A Simple Cycle v2

Following my recent post, A Simple Cycle, I received some interesting and useful feedback, so it seems time for a second iteration on the idea. Many pointed out that the word “act” is overly-simplistic, and can apply to anything we do. This is true. Conversation is action, thinking is action, silent meditation and emptying the mind of all thoughts, even that can be considered an action. A better word—a clearer concept—is needed to distinguish this part of the cycle from the first part, “align”. The word I have selected is “make”.

Make (inspired by Lee Devin and Rob Austin’s book, Artful Making) indicates some kind of hands-on approach, the building or forming of something, or practical experimentation for the purpose of furthering knowledge. It is (somewhat) separate from the conversations that precede and follow such activity. It’s all action, yes, and some of the action alters the physical world.

I described my offer as an encapsulation of the creative cycle. Geert Bollen offered the astute observation that “important aspects of the creative process are not accessible to us on a conscious level—eg, inspiration.” and went on to offer an alternative cycle that focuses on what is accessible: [generate, refine]*. I see this as a good description of the “make” part of the creative cycle. An artisan or inventor, working in isolation will indeed follow such a pattern, learning as she goes. What is missing here is the element that takes this kind of making from a personal activity into the realm of business. I am interested in that realm, and [generate, refine]* is incomplete for that purpose.

In building products or services for a client the creative process requires both making and alignment. Without the latter we are back in invisible teritory—making what we think someone might want, but never checking along the way, thus never really knowing if what we make will be useful.

The terms divergence and convergence are sometimes used to describe the agile process. Teams build software, possibly diverging from the plan due to, e.g. better ideas, or unforeseen circumstances, then they meet with customers to converge and reach agreement for the next iteration. I like these terms, but they describe directions rather than human interaction and activity. I prefer to focus on the human element.

I have recast the creative cycle as [align, make]*, again this is a fractal model where each period of alignment may include some making, and each period of making may include realignment, thus:
   [Align[make, align]*, Make[align, make]*]*.

I was also asked what the purpose of this model is. I actually don’t know. For me this is an exercise in abstraction. I have found that whittling good practices down to their core often reveals patterns of interest—patterns that can be applied in new contexts that the original practices were not designed for. My work on abstracting Scrum from process and practice to values and principles offered me the opportunity to teach it in a meaningful way, far outside its original domain of software development. Perhaps this representation of the creative cycle for business will help others do the same, i.e. foster a creative mindset in areas of business traditionally considered to be formulaic or repetitive. Working creatively is always a more engaging form of work, than following process and procedure.

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