When nu.nl (a Dutch news outlet) asked about my top reading recommendation, I realised a lot of time had gone by since I had last written a blog. In the last one, I wrote about Surrendering to complexity. In the one before that about circular thinking. In the past year at Hul le Kes we’ve had plenty of opportunities to run a number of engaging projects. So much so that I just didn’t seem to have the time to write a new blog. Well, I feel like no finally the moment is here to sit down and put some of my thoughts and findings into words. Let’s talk about operational processes.
Processes form an important and vital part of any business. Duration times, targets, revenue, loss; all this is encompassed by, and depends on processes and process optimisation.
The conventional approach to process optimisation is making sure all input gets run through a process in the shortest amount of time, for minimal costs, maximizing profit.
Usually a big part of this is achieved through standardisation and by implementing targets at every step. This is an incredibly fragmented way of working, and unsurprisingly, the way all multinationals grew into large companies. It is precisely this which bothers me most about conventional business.
It’s no surprise more and more processes are on their way to being partly or even fully roboticized. These types of processes are so fragmented that there is only a single way in which they work properly. There is no human being on earth who can do the exact same thing, day in day out, with the same amount of attention at a higher and higher speed. Humans simply aren’t built to work like robots.
Especially within a creative or innovative company like ours, a process like this will eventually have a reverse outcome. Too much routine kills creativity and undermines people’s personal development and well-being. Creating a kind of tunnel vision, people lose touch with the world they are a part of.
If there is anything you do not want in a creative company, it is people turning off their emotions and performing their labour like machines.
We don’t do process standardisation at Hul le Kes. Maybe this means we cannot be so time-efficient, but we can be tremendously more efficient when it comes to our intrinsic and societal values and considerations.
As a guest lecturer at universities, I always show the difference in working methods using two well-known systems. Firstly, the wristwatch system; Works perfectly, exact, always on time due to a big number of ingeniously created cogs and processes that are finely tuned into each other.
When one part gets damaged though, or fails, it halts the entire process.
The wristwatch system is a perfect analogy for the approach to process optimization that factories, fast-food and fast-fashion chains are taking. It is fragmented, very neat and orderly.
The second system, and this is the approach our company takes, I’d like to compare to that of the human body. An open and complex system.
There’s no system as ingeniously designed as our own bodies and those of other living organisms. Not fragmented like a machine, but one harmonious system that adapts itself continuously to its environment. As opposed to our wristwatch system, the human body keeps functioning even when certain parts of it get damaged or fail. Humans can adapt perfectly when someone, for instance, loses a hand. We can keep living with just one of our lungs. Our immune system builds itself continuously with experience and exposure. The complexity of our bodies is immense, yet it is a system that manages to maintain itself whilst allowing a capacity to grow and learn. A process like this is much better suited to react and adapt to an always changing society.
Hul le Kes takes this intrinsic approach to our own processes. This is even necessary. Not just to facilitate creativity, but because our primary resource, our fabric, changes continuously. Take our Monet Jackets; even though the design of a jacket stays the same, the end result depends on so many factors that the old approach to process optimisation simply cannot apply here.
By not fragmenting our process, keeping it open, we learn from it all the time. And it is this learning and experience which in the end does make things run faster and more efficient. However it is a process that demands a fair amount of interventions, emotions and considerations of taste, and therefore has to stay organic. The thickness of each vintage blanket used differs, the colours, the pattern, its size and so on. All this demands human attention, and calls for adaptations of each individual process.
The beauty of such an open and organic process, I find, is that it gives a space to people who are exhausted from the ridiculous speeds at which our society operates. Last week one of the biggest national newspapers published an interview they had with Sjaak en Tjeerd about our Recovery Studio. The Recovery Studio totally runs on open and organic processes. It wouldn’t be able to exist or function within a company with a strict method towards process optimisation with guidelines and targets set in stone.
By looking at the intrinsic motivation of people as well as their needs, they take up that part within the company that suits them most. I think it is very important to allow people to do what they like doing. I really believe that this plays a big part in why our company has seen very little sick leave or absenteeism. More importantly I find that we as a company can grow with the needs of those who work with us, including our customers and suppliers. It is by listening to each other, by wanting to learn and positively contribute to the world around us, that tomorrow’s companies are founded.
These companies will not be running on ego, they will run together with the needs of an ecosystem; just like how nature operates.
Sebastiaan Kramer (36) is managing director at Hul le Kes. Together with Sjaak Hullekes he graduated from ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in the field of fashion design. Since their graduation they have worked and lived together. Sebastiaan began his career as a designer, but gradually shifted to the business side of fashion. During his following schooling in business administration he focused on non-Western and alternative approaches to management. Aside from his role at Hul le Kes, he is director of Studio Ryn and artistic director of Fashion + Design Festival Arnhem and Duurzame Mode 025. Sebastiaan is a regular guest lecturer and speaker at universities on the subject of alternative management.