Develop habits, not processes

People like to have processes and procedures for doing things.  It makes life easier and safer because you have a structure to follow.  At the same time however this can reduce your potential for creativity.   If you want to create a better environment to foster creativity then you should look at establishing habits.

The problem with procedures is that they are generally rigid.  They lock you into following a certain path.  They are also convenient,  so it’s easy to get on autopilot and just follow the path.  Even if you have the authority to change the procedure,  it’s easier just to follow it,  so often you don’t. The incentive is to stick with the procedure rather than break it and explore.  This is obviously bad in terms of creativity and innovation.

There is however,  generally,  a certain desire to have some form of control on what is happening.  This desire may be coming from management of from the people responsible for doing the work.  Someone has a desire to make sure the work being done is tending towards an eventual target which they have in mind.  If one of your values however is creativity or innovation then imposing processes can potentially work against you. We need another approach.


A habit is vagualy related to a process or procudure but different in certain important aspects.

  • A process is generally something that is clearly defined,  it can be written down and clearly understood.
  • A habit on the other hand is fuzzy.  It’s a way you tend to approach things.
  • A process is easy to convey and measure.
  • A habit has to be developed and is virtually impossible to measure.
  • A process is external to the people performing it.
  • A habit is internal to the people performing it.

Proccesses are easier to define,  easier to apply,  easier to assess.  But you generally get what you pay for. With habits you will have to put in more effort but you stand to reap better rewards.

A habit has to be developed in someone.  This implies that experience is involved and experience is a powerful resource.  Because they are fuzzy however,  they will dictate little in terms of how you actually perform a task.  It creates a very flexible approach to what you are doing and makes it effortless to alter your path as you go.   A habit also evolves so it will naturally adapt itself to change.   We remove the effect of tunnel vision that processes can create.  Most important however is the idea of ownership and motivation. When you give someone a process you are telling them “this is how it shoud be done“.  You are taking control of that aspect away from them.  You are telling them you don’t respect their opinion in that aspect (even if you define the process yourself you are telling yourself that you don’t trust yourself).  When you let people work by way of habit however you are telling them that you trust them in this aspect.  You are also letting them be in control.  They own their habit,  and only them.  It can be a powerful motivator to be in this position as the inherent value placed upon you is increased and also acknowledged.  For creative people this is very important in creating an environment in which they can shine.

Let’s look at a simle example:

Managing your keys.

If we were to apply a process we may come up with the following:

So I never forget my house keys when I go out I place them on a hook next to the front door.  Whenever I leave I pick them up just as I go.

If I were to apply a habit however I may do the following:

So I never forget my house keys when I go out I make a habit of placing them on something I know I will be taking with me (mobile,  wallet,  etc).  That way when I grab my other items I will grab my keys also.

The first approach will work quite well.  But it is very rigid.  What happens when we go on holidays and don’t have a hook next to the front door of our room in the hotel?   What happens if we want to make sure we don’t forget something else,  like a book?  What happens if occassionally we leave via the back door?

The process will not handle these situations very well however the habit will effortlessly allow you to change what you do to cater for the new situations.

So when considering how you will manage people doing creative work,  look not only at how you can measure and guide their work but also at what environment you are fostering in which they do their work.


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