Stuff vs. Process

We understand stuff. We’ve been dealing with stuff for millions of years, from soil to animals to teapots to computers. Cognitively, we’ve got stuff under control. Process is another matter. Many of us share the same way of lacing our shoes and brushing our teeth, but that’s about it. As a result I think it’s cognitively easier for people to understand how a thing will help them vs. a process. It’s easier for a company president to dissolve a business unit than to figure out an alternate process for making it profitable. It’s easier for a CTO to buy silver-bullet software than consider how people might work together differently to achieve the same ends (though I think there’s also a it’s-time-for-the-Jetsons effect). This doesn’t bode well for designers or business designers, who essentially sell a way of doing things.

Given this situation, we can:

  1. Point to other, successful people using process
  2. Show how the process leads to a better thing
  3. Talk about the process via metaphor

Here’s a simple metaphor of using process: my bottle of Tabasco reads:


  • distilled vinegar
  • red pepper
  • salt

…but obviously just mixing those ingredients together in the right proportions doesn’t yield Tabasco, you need a great process. “First, it’s a special variety of fully-aged red pepper. Then it’s the process. The pepper mash is allowed to ferment and age for up to three years in white oak barrels…