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Pietro della Vecchia: Experiment of the Bowl (c. 1640)

"Everybody trying to win the race creates so damned many losers."

Our host suggested a route along which we might make the best time on our return trip. The Muse explained that we were not trying to make the best time. Momentarily taken aback, our host replied, "Oh, you're focusing on process, then." Upon some reflection, as we wended our way up a particularly satisfying long way around, The Muse reported that, no, we were not focusing on process, but something else. The Muse was once considered a process expert, a process analyst capable of minutely decomposing actions to make them more efficient. She now considers process derivative of experience, as if one could distill and abstract expertise into a single best way. The notion of single best ways has enjoyed a spotty reputation. It seems to encourage chasing phantoms and all manner of inhuman expectations for the purpose, of course, of improvement. One should properly wonder, "Improvement for whom?"

The history of process focus and improvement could fill a small library without necessarily creating compelling reading.
I've long been skeptical of process, though it has been at least a peripheral focus of much of my professional life. You see, I came of age during the great first wave of computerization. I took my place in the phase, encouraging "users" to surrender their secrets so that some stranger could create code intended to replicate their essence. The translation never worked very well. Compromises were made in favor of consistency and speed, and our work life became more hostile. It turns out that efficiency was only ever an also-ran aspiration in how businesses ran. A certain QualityOfExperience was more often insisted upon so that work-life remained tolerable if not necessarily profitable. The computerization craze created considerable craziness as disembodied managers attempted to replace complex social structures with simple-minded algorithms.

Anyone could create this sort of chaos at home. More than one participant in my project management workshop proclaimed upon completion that they would, after that, attempt to manage their life as if it were a project. "Good luck with the wife," I'd whisper as they exited, for life was never very well characterized as a process manageable as a project. Anyone can undoubtedly frame their life as if it was composed of processes and therefore manageable by some set of principles, but the history of such attempts would not spark anything encouraging. I believe that the process route materially over-simplifies, that one must maintain a certain unhealthy trance to maintain that focus amid the regular buffeting of a life. Better, perhaps, to focus on something a tad less mechanical, something inherently unmanageable in that it couldn't necessarily ever reduce any activity into any derivative.

The focus I prefer and the one I try to employ when Toodling has become QualityOfExperiene. I know I'm successfully Toodling when I'm happy, even delighted. My QualityOfExperience determines whether I'm successfully choosing from the alternatives. The shortest route between two points seldom delivers the finest QualityOfExperience. The route our host suggested involved the single worst stretch of road I'd ever driven, hardly one likely to provide requisite QualityOfExperience. Each time we've compromised—and we humans seem masters at justifying compromises—our Toodle has gone to Hell. Almost every time we've followed some intriguing alternative to a straight or narrow, we've found delight, or at least difference. We Toodle exclusively for QualityOfExperience, just like businesses used to conduct their affairs before us Moderns appeared to computerize their complex social systems and undermine their underlying purposes for being.

Life's too short to shortchange it with shortcuts. It's also too enjoyable to encourage ever-increasing efficiencies, which seem to insist that less creates more and that stinginess naturally produces abundance. I've long insisted that the cure for rush hour might be for everybody to take alternatives to the most direct route. Everybody trying to win the race creates so damned many losers. The game might only be winnable by those refusing to compete, by those who insist upon sticking to the blue highways. By searching for QualityOfExperience rather than the most efficient way from A to Z.

©2024 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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