It’s that time of the year again: the plants are just about to stick their heads out of the ground, and shop owners are already considering moving on from bikinis and sunglasses. The soil is still soaking wet and messy from winter, and the first optimists are running around in flip-flops! And the more you have experienced theses seasonal changes, the more you become aware that the seasons are way too short!
Maybe it’s this natural process of constant, rather rapid change, which makes us believe that also the processes that we design have to be ended and restarted at an increasing pace. Just like our winter coat that – by the time we got used to it – is put away to ‘hibernate’, also many industrial developments seem due to be mothballed upon their completion. Seemingly driven by a deep-rooted urge to constantly change, nothing seems to escape obsolescence: sometimes, just because the next cycle has already started! It happened to many of us with last winter, which was over before it had barely arrived, consequently was replaced by the next ‘milestone’ called spring.
Is this why nature’s cycles have such a dominant influence on man-made processes? Some economic cycles are indeed bound to the natural calendar, even though there is no real need to do so: we hand-in our tax forms on a yearly basis; businesses develop a year budget, likewise other institutions; we make year contracts with our suppliers; we close our books on a yearly basis (just to open them again the next day). Some are so ‘into it’ that they even consider the seasons between the seasons – and create a whole ‘collection’ to worship this very fact!
Most surely this has been a creeping trend, stemming from a time where the everyday products on offer were directly related to the progress of nature: a tree, for instance, only deliver apples once a year. But there is no plausible reason – at least not to me – why abstract cycles, like planning, projects, or tax declarations have to follow the same rhythm. I think we slipped into this habit somehow.
Furthermore, I believe that we misinterpreted the course of nature in this sense: an apple tree might deliver its fruit once every year, but it needed many years before it could do so! The shrewd business-doers of the industrial age have deliberately overlooked this fact when they started to demand ‘harvesting only’ and consequently geared all processes to support in fulfilling this demand – since then it’s all about the selling apples, not about managing an orchard. A ‘growing phase’, spanning several years, does not really fit in a scheme of annual ‘harvesting’…
The fact that we succumb to meet that yearly cycle for things that actually need much longer is also the effect of a strong action-bias. According to the motto „rather shake the tree every day, than miss the moment that apple falls by itself“, we humans tend to give too little time to the run of events. It takes me, for example, at least three years to return my tax-return!
The action-bias – we all seem to have – has delivered some great bloopers: in the world of processes, for instance, there is an increased demand for agile developments. The still dominant ‘waterfall-based’ processes now just seem too ‘sullen’: they take too long and products can be developed way quicker. This is instrumental since competition is imposing a quicker time to market. The ‘first moving advantage’ is key to succeed in a rapidly increasing, speed-driven market place: hence these ‘sluggish’ waterfalls are turned into maelstroms of hyperactivity, in which new developments – by the use of so-called ‚sprints‘ – continuously are thrown onto the market. This approach, to short-cut the long development cycles, is predominantly embraced in the software business: with the help of ‘scrum’ engineers develop around the problem, with the aim to put solutions on the market at an increasingly faster pace. The good thing with software is that, if it doesn’t turn out as planned, an update can be released soon after. Bad luck for us that because of this feat, we all turn into guinea pigs, helping the software industry to improve their solutions and thereby subsequently end up running from one help desk to the other: it difficult to enjoy these ‘products’ that are not yet ‚ripe‘…
„Soon ripe, soon rotten“ is a saying we all know, which implies that the quality of a product correlates to the time dedicated to its creation. It would be great if we would take more time to make things better. The past winter, for instance, definitively was not well done – do we get an update now?