Your Work Is a Vortex, Not a Merry-go-round

People sometimes ask me, “What’s your process? How do you write your books? How do you create your presentations? How do you design your workshops?” And then I might say, “I have no process. My work is a dynamic vortex, not a merry-go-round.”

Sometimes, I spend time defining my context. What are my goals? What are my values? What do I like doing? And what is it that I should be doing?

Sometimes, I talk with people and empathize with their needs. I observe what happens in business, and I ask questions to understand problems.

It often happens that I work on a synthesis of my observations and experiences. I write stuff down, categorize my findings, and try to make sense of the world.

Many times, I have ideas for things to do. I hypothesize about work that could be useful and valuable. And usually, these ideas go on my wish lists or task lists.

Only a small portion of these ideas end up being done. I call this externalizing because it’s about turning an idea into a reality and offering it to others.

Sometimes, I evaluate people’s feedback on my work. And sometimes, I find that too scary. Sensing how others respond to me has always been a challenge.

Finally, I evaluate my work, the systems that I created, and those in which I take part. Improving these systems helps me to do all of the above again, but better.

I don’t organize my daily activities in a sequential manner, following these seven types of work. It’s not like I empathize on Mondays, synthesize on Tuesdays, and hypothesize on Wednesday mornings. On the contrary, I sometimes feel that my work-life is a creative and dynamic mess. I can do any of these activities at any time. It all depends on my travel schedule, my events, my meetings, and yes, my mood. I don’t care about step-by-step sequential processes. I care about doing what’s important at any time, in the most efficient or effective ways.

The Innovation Vortex is a meta-model for iterative processes. I created it as a mashup of Design Thinking and Lean Startup methods. But it also nicely covers Agile and Lean thinking and even continuous improvement frameworks such as the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle. These processes and models are all useful. But they are not necessary.

Defined methods and frameworks codify the behaviors of talented people who often don’t even consciously think about differentiating their activities into discrete categories. Codifying processes is mainly useful for beginners. The first design thinkers never adhered to a five-step design thinking framework. The original lean startuppers didn’t follow a predefined build-measure-learn loop. These professionals just did whatever made sense to them. With a bit of retrospective coherence, you can probably see that their work-lives are just another messy and custom implementation of the Innovation Vortex.

The Innovation Vortex is a meta-model for iterative work. Some of you may recognize your own favorite process, method, or framework in it. That’s totally fine. The point is, it’s okay when things get messy. It’s a dynamic vortex, not a merry-go-round. Yes, there is a logical order to the seven streams of the whirlwind, but it’s okay to work in several of those streams at a time. Any activity can be the right one at any time.

Don’t allow a process to make you dumb.

Don’t get stuck in a merry-go-round.

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