The secret to making things better

Several years ago when my friend, Clark Walter, wrote three words on a white board: Present-Future-Process. I rolled my eyes and thought this is just another consulting model for explaining the obvious. It’s easy…you assess where you are, plan where you want to go, then decide how you’re going to get there. Big deal, I thought.


After my hissy fit, I began to realize that this formula is way more powerful than I first thought. Everywhere I looked, no matter the field or application, it reveals the basic process for making things better. Instead of stressing out by focusing on everything that’s going wrong, you just concentrate on three areas:


  1. Present: Are you happy with how things are right now? If so, leave them alone. If not, move to step 2.
  2. Future: What would you like to have, do or become? This is goal setting 101. And like many things in life, it’s easy to do–and even easier not to do. Being specific about where you are going focuses the journey and helps you keep on track. We all need challenging goals. Once you have one, spend the rest of your time on step 3.
  3. Process: This is the secret sauce: The better your process, the better your results. If you’re accomplishing your goals and getting the results you want, keep going. If not, focus your energies on improving your process.

Everyday Examples of the Present-Future-Process Formula


  • Is taking out your kitchen garbage a problem? If it constantly piles up and there always seems to be a screaming match to get it out of the house, you have a problem with your process. On the other hand, if the garbage goes out almost automatically, then you figured out a system for collecting it, putting it outside and having it hauled away regularly (even if you’ve delegated it someone else). You probably also know when to buy more trash bags, where to store your cans, what night you need to move your cans to the curb and how to pay your garbage bill on time.
  • Why do McDonald’s hamburgers taste the same everywhere? Because they figured out a process for how to put the burger on the grill, when to flip it, how to put it on the bun, what ingredients go on top and the best way to wrap up the sandwich–then they wrote it in an operations manual and trained everyone else the right way make a burger…every time. I had a friend who got fired from McDonald’s for being “creative” while he was making burgers. Instead of putting on the ketchup first, then the mustard and finally the pickle, he got bored and would mix up the steps. Some times pickles were first. Other times, it was the mustard. His manager, who was responsible for making sure that the burgers in that store were made the same way as in every other McDonald’s, didn’t care for my friend’s “new process” and got rid of him.

Applying the Present-Future-Process Concept


Now, imagine what happens if you start to think of your company, marketing, design or any other task or important item in your life using these same three buckets. If things could be better (Present) and you have an idea of what you’d like them to be (Future), then start working on what you need to do to reach your goal (Process). If you’re like me, the process will take the most effort and time, so get to it as quickly as you can.


Once you see improvements, be patient. You’re probably going to have to repeat these three steps a lot to continue making refinements and improvements until you feel like things are really humming.


And you may eventually find, like I did, that this Present-Future-Process concept really is THE BIG DEAL!