Megan Leigh McDonald
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'Don't make me think.' Steve Krug

Megan Leigh McDonald

Process and the Laws of Physics

Is there such a thing as too much change? That seems like such a taboo thing to say out loud. I don’t want to be seen as someone mired in the past or unable to move forward through a dynamic and fast-paced work environment. As I look back on the many clients I’ve had over the years, I see countless professionals and offices with diverse processes. And I see this diversity of what is considered ‘process’ and ‘change’ as one of the many great mysteries of life itself.

I believe ‘process’ is the way we handle change in business and that it’s dictated by several natural laws:

1. The Law of Entropy: The amount of energy it takes to change is inversely proportionate to the lack of change that preceded it. This plays into our everyday experiences at work when people become complacent, don’t rely on data to drive decisions or foster an atmosphere of ‘group-think’. There can be a lot of change that seems to happen as most of the group follows very easily with the strongest personality. But this may not be vetted to be the best change or change that matches the company’s goals. It takes vast amounts of firm hand-holding to turn this kind of environment around. It seems to me, that there is a tendency for a large staff turnover when this happens.

2. The Law of Inertia: The amount of resistance is directly related to the amount of momentum needed to change. Somewhat related to Entropy, Inertia is more about the consistent action necessary to gain speed. If you know your goal and you move toward it, only to be constantly derailed by resistance, one never builds up enough speed to efficiently reach the destination. And, of course, the danger of getting thrown off course only grows with each setback.

3. The Law of Matter: This has more to do with the conservation of energy and its transference from one form to another. If you think of a business process like this, we have a whole lot of kinetic energy at the beginning part of our process and need to take the thoughts whirring around in the brains of a bunch of professionals and transfer it into a product that at the end of the day, transforms into dollars spent by consumers. There are plenty of things we can spend our energy on, but if we don’t realize that execution is a process of taking one form of energy and translating it into another, we may never get past the beginning stage.

There is a point when we think far too much and act not enough. This goes even for the people whose roles are at the very beginning of a process, for those are the people who set the pace and get the ball rolling for the rest of us. As a UI Designer, I get my energy from Product people whose ideas, creativity and understanding of data mixes with mine to produce something wholly different — wire-frames and mock-ups that visualize a different reality for our users. And so on and so forth throughout the rest of the PDLC.

I think process and change are the same things. I think because we’re a business comprised of people in the natural world that we need to look at ourselves in relation to that. What we do each day is molded by these abstract and often hidden concepts. Taken from physics but somehow very relevant, we are always part inertia, part resistance to entropy and part efficient transfer of energy whether we’re walking down the street or sitting in a board room.

A Sheep in a Wolf’s Clothing?

I was thinking about this metaphor all day today and as ‘black and white’ as it is, it is a starting point for looking at how we perceive ourselves in contrast to our coworkers at times. I have to be honest here, I’m a Sheep…not in the sense of following the herd but in the sense that I am a genuine, gentle and open person. I’m huggable, which may not be very professional in a large corporate environment but in most of the circles I’ve been in the past, it was an asset and, to be frank, a nice part of living this life.

Feedback from coworkers is that I’m sensitive, responsive and attentive. I’m ‘there’ – 100% solid there at all times. The flip side of being sensitive though is that I’m, well, sensitive. Occasionally, I encounter people whose viewpoint of the world is so different and opposite of mine that they would describe me in ways that are inverse to the above. And sometimes, people see me accurately and find my buttons and proceed to push them liberally. Me, being the sensitive and responsive type, will give them exactly what they want. This is the part of myself I want, maybe need to change.

But change is a tough process and some argue that we never really change. I mean, for example, I might learn to control my response to someone who is rubbing me the wrong way whether purposefully or not. But I’ll probably never eradicate the pain that I feel when someone harshly criticizes me. I think, in me, there is a sense of justice and fairness and I believe somewhere down deep, maybe under the very bottom of my soul, that if I play fair so will others. It’s idealistic more than naive.

So what I’m really experimenting with in bringing up this metaphor is that if the Sheep and the Wolf are metaphorical roles we sometimes act out with each other, then I’m a Sheep donning a Wolf’s skin to walk amongst the tougher, more thick-skinned individuals. However, in taking on the Wolf’s skin, I question, how much of the Wolf will I eventually take on. Will I, in turn, lash out at another Sheep in order to toughen them up and remind them that a Wolf is always around the corner somewhere? Is there a transformation from Sheep to Wolf or vice versae? Will a Wolf who takes on more of a Sheep’s qualities in turn become more gentle and sensitive given time?

I don’t mind the Wolf or its hide because in some ways it offers protection, but I’m a Sheep underneath it all and I happen to love that. In the end, I know the real concrete psychological solution to my problem lies not in this metaphor of the ‘Other’ but in muting the pitch of the incoming criticisms, softening the blow and reducing the intensity of my own sensitivity to it. Result? I react or respond less. But then again, maybe the metaphor still works…I should just grow my woolly fur a little thicker so that the Wolf can’t find a firm claw-hold.