‘Process literacy’ 101


Mild process (Credits: Wassily Kandinsky, 1928) Mild process (Credits: Wassily Kandinsky, 1928)

Today I just sat through two very good – erm let’s say ‘very typical’ – examples of moments lacking ‘process literacy’:

  • A seminar that I had to leave after 50 minutes and hadn’t yet started the questions and answers session (like a penetrating and Q&A is totally ‘rad’ from an engagement point of view, right?)
  • A cool networking moment with a group which subtly moved on to a presentation that we were promised would be “only 5 slides, only 5 minutes” and turned out to be a lecture of 30 minutes and nearly as many slides, to a group of us feeling completely trapped by this unwanted PowerPoint invitation.

And these are not just two isolated incidents. They happen all the time! To you, me and the rest of us all…

I mean: what is wrong with you people? You don’t even need to be the highest process literates in the world to understand there is a slight glitch there, right?

So, at the risk of repeating a couple of things I’ve said in the past, let me spell it out for you right there: get process literate please! You will benefit from it but certainly others will benefit from it too!

What is ‘process literacy’ though?

Process literacy’ is a new term for an old practice. And it revolves around understanding and maximising the dynamics between people and what connects them to what it is they’re supposed to do together – whether they already know it or not. It is the weaving pattern that nests purpose in conversations and vice versa. It’s what makes human connections richer than ‘just a nice chat about whatever’.

Process literacy is about connecting the dots, the circles of people and conversation together, the energies and interests, in a time pathway, and in full realisation of where this is happening. It’s the travel training kit that prepares you for the richest adventures. And somehow refusing to see this means you will keep stuck with not so rich, not so amazing, not so long-lasting, not so effective results in your interactions with the brave whole world (or with your direct neighbour) and/or in any of your work involving others, other times, other spaces…

Even commercial companies have understood something needs to be done about process to gain value…

…although I think it’s a reductionist view.

Peeling this onion off a little more, being process literate means…

  • You don’t just care about yourself but also about others, about their opinions and feelings, their motives and motivations;
  • You don’t just care about ideas and whatever you’re focusing on but also how that focus content relates to a wider context;
  • But you also know that the process is only one aspect of it and that you should not focus only about it all the time;
  • You don’t just care about what you’re doing or talking about now – even though you should fully be present there – but also about how it relates to a wider objective;
  • You actually know where you are in this journey and you pay attention to explain to others what they are doing in this spot with you, why and what’s coming up next;
  • If you have no clue why you are at that spot, you actually try to understand this to relate ideas and actions together and shape a way forward;
  • You really care for that collective adventure people are on and you strive for engagement, individual and collective betterment, and collective action and change;
  • You pay attention to time and to the capacity of the people around you to be able to undertake that higher level calling;
  • And because all this ‘process stuff’ matters to you as something eminently important, you try understand it better by continually reflecting on the little and big details that make the process fly…

So it’s very much about the practice SMARTS – and about our lifelong learning.

Lifelong Learning

What to do about it? Learn process facilitation perhaps? Groups like Community At Work, Liberating Structures and many others can offer great starting points (and training!).

But you don’t need to be an ace facilitator to work on and care for process literacy. Great leaders know this as it relates to their imperative of empathy, to their social leadership skills, in normal times or in times of change.

Want to find out more? Hey the good news is there will likely be a session on ‘process literacy 101’ – which may go in other directions than this post by the way – at the upcoming AgKnowledge Innovation Process Share Fair. So join us there (and register here).

Meanwhile, what is coming up for you, thinking about this process literacy?

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4 thoughts on “‘Process literacy’ 101

  1. Pingback: What facilitators and participants define as ‘success’ | agilefacil

  2. Pingback: AgKnowledge innovation process share fair: Processing the process of all processes | Maarifa - Communications and Knowledge Management

  3. Laureene,

    So sorry for the late reply! And I feel for you being trapped just like me by one of those process-blind folks that unfortunately are not aware of their ailment and of the ailments they incur on all of us in turn. The sad thing is this is probably the norm, not the exception.
    Just recently again I was kindly invited not to come and facilitate a meeting for budgetary reasons – yeah, right, why should you bother having only ONE person really thinking about the process but invite 40, 50, 60 people who will be exclusively concerned with the content. Which person makes the most critical difference: one more on the content or just one on the process?
    Anyhow, that’s the ballpark we play around with and it’s good we let these messages out for more and more and more people to hear them.
    We are organising this share fair in May to address some of that ‘Digging around in the dark’ issue you mentioned.

    Thank you for engaging here!

  4. I mean what is wrong with you people? 🙂
    Thank you for sharing this Ewen, and i totally feel for you that you were trapped in these 2 meetings, if even deceived
    Had 1 of those, but being a curious soul, i found myself sticking around just in case the 5 minutes could potentially be something worthwhile (it wasnt) so i told myself, perhaps the discussion afterwards will make up for it, and it did but not so much!
    That while process literacy is ”a travel training kit that prepares you for the richest adventures’ , some would say that being unprepared or taking the road less travelled can also be adventurous
    Process literacy would work best for Organisational learning, but if we do not systems in place for that learning to translate into action and thus effective for our activities, then we’ll be like blind men digging around in the dark…

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