Marty Neumeier on “The Rules of Genius, #13: Use a linear process for static elements”

NeumeierThe starting point for choosing a process is understanding what kind of system you’re dealing with. Is it simple or complex? Are the elements static and unchanging or dynamic and unpredictable?

Many projects have fairly static elements. Even a project as complex as a movie can be approached as a collection of simple parts. You can break the movie down into scenes, then break the scenes into shots and camera moves. Once you have a script in hand, it’s easy to see how the scenes will fit together, at which point you can shoot them in whatever sequence you like. You can feel confident that the scenes will make sense when they’re assembled into a finished product.

Another example is the manufacturing process. Manufacturing gets its efficiencies from predictable steps. Some steps can be completed simultaneously, while others must be completed sequentially. But all the steps involve static parts that can be assembled at the end. You can then repeat the process endlessly, make small improvements over time, and scale it up when you’re ready.

These are examples of a linear process. There are many situations in which it works perfectly, such as producing an instruction manual, mounting a legal defense, or planning a wedding. In each of these cases, you might expect surprises and setbacks, but few that would require rethinking the entire project.

On the other hand, you can’t approach a musical composition in the same linear way. Any sequence of notes you add will change the character of the whole composition. Every new element suggests changes to the other elements, keeping the whole piece in constant motion. When you try to pin it down, it fights back. It’s alive and dynamic.

The same can be said of building a business, managing a brand, or designing an app. These are complex activities. They require a dynamic process.

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To check out all of the “Rules” that have been featured thus far, please click here.

Marty Neumeier is a designer, writer, and business adviser whose mission is to bring the principles and processes of creativity to industry. His latest book, METASKILLS, explores the five essential talents that will drive innovation in the 21st century. His previous series of “whiteboard” books includes THE DESIGNFUL COMPANY, about the role of design in corporate innovation; ZAG, named one of the “top hundred business books of all time” for its insights into radical differentiation; and THE BRAND GAP, considered by many the foundational text for modern brand-building.

He has worked closely with innovators at Apple, Netscape, Sun Microsystems, HP, Adobe, Google, and Microsoft to advance their brands and cultures. Today he serves as Director of Transformation for Liquid Agency, and travels extensively as a workshop leader and speaker on the topics of innovation, brand, and design. Between trips, he and his wife spend their time in California and southwest France.

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