Process. Procedure. Same meaning?

From the New York Times – 15 September 2021: “The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff twice called his Chinese counterpart in the final months of the Trump administration to reassure him that Donald J. Trump had no plans to attack China in an effort to remain in power and that the United States was not collapsing, according to ‘Peril,’ a new book by the Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.”

The NYTimes continued: “After speaking to Ms. Pelosi, General Milley convened a meeting in a war room at the Pentagon with the military’s top commanders, telling them that he wanted to go over the longstanding procedures for launching a nuclear weapon. The general reminded the commanders that only the president could order such a strike and that General Milley needed to be directly involved.

‘If you get calls,’ General Milley said, ‘no matter who they’re from, there’s a process here, there’s a procedure. No matter what you’re told, you do the procedure. You do the process. And I’m part of that procedure. You’ve got to make sure that the right people are on the net.’

The general added: ‘The strict procedures are explicitly designed to avoid inadvertent mistakes or accident or nefarious, unintentional, illegal, immoral, unethical launching of the world’s most dangerous weapons.’

Then, he went around the room and asked each officer to confirm that they understood what he was saying.”

But, wait, how does General Milley distinguish between what is a process and what is a procedure? They are not the same.


1. Non-elected government officials. Administrative policy-making group. 2. Specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules, hierarchy of authority. 3.A system of administration marked by officialism, red-tape and proliferation. From French bureaucratie: bureau desk and –cratie a kind of government. (MerriamWebster)

Max Weber – Bureaucracy

Ever heard of Max Weber (1864-1920)? He was a German sociologist, historian, jurist and political economist. Weber is among the most important theorists on the development of modern Western society. he saw himself not as a sociologist, but as an historian. What did Weber write about bureaucracy:

That it constitutes the most efficient and rational way to organize human activity. Bureaucracy means systematic processes and organized hierarchies, which are necessary to: maintain order, maximize efficiency, and eliminate favoritism.

German artisans

Germans believe that processes — how the work is done — is the key to success. Americans, however, favor relationships, or how to gain and retain customers.

By tradition, Germany is more a culture of artisans (Handwerkerkultur) than of traders (Händlerkultur). The Germans have always made things. And they believe that process — how the work is done — is the key to success. Good processes lead to good products, bad processes to bad ones.

One well-known German manager, Klaus-Hardy Mühdeck, the CIO of ThyssenKrupp, is even nicknamed the “process pope” and has changed his title to Chief Process Officer. Because processes govern the internal workings of a company, whoever has the say over process has the say over the company. Process is power. Germans want the power.

Scientific Management

Frederick Taylor was an American engineer from Philadelphia whose studies in the early 20th century had great influence on American industrial processes. His Principles of Scientific Management focused process standardization, systematic training and the definition of roles and responsibilities. It led to the term Taylorism.

Pet Rocks

In 1975, Gary Dahl, a freelance copywriter, bought several smooth Mexican beach stones and began selling them in the United States as “pet rocks.”  But what was initially meant as a joke soon became what Newsweek called “one of the most ridiculously successful marketing schemes ever.”

Within a few months, Dahl had sold over 1.5 million rocks. He was a guest on The Tonight Show, and at one point Gary was selling approximately 6,000 rocks per day.

The reason for his success was largely due to marketing: every pet rock came in a carrying case (with air holes), nestled on a bed of straw. Additionally, the purchase of a pet rock also bought its new owner a manual on the care, feeding, and house training of their new pet. Other factors, especially processes, were of very little importance in driving this pet trend.

Customer Reviews 

Customer reviews can make or break a company in the US. Especially now that the internet gives customers a way to instantly compliment or complain about service (and to make sure that their opinion is available for anyone to see) one good or bad review can drastically change the number of customers a company has.

In 2012, after Brandon Cook from New Hampshire posted a Facebook story about a Panera manager named Sue making a special order of clam chowder for his grandmother and giving her a free box of cookies as well. The restaurant became much more popular. Several people who would not otherwise have eaten at this restaurant went there, and commented about it online. Some of the Facebook comments that people made were:

Cyrus Twirpwhirler: My family is eating at Panera tonight because of this story. Way to go Sue and Panera! Snow Case: That is so cool, I’m a customer already, but I like them even more now. Daniel Julian: That is so cool!!! Have to visit Panera soon.

“Have it your way!”

“The customer is always right” is a very common phrase in American business. It was first made popular in the early 20th century when it was used as the slogan for Marshall Field’s Department Store in Chicago and London’s Selfridges Store (founded by American Harry Gordon Selfridge).

Both of these stores became extremely profitable, primarily because they had a reputation for good customer service. As a result, many American businesses have attempted to model their processes on the principle that “the customer is always right.”

In 1911, in an attempt to promote a local business, the Kansas City Star newspaper included an article about the business owner George E. Scott, saying “Scott has done in the country what Marshall Field did in Chicago, Wannamaker did in New York and Selfridge in London. In his store he follows the Field rule and assumes that the customer is always right.”

Many American companies have slogans that show that they care more about customer service than anything else. Examples:

Burger King – “Have it Your Way”

UPS – “What Can Brown Do For You?”

United States Postal Service – “We Deliver for You”

Mounds and Almond Joy – “Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut, Sometimes You Don’t”

American Teaching Styles

Perhaps because of the high cost of tuition at American universities, Americans typically view students as customers and schools as businesses. As such, teachers will attempt to cater to the needs of their students – if a certain process doesn’t interest the customers (students), the teacher will change it in order to keep the customers attentive.

During their classes, if American teachers notice that students aren’t paying attention, they will often include several amusing anecdotes that they tell throughout the class to keep their students’ focus.

For example, during a physics class, it would not be uncommon for an American professor to stop the lecture to talk to students about how Herman Weyl (one of the early proponents of group theory) had an affair with Erwin Schrodinger’s (the physicist who’s best known not only for his quantum mechanics equation but also for his potentially dead cat) wife, or how Murray Gell-Mann (who won the 1969 Nobel Prize in physics) was so narcissistic that he once warned his cab driver not to cash his check, because he believed that his signature was worth more than his cab fare had been.

American teachers will also include anecdotal stories from their own lives if these stories have any relevance to the subject matter.

United Breaks Guitars

In 2008, United Airlines baggage handlers damaged Dave Carroll’s guitar. After the airline refused to pay to fix the damage to his instrument, he and his band wrote a song called “United Breaks Guitars” and put it on YouTube.

Within two days it had more than 24,000 views (and more than 14 million views by 2015), and it was estimated that the bad press cost United Airlines around $180 million the following year (2009).

This incident also inspired Carroll to co-found “Gripevine” – a company that helps customers use social media to expose their complaints and convince companies to give better service.