New Direction 5: Process Gestures

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The following reflections arose as a result of the workshop from discussions following a Research Workshop between participants from the universities of Brighton and Ljubljana. On a first reading they may seem simplistic and abstract. However, further thought, we believe, will lead to some practical insights into change and innovation.

 

Processes contain within them inherent ‘tendencies’. They are very much like gestures in human beings. Within each process in the world there is a gesture.

 

Within a seed is the impulse to expand and grow. Within a thermometer lies the potential for the mercury to rise or fall. In a supplier is the inherent impulse to offer goods and services to customers.

 

Understanding how each gesture works and how it can be managed and improved, is the key to process innovation and to the assessment of technologies and processes.

 

Here are some of the most commonly identified process gestures:

 

 

Gesture 1 – Unfolding

 

The easiest to recognise example of an unfolding process is the budding of a flower and the transformation of a seed into a plant. That which is enclosed, or hidden within, opens out and becomes visible in the world. A more radical example is a bomb, which explodes. One can literally see the unfolding of the cloud, which rises from the explosion.

 

Unfolding processes in organisations are processes, which begin in a ‘compact’ way. We talk about ‘unpacking’ a problem. Where there is a release of energy that is inherent within a thing, there we have an unfolding process. The gesture works from within outwards, and is based on expansion.

 

In process innovation, we look to improve management of the unfolding process in terms of:

 

– Ensuring quality of the final outcome (a beautiful budding flower);

– Optimising energy use and wastage;

– Ensuring health and safety;

– Ensuring predictability (what we predict the outcome to be IS the outcome.

 

If the aim of innovation is to improve the quality of the unfolding process then change and innovation and innovation needs to focus on assessing technologies which support this inherent gesture.

 

The unfolding gesture often results in the release of energy, or a process of expansion. Technologies which control this expansion process help to manage the unfolding gesture. Where a process is based on the unfolding gesture, assessment will possibly focus on the ability of the technology to set and manage boundaries around the process to limit the scope, rate, intensity of expansion, or ‘unfolding’.

 

 

Gesture 2 – Enclosing

 

Enclosing processes involve the opposite of unfolding processes and result in something, which is more compacted at the end of the process than at the start, occupying less physical space, increasing in density. In nature the building of a protective nest by a bird is an enclosing process. The formation of an egg is an enclosing process. Often enclosing and unfolding processes occur sequentially and are closely related.

 

Process innovation for enclosing processes often focuses on:

 

– Ensuring the output is as lean and compact as possible using only necessary resources;

– Ensuring security;

– Identifying clear external boundaries

 

Again change and innovation focus on technologies which support enclosing processes needs to ensure such technologies are assessed in terms of their ability to enable materials to be enclosed and compacted. Enclosing processes are often to be found in packing and insertion technologies.

 

Gesture 3 – Dividing or Separating

 

A dividing process involves the separation of one or more components of a thing or a system in order to manipulate those parts and, perhaps, make something new out of them. Dividing processes can be found in chemistry and in medicine. An example of a dividing process can be found when we filter water in order to make it drinkable. In this case, we are only interested in the water to drink, not the waste material produced. Also in this case the dividing process must be of a very high standard if the water is to be pure. However, if we are looking for gold in a river, the dividing process will be far less interested in the water and far more interest in the waste material! Also, in this case the dividing process will be the “input” to a further dividing process as we try to separate the gold from the less valuable materials we have found!

 

Many cutting technologies in manufacturing are concerned with dividing gestures. Innovation needs to focus on diving and separating that is flexible and adaptable to different materials, batch sizes and customer design specifications.

 

Gesture 4 – Uniting

 

A unifying or uniting process is usually aimed at putting parts together; combining or mixing them in such as way that what results is “greater than the sum of the parts”. For example, a cake is certainly an emergent property from the uniting of a range of ingredients, which, on their own will not be pleasant or easy to eat.

 

In a factory, an assembly process is a uniting process. Many assembly technologies in manufacturing supports the unifying gesture. Blending and mixing machinery in chemical processing also make use of the unifying gesture.

 

The quality of this assembly process will largely determine the performance of the emerging product. In a way, a computer represents the unifying process of a range of different parts and sub-processes. If the uniting process is of low quality or inconsistent, the resulting performance of the computer will be poor!

 

Often the uniting gesture creates what is often called an ’emergent’ property – a situation where something arises from the uniting process, where the whole is greater than some of the parts. Examples include a great tasting cake, even though the separate ingredients do not taste too good on their own! Or a highly effective team, or a stylish computer keyboard. Key success factors for assessment purposes include:

 

consistency

quality

accuracy

ease of assembly

flexibility to changing requirements

time taken

cost effectiveness

ability to interface with inspection and control

changeover times of tooling

energy usage

Gesture 5 – Giving, Offering (and Forcing)

 

An offering or giving process is best understood in human terms. It takes place where the output of one process is offered as the input to another process. Materials movement technologies, which involve feeding parts or materials are also examples of giving or offering gestures.

 

Usually an offer or giving process inside an organisation is the response to an asking process. For example, we ask the accounts department to process some figures, which are then offered to us in the form of a report.

 

A gesture of giving or offering can have different qualities. And things can be given reluctantly or willingly. The wrong thing can be given or offered because the requesting process was not clear.

 

On a production line that can also see production processes as giving and offering processes. As one process is completed, if the next process is not ready to receive because the giving rate is faster than the receiving rate, then a bottleneck will occur.

 

Managing offering and giving processes effectively is a crucial part of an organisation’s success. Change and innovation can focus on the extent to which a technology choice supports an organisation’s giving or offering gesture. A forcing gesture may arise where a technology’s design is clumsy. For example, a software package which outputs reams of reports whether a user wants them or not.

 

Gesture 6 – Receiving, Inviting, Welcoming

 

Receiving processes also need to be well managed and assessed accordingly. A typical receiving process in a firm is the goods inwards function and materials movement technologies which allow parts or materials to be received as process inputs.

 

If the organisation is not properly geared up to receive goods and services from its suppliers, then the whole business operation may suffer as a consequence.

 

Similar processes, which contain the receiving gesture, include inviting, welcoming and taking.

 

If we want to invite customers to an exhibition of our products, this process should be so organised that we have a higher level of participation and attendance. Similarly, the way we welcome ideas from our employees, or the way we welcome you people into our organisation, depends very much on how effective we managed the ‘receiving’ gesture. Change and innovation focuses on the extent to which a particular technology choice supports receiving gestures.

 

Gesture 7 – Evolving

 

Evolving processes are very complex and the gesture is often hard to see.

 

An example of an evolving process includes the development of new versions of a software package for a computerised manufacturing system. The software evolves with each new release containing new improvements and innovations. Also errors in the software are eradicated and customer feedback ensures that unnecessary or unwanted features are removed. The evolving gesture is based on the removal of the unnecessary, the survival of best practice, and the development of new features. We ensure our evolving process enables us to move forward and to progress.

 

Change and innovation here focuses on the adaptability of a technology to new generations of technology, to upgrade and improve. Many manufacturing firms have experienced the frustrations of trying to retrofit new technologies to older systems. Intelligently designed technologies contain the seeds of their own evolution. This includes technologies based on modularity and biological development models. Machine intelligence is an example of this.

Gesture 8 – Involving

 

Processes with an involving gesture include those processes, which attempt to bring in from outside ideas, processes, and materials in order to improve the process. An example would be a problem solving process where specific experts and key stake holders are brought in to provide input to the problem solving process.

 

Another example is where an intelligent computer database automatically searches the World Wide Web in order to update itself so that it can be more effective in providing decision support for its users. Change and innovation focuses on the potential of technologies to incorporate and involve rather then exclude.

 

More About Giving or Offering Gestures in Processes

 

Because business is all about supply and demand, giving and offering gestures are to be found inside many processes, not just externally but also in the ‘internal’ chain of customers and suppliers. So, in this section, we’ll focus on giving or offering gestures.

 

The gesture of giving or offering can be found in many different business processes. In a way, giving and offering different gestures though they share similarities.

 

The gesture of giving may have the negative aspect of the receiver feeling that what is given is being ‘pushed’ onto him or her. In manufactured products this might include specific features of the product that the customer doesn’t want.

 

They are given but not needed or wanted. The gesture of ‘offering’, on the other hand, symbolises a more two-way dialogue. In the offering gesture, the potential receiver of the offer is left, more or less, free to refuse or accept the offer!

 

Almost all processes in organisations, either internally or externally, contain this giving or offering gesture. The end of a process usually contains this gesture in the form of an ‘input’ to the next process. The process offers up its output as an input to the next process. If the next process is not ready to receive it, then it may be unable to ‘accept’ this offer. If the output is given regardless of whether the next process can receive it, a problem may occur in the form of a ‘bottleneck’.

 

The giving gesture should be conscious. If I simply give an order to someone regardless of their willingness, ability or capacity to accept it, I am not giving but ‘pushing’ or even ‘forcing’. I may later discover that, if my giving is an input to another process, then that process may fail or not perform as well as it could. If I complete a book keeping process and then give the results to an accountant by simply leaving them in her in-tray while she isn’t looking with a note to get them processed by the end of the day, I should not be surprised if they are rejected or delayed. A more appropriate gesture would be an offering process – “Will you be able to complete these by the end of the day?” So, for giving processes to be successfully completed, they need to be designed and planned with the receiving process in mind.

 

Technological innovation is often focused on improving the type and quality of giving and offering processes, particularly towards ensuring that the gestures focus on the needs of the receiver (the customer) and contains awareness of factors such as:

 

– Appropriateness to the receiver

– Capacity to receive

– Willingness to receive

– Capability to receive

 

A well-known technique for mapping giving and receiving processes is flowcharting. Flowcharts are therefore a useful tool for change managers

Receiving, Inviting, Welcoming, Taking Gestures

 

There is a wide range of processes and gestures associated with receiving.

 

The receiving gesture can be found often in the form of the ‘input’ to a process of an output that has been received from another process. For example, the goods-inwards department of a factory is concerned with receiving parts and materials from processes ‘given’ by a supplier. A complaints handling process receives complaints from customers. Another example can be found at the end of a training process where the trainer gives out a feedback sheet and invites feedback from participants (which may be positive or negative).

 

Receiving process gestures often come about in different ways in response or reaction to giving or offering gestures.

 

“May I have the pleasure of this next dance?”

“I’d be delighted!”

 

“Are you ready for the next batch of deburred parts?”

“Yes send it around now.”

 

“Increase the voltage by 50%.”

“If you do that, the machine will blow. It can’t take that much.”

 

Reception depends on the combination of giving and receiving gestures:

 

– The openness to receive what is being given

– The capacity to receive

– The capability of the process to receive

– In human terms, the willingness or openness to receive

 

To manage processes effectively, there needs to be a balance between the gestures or giving and receiving. When the impulse to give is greater than to receive, the giving gesture is transformed into one of ‘forcing’ or pushing’. Depending on the process this can lead to:

 

– Overload

– Rejection

– Breakdown

– Stress

– Demotivation

– Conflict

– A bottleneck

 

Where the impulse to receive is greater than the impulse or ability to give, the result can be:

 

– Taking or stealing

– Frustration

– Delay

– Stress and pressure

– Conflict

 

A technosophic approach to innovation pays close attention to what is inherent in processes, attempting to ensure that the inherent tendencies or ‘gestures’ are appropriate to strategic manufacturing goals and priorities.

The Inviting gesture is related to the giving gesture and is also similar to the offering gesture. In some ways the inviting gesture is a counterpart of the offering gesture. It tends to occur mainly in the human process such as management processes.

 

Like the offering gesture, the inviting gesture allows a choice in the object of the invitation. It follows the rules of “if… then…”What do I mean by that. Let’s take an example:

 

“Would you like to come to my party?”

If the answer is yes, then buy extra food.

If the answer is no, then do not buy extra food.

 

The invitation is made and, depending on the action of the object of the invitation, the resulting process is different. There is always a possibility to accept the invitation which the results in the process continuing in the direction of the invitation. Or there may be a negative response, which may hinder the continuation of the process or may call for a different process.

 

Examples of invitation process:

 

– An invitation to tender for a contract is a very obvious example.

 

– An invitation for a manager to attend a meeting in order to provide input.

 

In this example, there is strong similarity between the offering and the invitation gestures. The essential difference lies in the position of the parties. With the offering gesture the offerer uses to process to output something as an input to another process. With the invitation gesture there is an invitation to provide input into a process. In the first case the gesture is someone with a hand outstretched towards another pushing outwards away from that person seeking contact. In the second case, a person stretches out a hand pulling another towards them based on a requirement to make contact or provide input.

 

A machine may show a green light to show it is ready for use. Inherent is an invitation to potential users to make use of it. If, after five minutes the invitation is not accepted, in order to be energy efficient, the machine may switch itself off. It may even warn potential users that, if the invitation to use is not accepted, the machine will switch off! “Shutting down in 30 seconds, 29, 28…”

 

Another example of an invitation gesture in a process is the warning messages at airports: “Boarding shortly” and “last call”. There is a strong invitation to go to the departure gate or to miss the flight! Do you accept the invitation? This can cause confusion. If the plane is about to depart it may be more appropriate to create a process with a strong giving or even forcing gesture. “Passengers not at the gate at least twenty minutes before departure will not be allowed to board the aircraft. The time now is…” If the process contains an invitation gesture it may cause confusion and anger. “Passengers are invited to board the aircraft now…”It signifies a real choice without really allowing a consciousness that the choice is quite stark – be there or miss the plane!”

 

The important point is that a particular process in a particular situation will perform best if it is designed around the appropriate inherent gesture. If we force when we should invite, the customer may go elsewhere. If a process tends to unfold when it should actually enclose, there may be quality problems. Process innovation therefore involves:

 

1. Identifying the current gesture (or gestures in a process) and

2. Redesigning the process with a more appropriate gesture in mind.

 

A Concluding View of Process Gestures

 

A view of processes as systems can often be found in books about process innovation. A process is essentially an activity, which transforms inputs into outputs. Collections of these activities are systems One can view all of the activities required to make a cup of tea as a system for making tea. Within that system are various processes (heat water, brew tea, pour tea), which require inputs of various types of material, energy, expertise etc. in order to output various things (boil kettle, cup of hot water) to serve as inputs to the next activity. One can divide the system into sub systems (the sub system of actually brewing the tea in the pot), and one can break processes down into sub processes to a very minute level of detail (lift cup with left hand). Within each sub-process is a ‘gesture’.

 

Mapping a system in terms of its various processes is a basic tool used to understand and identify areas for innovation in processes, and is a key aid to change and innovation which is focused on a technosophic view.

 

However, this approach works only at a superficial level. It is based on what philosophy calls a reductionist view. We try to break things down, to reduce them into ever-smaller parts in order to understand them. In doing this, we often lose their essential nature. Reductionists would, of course, disagree. They would say that it is only by reducing things down to their basic parts that we can get to the essential nature. In my view, what we lose is an awareness of the process gesture. A process contains inherent potential, something hidden which, when enabled, expresses itself in the physical world. Like the bottle in Alice in Wonderland with the label on it: “Drink me.”

 

Inherent in a seed are the gestures of unfolding and growing. Inherent in a laser cutting machine are gestures offering to cut materials, and of expanding high levels of energy, and of focusing that energy on a particular point or plane.

 

Take a look out of the window. When a bird flies across the sky, it is possible to focus purely on the bird – a mass of wings, beak, feathers, eyes etc. Or we can try to “think the bird away” and focus on the process of flight. Soon we come to see the relationship between the design of the bird and its processes of flight. A tiny bird with tiny wings has to flap its wings quickly to remain air born. A seagull or an eagle can glide upon the wind and gain height with a few powerful flaps. That which lies within a process, unseen on the surface, is as important as that which lies on the surface. Change and innovation needs to dig deeper!

 

Developing an ability to see the processes behind things is an important ability for process innovators and technology assessors. Often a problem with a machine, or a person’s behaviour is just an outward symptom of a deeper cause, which requires a change in the process. This process may be hidden from immediate external view:

 

– A person’s erratic behaviour due to a problem with chemical processes in the brain.

– A car has problems breaking, not because of a problem with the breaks but an inherent design flaw in the tyre design.

 

In nature the gestures are inherent to natural laws as we saw in units 2,3 and 4. In human created things such as machines the gestures originate in the hearts and minds of the designers and engineers. If the gesture doesn’t match the expectation or need of the user of a process, there will be problems with the process.

 


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