetle’s carapace – an exoskeleton that holds you in? Or is it more like your own skeleton – the supporting framework at your very core? A framework that provides the anchor points you need for your creative muscles, and gives them total freedom to grow and develop?
How creative do you want to be?
Creativity is a wonderful thing. After all, it has produced the world’s greatest works of art (not to mention most of the everyday tools, gadgets and devices that make life possible, tolerable, and even enjoyable).
But it can be overrated. Leonardo da Vinci was so creative with the painting methods for his Last Supper that his work began to deteriorate almost before he’d finished it. By contrast, Sophie Caroline Hill’s highly imaginative use of the third dimension – so that her pictures spill out into the room – suggests a new definition of working ‘outside the box’!
Let’s take a more down to earth example. You could be very creative next time you take the car out. Or perhaps you could drive on the wrong side of the road. How about taking a short cut through someone’s garden? Or choosing to ignore traffic lights for the day? Yes, you could do all these things. But the results would probably not be encouraging (and might well be fatal). It’s unwise to get that creative with anything related to safety.
And how creative would you want an employee to be with their time sheets? Or with accounting for your company’s money?
The truth is that even the most creative process can thrive on constraint. A short story is just that – short: so there’s a constraint on its length. And every invention is constrained by the laws of physics. (Unless, of course, you’re operating in the Star Wars universe or your name is James Tiberius Kirk…)
A good business process won’t constrain your people – it will simply provide a supporting structure they can build on safely, and with confidence. After that, what they can build will be constrained only by their own ability and imagination.