Monday, December 19, 2011

Free the people!

By: Dick van Mersbergen

Shortly after my encounter with Confucius, I met the fourth philosopher at the Be Informed headquarters: Bertrand Russell (1872-1970). His quote: "Too little liberty brings stagnation and too much brings chaos.”

Liberty and freedom
In Dutch, we use the same word for liberty and freedom: vrijheid. Yet there is a subtle difference. Freedom (free will) is the ability to make choices without constraints. For example, a domino’s movement is completely determined by laws of physics, it does not have any freedom. Liberty is to be able to govern yourselves, to behave according to your own free will, and take responsibility for your actions. So I wondered: do we want liberty or do we want freedom?

Children vs. parents
Children want a lot of freedom, as any parent will confirm. But children not granted many liberties: children are not allowed to travel on their own, to drink or smoke, to decide what to eat, to go to bed late, etc. So many rules, their live must be hell on earth..! (And it does not get better at school, where they give out homework on top of all the rules.) Yet most children stick to their parents. I remember running away as a child, only to find myself stuck 40 meters from home: I was not allowed to cross a busy road.

So how come children are happy with little liberty? Easy: they are getting a lot of freedom! Parents go out of their ways to lift any constraint their precious crop might come across. Children like this. A lot. And they sure don’t want the responsibility that comes with every liberty. Besides, they receive benefits like love, security, free food and clothes, Xmas presents, etc. Why should they rule themselves?

People vs. government
When the Occupy movement took over a square in Amsterdam, anything went in the beginning. A colourful bunch camped in the open, living their dream and changing the world. But suddenly, after a few days, a guy was in control of the food distribution. Then an other guy was arranging security and a third guy was speaking to the press, etc. A mini-society developed and ironically, that society was very similar to the one they were protesting against.

The occupyers still had a lot of freedom, but were willing to give up liberties and hand over responsibility to others. They made rules. This applies to any organisation, being a community, a state or a nation. Whatever system a country is run by, people agree on rules for the greater good. The thing people most want is freedom.

Knowledge workers vs business processes
In business, most business processes are charactarized by little liberty: they are fully predefined. Variations either become a new process or are added to the business process, creating a more complicated version. As a result, business operations become stagnant. The opposite, instructing people to simply rule themselves and handle situations as they see fit, is also counterproductive. It would bring chaos, inconsistency and a high business risk.

Having business rules is not a problem, it is the way we arrange work. Like we saw earlier, knowledge workers are perfectly willing to agree on rules and have less self-government. What they demand is freedom. They not just want to carry out instructions, any machine can do that! They want to act with as little constraints as possible.

Free the people!
Be Informed helps to arrange that. With our declarative approach, there is no predefined process, just the possible relationships between various activities. These are the actual rules. Every transaction can have a unique path, chosen by the customer or worker, within the guidelines. Then, there is neither chaos nor stagnation.

And best of all: both customers and workers have the maximum of freedom. Which makes them very happy.