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The means and the ends

By Natasha Josefowitz

La Jolla Light

Process versus task! So often we see these two terms as opposites, when in fact it is not either-or; it is sequential. It is first process, then task. A task will be better accomplished with an appropriate process preceding it and process will lead nowhere without a task as the goal. In other words, task is the end product, process is the means of achieving it.

If your task is to make a decision, you can just go ahead and decide, thus accomplishing your task very quickly, or you can go through a process before making the decision. For instance, weighing the pros and cons or thinking through who will be affected by the decision and how. Or, you can try to predict both the consequences of the decision and the possible unintended consequences. You can seek others’ opinions, try to reach a consensus, get in touch with the feelings generated etc. Whichever you choose, there will always be people who think you decided too quickly and those who say that you wasted time before deciding.

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We often talk of “task-oriented individuals.” They are those who say: “Come on, let’s get going; let’s not dilly-dally; we’re spinning our wheels; let’s not rehash; it’s history; enough planning, let’s have some action; put your money where your mouth is; go for it baby; don’t just stand there, do something.”

The process people, on the other hand say: “Let’s not rush into this; let’s take it one step at a time. Did everyone have a say? Does anyone have a different opinion or suggestion? Do we have experts here? Let’s get everyone on board; better to be prepared than sorry; plan first, act later; what is our objective? Is there anything we’ve overlooked? What other ways are there to do it?”

These two ways of behaving probably sound familiar. Most of us have witnessed both, felt victimized by either, and have done one or the other ourselves. Where do you tend to fit in? It is important to know your own style, for only then can you compensate by also trying the other.

Studies have shown that men are more often task-oriented and women often deal longer with the process. In an outdoor experience designed to parallel issues at work, executives needed to scale a wall that could only be done through a team effort-the goal being to get all the members over the wall.

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The women wanted to sit and plan how the wall should be scaled: who goes first, who is to be last, and check out various strategies. They had hardly gotten their first words out when some of the men had already run up to the wall and were scaling it, the first one up sitting on top feeling victorious. It was only after it had proven to be difficult, if not impossible, to make it up the wall for the remaining members that these “first ones up” came to realize that they, in fact, had sabotaged the team effort by disregarding the planning phase.

Because the women have frequently been in the minority, they have not been listened to nor have they insisted that they be heard. The men get impatient with the women’s planning process, and the women get frustrated with the men’s quick moves into action. This is quite typical of what happens in similar circumstances in life.

What we have here is a good example of different styles of getting things done. It is obvious that one cannot stay in process forever. But it is equally ineffective to leap into action before having examined enough alternative strategies with their consequences for the organization, the group, and the individuals involved. I have found that as I’m growing older balancing process and task becomes easier-possibly because we are also becoming wiser and wiser.

So, before making any decision, it is wise to ask who is to make this decision: By what means will this decision be implemented, and what consequences will this decision have on the people involved? In other words: WHAT, WHO, HOW, and for WHOM.

I wrote a poem on this issue.

I don’t know which way is the right one

I don’t know which one will suit you

you’ll discover that “task” will direct you

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but “process” will give you the clue.