The Tyranny of Method

The Tyranny of Method

Tl;Dr: The idea of “method” a.k.a. process, a.k.a. methodology as a means to improvement has had its day. The damage it has caused, and its occlusion of alternatives, must come to an end. Let’s bury the idea of “method”.



“Method” is a zombie meme. It’s been dead a long time, but still staggers on, seeking new brainzzz of the living upon which to feed.

It’s time to lay the idea of “Method” to rest.

Rest In Peace, Method.

[If you would like me to elaborate this post, please let me know. 🙂 ]

– Bob

Further Reading

Paul Feyerabend’s Against Method: A Brief Take ~ Blog post

  1. Nice metaphor. What to do then (without a method/process)? It seems that throwing out method/process could also through out process improvement. What’s the alternative? Systems thinking?

  2. I don’t have a real problems with “method”. After all they are the laid down recipes of “what works”.

    What I really have a problem with is the “wrong methods” or “slavish adherence to method” – there’s a lot of it about.

  3. I suspect that “the problem with method” is only that such approaches allow one to ignore other aspects. That is, the problem is the occlusion, not the method. What if methods came with a set of questions about context and other aspects to consider when applying “the method”?

    I like questions. I think questions are important. Asking the right questions is very valuable. Answers change faster than questions so their value diminishes more quickly in general. The story of the student, upon visiting a professor after a decade or two, observed that the quiz of the day had the same questions as one give long before. The professor responded, “Oh yes, but the answers are all different.” This leads me to proffer “Dialogue Mapping”, a book by Jeff Conklin derived from IBIS.

    Decades ago, Horst Rittel, a professor of architecture at UC Berkeley, invented a hypertext system to support his Issue Based Information System, IBIS. His point was that when one was converting an old building to new uses, it would be valuable to know why particular features were chosen when it was first designed. Then his method was found to be useful in the process of considering any complex topic.

    The idea is to start with root questions instead of ideas or claims or positions. Any of those other things are to be given only as answers to specific questions. To start with, knowing the question makes the answer much clearer. Having the explicit question elicits alternative answers by its very presence. Any answer can attract arguments in favor, pros, and arguments against, cons. And then given some bushy trees of questions, answers, pros, and cons, there are natural places to put new more detailed questions, more answers, new pros and cons, as well as footnotes, links to other information, tags, ratings, etc.

    Whenever I see a blog or article with more than a dozen comments, I want to see a dialog map of the meaningful ones since reading through a hundred comments is usually amazingly boring. The forest of tree structures, with the root questions as an index, lets me find the parts that interest me, quickly.

    This approach is, I claim, a method that does NOT occlude other considerations; it clarifies them.

  4. I would agree with Steven Shaw. I don’t see a huge problem with a method because that may meet someone’s need be it the manager to know where things are in the pipeline, the worker to know that her product will move on to the next place in the production line, etc.

    Perhaps you’re trying to make the point that method should never take priority over folks’ needs, which I would agree with. The manager and everyone else should seek other’s needs and if this means implementing an agreed upon method, so be it.

    • Hi David,

      Some of the #lkuk13 folks and I were discussing this very subject over a few beers last Friday evening. From my point of view, and applying the Antimatter Principle, if some folks truly need something like “method” then it will emerge unbidden. And in a form that’s truly joyful. If we take the conventional route, where “method” is suggested or even forced onto people, then joy is diminished, as will be uptake, enthusiasm, interest, etc..

      – Bob

  5. I think it’s telling that even when someone comes up with a useful tool (like Kanban) so many people rush to turn it into a method to the extent that if you say you’re “doing Kanban” people actually think they know what that means. We’re drawn to solutions that can be expressed simply as a set of rules, perhaps because solving real problems is hard, and often requires a degree of patience, thoughtfulness, and vulnerability that is terrifying.

    • Hi Paul,

      I concur with your thoughts. I feel sad that so many people seem hemmed-in by rules, whether imposed by others or self-imposed. It does not meet my need for joy and playfulness and sharing in folks getting their needs met. Although maybe some folks DO need rules, i suspect that’s more of a defence mechanism masking other needs, rather than anything fundamental.

      – Bob

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