Were Hieroglyphics the best writing system ever?

The title of this article may not mislead you! All we are going to discuss here is about Business Process Management (BPM) and nothing else.

We have to admit that to someone who wants to learn natural language writing, but has no clue at all about that, it's better to start from something easy. For example to ask him to draw on a piece of paper, using no more than five straight lines, a picture that shapes a house. After that we enthusiastically announce to him that has already managed to “write” the word “house”. Next we ask him to shape, in the very same manner, a bird then a dog, a mouse, the sun and so on. It is for sure that probably we have created a new zealot for our “easy-and-understandable-by-anyone-writing-system”!

At this time the enthusiastic student may say to his teacher: “You are the best! This writing system of yours is simple and understandable. There is no need to be someone educated in order to write. Everybody can write now!”  Well maybe the basic principles on writing using a system like that may be simple, but…

The ancient writers that used a system based on “pictures” had to learn hundred or thousands of symbols. Then the ancient writers in order to write something like the natural language had to add to the learned symbols “modifier signs” in order to approach the natural language. In practice they have never managed to “approach” adequate the natural language although they used hundreds of extra symbols (added to the obvious “house”, ”bird”, ”dog” etc.). The funniest of all is that to learn someone only to write using this “simple” system was something like to take a degree form a college! Too much effort for a poor result but mankind history progress in ways like that.

The world had to live using writing systems as that for thousands of years until the Greeks first introduced (at about 800 B.C.) the modern way of writing, based on phonemes (consonants plus vowels), used nowadays by written languages. The principle of phonemes seems “simple” now (after having already invented!) but at the time of hieroglyphics the “obvious” was "pictures"! (1)

Hoping that not only history enthusiasts have reached this line of text, it's time to discus about BPM! Right to the point: Are graphical tools adequate to describe and run business processes or any other process? Before giving a straight answer we had to admit that “pictures” have a very strong impact to the understanding of the general idea of how “things are going” evenly to the experts as to the general public.

Explaining to decision makers that “drawing a picture is not enough to make things like processes run” is something that the new zealots of “process designing and running using only drawing (and some coding here or there)” are not eager to hear. When the time comes to sell things to people, even smart and well educated managers, the “picture” nearly always wins the “deep reasoning”. (2)

So I believe that “picturing processes” is a method to sell BPM suites and not make real processes to run. Indeed, “picture” really matters in the case of “seeing” final real-life results. Never “picture” matters in supporting the BPM’s “obvious potential” when sold to managers that understand the part of BPM that is “obvious” but have little knowledge of the mechanics needed under the “obvious” surface. BPM is like the metropolitan subway. Most of it is hidden under the ground. So keep the “painting” as a prototyping tool until a real tool invented to make “pictures” really run. (3)

Managers have to ask their IT staff if a BPM suite is capable to embody all native applications and databases that have built all those years of the company’s operation. Business Process Management Systems mustn’t be just another application to add to the company’s assets. BPM’s ultimate target has to be the automation of the entire “data production”, “data transfer” and “data consumption” of all the “white collars” in order to build a “perfect choreography” with the “blue collars” offering to them the data they need, the time they needed in order to create “perfect products”.

Well, this “picture” impact on buying decisions makes me feel that there is an urgent need for “masking” mykosmos under a workflow tool.  J

Rafael J. Pavlides

(1)            We usually say that finding “simple” ideas is the key to solve complex problems, like the writing of natural language or running processes. By saying that we make no differentiation on simple ideas that are “obvious” (having a natural visual representation in the eyes of everybody) and simple ideas that is a product of reasoning of some depth. The deeper the reasoning path we follow the simpler the ideas that arouses in our minds. When a “simple” idea, that was product of deep reasoning, comes to the vision of the public then it becomes “obvious”. Even the everyday expression “do you see what I mean?” shows that the ultimate decision weapon of mankind is vision and not reasoning.

(2)            If “drawing a process” was enough to make things run in businesses, then all “computer code” in the universe, that is nothing more than “algorithmic processes”, it has to be simply drawn by the mathematicians or the scientists that firstly “described” the process for the programmers!

(3)            Too match discussion has been made on “toy examples” that BPM suites, on their very first website page, offer as power-example to potential customers. Well nearly all BPM suites, on the first google’s search page, offer the example of “buying approval”. As a last step, in order to show the potential to change of their BPM suites, add another one “approve box” to the first one!