Process and intention

Suppose you have two writers of equal ability.

Both these writers want to improve their writing, but follow different approaches. The first one commits to writing an article every week of the year. The second one commits to write often, but to write only when they feel like it. At the end of the year, who do you think will be the better writer?

We all know that to get better and to master a craft, we need consistent and deliberate practice. But intention is an unreliable fuel for our practice. This is because intention is fickle. I might feel inspired today and tomorrow. But it is unlikely that I feel inspired day after day.

Intention works like the numbers in the Fibbonacci series. With every passing burst, it grows in magnitude, but it is also further apart. If intention were to guide our craft, our practice sessions would grow to be spaced further apart, and our mastery would fail to keep pace with our intention. This gap causes us to fret, be frustrated and eventually give up.

A process is a different. Like a flywheel, it stores momentum. Once I publish 19 weekly articles, it is almost impossible to not publish the 20th one. Once it is primed, the momentum of a practice sustains our work through difficult times. It more rescembles a series of evenly spaced numbers, which appear with ruthless consistency and compound over time.

Elizabeth King was spot on when she stated ‘Process saves us from the poverty of our intentions’.

Downstream blindness

In the 1960s and the 1970s, car manufacturing plants in the US would be filled with bins of fasteners.

Workers on the assembly line would then dip into this bin to find a bolt for their assembly. If the bolt didn’t fit, they would throw it to a discard pile and reach into the bin for another bolt. Even if they spotted a defective bolt, they were encouraged to find a replacement and keep the line moving.

It was important to keep the assembly line moving. Any break in flow would cost the company thousands of dollars. Therefore, it was cheaper to use tolerate imperfect fasteners in the supply chain and keep the line moving. As a result, American cars were less reliable. They broke down more often. The problem of stopping the line was visible to the plant managers, but not the quality issues that this decision caused downstream.

Japanese car manufacturers adopted a different approach. Whenever workers spotted even a minor defect, they would stop the entire assembly line, analyze it and remedy it. That way, this defect would not move downstream and affect hundreds of vehicles. Because the interruption came at a great cost, they took every measure to ensure that it didn’t happen again.

When Toyota cars hit the market in the 1960’s, their parts fit more perfectly and with fewer defecty than any other car before it. The Toyota Corolla, launched in the 1960s’, remains the world’s best selling car today.

It is expensive to break the flow of an assembly line. However, it is more expensive to let defects flow through. The second kind of cost is harder to see, but can be deadly. It ultimately drove American car manufacturers to bankruptcy.

In today’s complex world, our decisions and actions always have consequences downstream that we are likely to be blind to. When we make a compromise, what are the ways it backfire downstream?