Increasingly, my work starts in a barren, Mad Max-like world of deadened emotions. Why do cops not feel the pain of a woman who’s reporting to them she’s been raped? Why does a bank advisor keep pushing credit cards on a customer already stressed by too much debt? Why does a car salesman use hard-selling tactics when buyers tell them at every opportunity they hate the car buying experience? Why does the head of R&D at a chip-designing firm not care about the rising suicide rate of its engineers pressured by competitive deadlines? Don’t they feel the pain they inflict onto others? Aren’t they made of flesh and blood like the people they inflict this pain onto?
Unavoidably, an exploration of these deeply emotional issues reveals a hyper-rationalization of everybody’s behavior through process. “The process made me do it” is the most common answer. Nested inside the process are the productivity and cost metrics associated with it. Let us look at the neighborhood cop and victim, for example. The neighborhood cop operates within the constraints of a quickly shrinking police budget in most cities of the world, and therefore has to move quickly from victim to victim, making sure that the paperwork will hold in court if the incident results in a court procedure. This becomes the legitimization for the cop’s heartless behavior (“it is in your best interest that we fill in this paperwork right so that your aggressor can be condemned in due time”), which, while true, is not exactly what a rape victim would like to hear immediately after the emotionally shattering episode. When the local police force initiates any kind of lean, quality or reengineering effort in this area, it is likely to be framed as: “how do we make the incident reporting effort more efficient?”
From this moment on, the effort is doomed. The project will start with a map of the reporting process. A visual representation of each step in the process will highlight each “pain point” for the protagonists. Each “pain point” becomes a narrow view of everybody’s experience in that particular process, leading to some lame recommendations such as “we need for the cop to be trained in sensitivity” or “we should give the victim the address of a local rape victim association”.
Instead, the redesign should start with the mutual sharing of their experience by the cop and the victim, and have them co-create new interactions between them that would help both parties, not only in the context of incident reporting, but to make the experience of life more meaningful on both sides. This constitutes the “experience before process” principle. Starting with the experience of these two humans of flesh and blood will take them to dramatically different places, and may involve the connection between them long before and long after the crime, the relationship between the police force and their community, potentially involving the demographic make-up of the police force to resemble the community they supervise, the career path of the cops, and the family and social environment of the victim. Starting from this rich terrain, they will identify together new ways to work together, which may or may not have anything to do with paper work and the crime reporting process.
Particularly key to the “experience before process” principle is the attention paid to the experience of the cop. Reducing the cop’s pain to the narrow process that has been defined will lead to focus on the administrative burden of having to do the paper work (admittedly a real issue), but the real pain may be about carrying too much gear, not trusting the beat cop who is with them, not feeling safe in the neighborhood they patrol, or feeling they will be left on their own if they use their weapon prematurely. Similarly, the victim’s experience is typically reduced to the moment of pain following the crime, while the problems would require tackling everything that preceded the actual rape (was there a pattern?) and everything that will follow (emotional support after the reporting).
In business, we have been so trained in the way of process that we forget business is about the human experience. The key here is to view the cop and the victim as two people who have the power to reinvent their relationship. If we can get these two people to co-create a new relationship in a live workshop, then we can do it between a community of cops and a community of victims, providing we give them the tools to engage with each other and the community-organizing structure to co-develop the best solution for their neighborhood.
And by the way, my own experience is connected to the experience of the people I consult to or teach for. My life became a lot more meaningful when I discovered that formulating my “expert” ideas on optimizing the paperwork in the police incident reporting process was a lot less rewarding than helping cops and victims figure out together how to change their life. My job is now to connect the experience of people together by activating empathy, and I am part of that chain of experience. People are a lot more imaginative when they sense you’re interested in starting from their experience than from analytical picture of the process that throws them together. When people start sharing their experience with each other, they unavoidably come up with new interactions between them, which nearly always represent a better economic model for the organization that houses or serves them. At this intersection between the experiential and the economic lies the miracle of co-creation.