Process vs Stupidity

Clay Shriky writes a delightful rant on the role of process as response to stupidity. …”Process is an embedded reaction to prior stupidity. When I was CTO of a web design firm, I noticed in staff meetings that we only ever talked about process when we were avoiding talking about people. ‘We need a process to ensure that the client does not get half-finished design sketches’ is code for ‘Greg fucked up.'”

He is wrong.

Healthy communities are full of diverse people of radically different skills. The
challenge in making a community that functions well is creating something out
of those talents that is closer to the maximum over the diverse talents rather
then the maximum of their lack of skills.

Did Greg fuck up? Maybe Greg’s the only guy in the group that actually ever
gets anything done. Maybe everybody knows that. Maybe the group is seeking a way to keep empower that talent while assuring that the occational errors that Greg makes stand a better chance of getting caught before they go out the door. So the community seeks a process.

Open source is full of processes to solving this problem – the problem of how
to get the max(talent) rather than the max(idiocy). We have numerious devices that are “biased-to-action” but enable the many eyes of different talents to keep a bit-o-quality-assurance on the risk implicit in that.

What pisses me off about Clay’s note is that he’s playing to people’s most base instincts. First he’s encouraging people to assume that process is a reaction to other people’s stupidity. That’s kind of thinking is toxic to community; it encourages people to label others rather than strive to find more functional processes.

Secondly he’s encouraging people to assume whenever they see a process to leap to the conclusion that was in reaction to some idiot’s incompetence. That reminds me of Mao’s advice to begin each negotiation by calling your opponent a “running dog.” Again it’s toxic to the community. What do you gain by accusing the people that crafted the process of “not trusting people.” I suspect that they were thinking that they had discovered a clever way to get the max of talent and speed in the face of a background noise of inaction, errors, and varying ablities.

This kind of thing spins people off your the merry-go-round; if your going to do this you better have some pretty delightful ponys on the ride to compensate.

None of this is to say that institutions don’t accumulate vistigal organs who’s cost totally overwhelms their benefit. I suspect that once Greg, aka mr. action man, leaves your probably need a process that adds a little action and a little less process that’s focus’d on quality assurance.

This is why it’s a healthy thing to keep at hand some suspision of vested interests, and institutional decay. But it is also health to have some respect for effective institutions, processes, and standards. A good dose of doubt is always best.

OK – now that I’ve gotten that rant out of my system.

(There was an only very marginally unrelated second half to this posting which I finally chopped off and posted separately.)

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