Inside Out, Not Back to Front

While thinking about my Sabre Tooth Panda Curriculum, [Sabre Tooth Panda School](, Ladina and I began discussing how best to organise the syllabus. In the end we settled on a bunch of module or topic headers and four overarching themes:

1. The individual
2. The team
3. The environment
4. The process

We found that all of our topic areas touched on at least two of these themes. But I was unhappy with the process part. Something has always bugged me about the word.

When I talk about what many would call the creative process I tend instead to use the term creative flow. On one level I think this is because the word process has a certain rigidity to it. It comes burdened with the idea of arbitrary restraints. But I think that more than anything else it’s the fact that process is so frequently done back to front rather than, as I would have it done, inside out.

When I think about processes in the workplace what comes to mind isn’t simply “how we get stuff done” but rather “these are the hoops you need to jump through to achieve something”. Where in theory a process is something that supports your work, in practice processes are often experienced as burdensome and inflexible, something to either put up with or try to subvert.

If you’re like me, you probably feel your hackles rise at the very mention of following a process. The image that comes to mind might be a series of boxes to tick, of busywork and arbitrary requirements. You might feel, as I do, the same about hierarchy. It’s not useful. Worse, it gets in your way.

In reality we all follow our own processes. But these processes are not top down, arbitrary and restrictive. They come from us and we have the capacity to shape them, alter them. These processes are bottom up processes. Or, to put it another way, inside out. They come from within and shape the outside world. Our behaviours come first, the process follows.

Processes in workplaces are almost always top down. The process comes first. The behaviour is supposed to alter to fit the process. This is back to front. The tail wagging the dog.

It may well be that I have to make peace with the word but I will continue to try to find a better one, a word that more properly represents the ever changing state of how things get done, that places behaviours and intentions ahead of rules and busywork. Until then I’ll continue to remind people that processes should be inside out, not back to front.


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