One of the properties of a system designed according to the principles of lean thinking (Rule 3). The aim is to achieve a regular flow of work on a scale small enough for participants to be aware of—and to respond to—local diversity and detail. It avoids batches and blockbusting projects full of unexamined error. It enables incremental learning and improvement, and it invites participation from the people involved. When flow is in place, the conditions are right for pull.F16

But there is more to it than that. Flow is a key—perhaps the key—principle of a life that makes sense to the person who is living it. It is the experience of engagement in practice in something difficult, where prompt feedback tells you how well you are doing it, how to respond to it, how to be part of the music.

How do we get there? Well, the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who has explored the meaning of flow, asked people to think about the most positive experiences of their lives, and to tell him how they came about, and what they felt while they were happening. He concluded that there are seven conditions. Flow is most likely to come with a task we have a reasonable chance of completing. We must have time to concentrate. There are clear goals (for instance, you really do want to get up that rock face without falling off). And, of course, there is that critical condition for most things in Lean Logic—the rapid feedback: the task answers back; we are drawn into conversation; we are not alone. The last three items on Csikszentmihalyi’s list are not so much enabling conditions as reinforcing consequences: we forget (if only briefly) about our daily troubles; there is a suspension of our consciousness of time; and there is a sense of mastery, of knowing what we are doing.F17

Flow means total engagement with your intention. It means leaving out the irrelevant, letting the task itself pull our responses along with honesty and accuracy, being alert to feedback and learning by repetition. Here we have gone beyond a self-conscious, cool acknowledgement of lean thinking. It is about what we do and who we are.


Related entries:

Systems Thinking > Feedback > Feedback and Flow.

« Back to List of Entries
David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was an economist, historian and writer, based in London. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, Lean Logic and Surviving the Future. A film about his perspective and legacy - The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation? - was released in 2019, directed by BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong. For more information, including on Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

Comment on this entry: