The Physics of Business Process

Big Red Car here. Glorious day yesterday in the ATX. Going to be 70F and sunny today. Ahhh.

In business there is an element of physics — the study of matter and its motion through space and time — which shows up in the processes which any enterprise embraces.

Superior processes and capabilities result in superior outcomes. A process is a tool to automate the means of achieving a desired outcome. It is a tool when done well.

The Brown Bess

In the American Revolution, the Brits shouldered the Brown Bess, their work a day musket which shot an enormous bullet a very short distance. Beyond a hundred yards, the projectile fell from the air and became a marble. Rolling marbles are rarely fatal. Beyond a hundred yards, it was worthless.

The Brown Bess, named for Elizabeth I, was used to successfully create an empire with the exception of the American Revolution in which a huge prize was pried out of British hands at the point of the Kentucky Long Rifle.

The Brown Bess required a lot of lead and a lot of powder to propel that huge slug. Therefore, soldiers had to carry a lot of extra weight.

It was very easy to reload as it had a huge caliber and could shoot any projectile one could ram down its fat throat.  It was an extraordinary platform upon which to mount a bayonet, perhaps the real source of the British empire of that day. Cold steel is a powerful persuader.

The Brits offered a fight to anyone interested while arrayed in the British square. Americans thought of British squares as a “target rich environment.”

The Brits closed to within less than a hundred yards. A few volleys were fired off to catch the enemy’s attention and then they unleashed a bayonet charge. It was a process that created an empire and had not found its way out of the winner’s circle in a long time.

The Kentucky Long Rifle

The Kentucky Long Rifle was, first, a rifle. It had rifling in its barrel where the Brown Bess was smooth. These grooves made the projectile spin and using that gyroscope stability, bullets flew true and straight. It was made by German and Swiss craftsmen first in Pennsylvania and therefore could be properly called the Kentucky or the Tennessee or the Pennsylvania Long Rifle.

The barrel was longer — 42″ v 30″ for the Brown Bess — and more delicately chambered at about 50 caliber — less lead and less powder and less weight. This longer barrel, the rifling and the smaller projectile enabled a sharpshooter to kill game at 2-500 yards. The longer barrel allowed the expanding gases to transmit more power to the projectile and more power translated directly to a longer effective distance.

The Brits said that a Kentucky Long Rifle could mow down their officers at 200 yards with certainty and deadly reliability — head shots, no less. Many an officer lost a horse at 400 yards.

The physics of it all

The physics of it all was quite simple — George Washington could deploy units armed with the Kentucky Long Rifle and pick off the Brits at multiples of the effective range of the Brown Bess. At battles like the second battle of Trenton when Cornwallis gave chase from Princeton to Trenton, Washington made him run a gauntlet of units (armed with long rifles) laying in wait en route. It was genius. It was a superior process.

Washington had picked a brilliant piece of terrain to defend — elevation, steep slope and a nice little creek with bridges to channelize the enemy as it closed with the defensive positions and offered battle. But, he had also subjected the Brits to incredible attrition as they conducted the approach march.

Behind timber stands, this clever warrior deployed units of sharpshooters armed with long rifles who killed the Brits who had repeatedly deployed to give battle. An otherwise very pleasant hike ruined. Having bled them and forced them to deploy, his sharpshooters melted back into the woods and made haste to the next ambush site.

In the end, the Brits arrived tired, blooded, decimated and ultimately unsuccessful while Washington slipped the noose, side stepped them and captured and sacked Princeton, their headquarters. Sacking your enemy’s headquarters town is always a good thing.


So the other day The Boss is talking to a couple of CEOs about their hiring practices — the physics of their hiring process.

One CEO had an elaborate process which included a questionnaire, an application, successive interviews, a test, a sample work product. It was an audition.

Another CEO had targeted folks they wanted to hire and had a long standing list of currently employed folks who they wanted to join their team. They also had a process but it was a seduction, not an audition.

The results were predictable — the first CEO was finding a hard time filling some critical positions and was losing many applicants during the process. He held a view that if the applicant didn’t comply with his process it was an insight into their interest and good riddance. His process chased off a lot of otherwise qualified prospects.

The second CEO was seducing — seducing — folks who were the best at what they did as evidenced by the fact they already had jobs and were known by their reputation before the company even contacted them. That company had almost no turnover and was growing robustly.

It was the Brown Bess v the Kentucky Long Rifle, no?

It was the physics of the business process that was driving the results.

Other stuff

The second CEO, the seducer, had a clear Vision, Mission, Strategy, Tactics, Objectives, Values and Company Culture — in writing and with a slick little presentation. Anyone in the company could give this presentation. The entire company knew it and believed it. Their efforts were perfectly aligned.

The first CEO had all the same stuff but it was all in his head. He was too busy to write it out and he was focused solely on product and didn’t have time to spend on that stuff. Only the CEO could give the presentation as it was in his head and only his head. Each time it was a little different.

The second CEO, the seducer, also had written job descriptions, a rational compensation structure and a working performance appraisal system.

The physics of the business processes was obvious and apparent.

Which are you?

Are you the Brown Bess or the Kentucky Long Rifle?

What do your results tell you?

Is the physics of your business processes aiding your efforts or are you rolling marbles?

If you are not happy with the outcomes of your business processes, let’s modify them until the results are what you want and deserve. Get rid of the Brown Besses and get some Kentucky Long Rifles and pick off the results you want. You can do it.

Washington used to dress some units in frontier buckskins simulating the Kentucky and Pennsylvania units which would normally have the long rifle. The Brits avoided closing with these units — even the appearance of a sound process pays a dividend.

Need help in sorting it out? Call 512-656-1383 or email [email protected] Help is on the way.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car.