Why Process People Are Second-Class Citizens

Too many Enterprise 2.0 evangelists don't understand what really makes companies special, what gives them their heart.

Venkatesh Rao, Contributor

July 13, 2011

3 Min Read

Process people are found both in staff and line functions, and inside and outside corporations. Ironically, they're often found very near the hearts of corporations, oblivious to the spiritual significance of their privileged location.

You can often find them by looking for signs of seething resentment at being sidelined. They often blame their condition on manipulative executives and peers, or their own lack of skills, degrees, or drive.

They overestimate the impact of those factors. The real reason they have been sidelined is that they cannot see the heart of the corporation and therefore simply cannot be trusted with anything important, no matter how talented they are. They're doomed to forever follow specific orders under controlled conditions. Wherever possible, their jobs will be outsourced, crowdsourced, de-professionalized, or automated out of existence.

And this is as it should be. People who don't understand the heart of a business are a liability for that business because they don't understand priorities. The top priorities of a corporation always have to do with its heart. Strengthening it, preserving it, defending it, curing it of its ills, or mourning its passing and looking for a new donor heart.

And unless the company is a vendor in the Enterprise 2.0 sector, the 2.0 agenda is never the top priority and never should be. If you don't understand that, you're hurting the 2.0 movement.

East Hump

Time for the answer to the spot-the-heart question. The heart of Union Pacific within Bailey Yard can be found in either of the two humps at the ends of the yard. Bailey Yard is a classification yard. It's where trains coming in from the west are disassembled and reassembled into trains heading east, and vice versa.

This process is accomplished by slowly detaching railroad cars from incoming trains at one of two "humps" at the eastern and western ends of the yard, respectively. Each detached car rolls down the hump, driven by gravity, and is directed to one of 114 "bowl tracks" where outgoing trains are being assembled. It's hard to see the humps in the panoramic views from the observation tower. (In the first picture, the East Hump is near the top right.)

But if you stand at the curve of Route 30 near the East Hump, you can watch the process up close. With a slow metallic thunk every 10 seconds or so, a car will detach and roll slowly down.

That one scene is a microcosm of the railroad industry, the broader transportation industry (if you're watching an intermodal container train), and the world at large (if you ponder the role of container shipping in globalization). That 10-second heartbeat at Bailey Yard is the heartbeat of the modern world.

The next time you are arguing passionately about the values of collaboration and wikis, or railing against intransigent luddites who don't get why your tools are so great, pause for a moment and ask yourself: Do I know where the heart of the business is?

Venkatesh Rao is a writer and independent researcher at ribbonfarm.com and the author of Tempo. He can be contacted via LinkedIn.

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