- Published: Tuesday, 08 May 2018 12:00
I was still digesting Yuval Harari’s book “Homo Deus” when I started to read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book “Flow - Psychology of happiness”. Yuval illustrates the enormous progress we humans have made in all areas; technical, medical, social and economic, yet he notes that we have barely progressed on the human happiness scale.
Mihaly’s research shows what it takes to make us humans happy. He uses the term “flow” to describe how people feel when they are fully engaged in or in “the zone” with what they are doing. People are so absorbed that time seems to no longer exist, they forget to eat, drink, and even sleep. Mihaly describes the required conditions for people to get into flow and hence happiness. He also demonstrates that happiness can be achieved through flow independent of one’s external circumstances.
In order to get into flow, firstly, people need to perceive a clear goal and be aware of instructions or rules how to go about achieving the goal. Secondly, they must perceive to have the appropriate skill to execute the instructions or rules, as well as, receive immediate feedback on their progress towards the goal. Thirdly, people must be able to concentrate and focus on the execution and the feedback they receive during the execution.
I couldn't help but notice the similarity between this “Human Flow” and the “Technical Flow” terminology used in Lean. Technical Flow or an uninterrupted “value stream” is what one aims to achieve in a Lean organisations. Technical Flow also requires clearly defined goals or Future State. It requires “standard work” or process rules, as well as, a skilled team to work towards the Future State.
Technical Flow - Human Flow - what other flows are we aware of? Well, there is the vital “Cash Flow” that each and every business, no matter how big or small, must be acutely aware of. And of course even more popular is the ever increasing “Information Flow”.
Can one integrate these four flows - Cash, Technical, Information, Human – into a single model?
Why not try?
I think Cash Flow is the first flow. Many Toyota stories go back to the notion that without Cash Flow one cannot be in charge of one’s own destiny. Cash Flow is like oxygen, in and of itself it has no meaning yet it clearly provides the means to achieve everything else. Without oxygen our life ends as quickly as a company seizes to exist without Cash Flow.
The next flow is the Technical Flow. Lean provides many of the principles on how to establish and execute flow through the various value streams of an organisation. An organisation, a complex adaptive system by nature, has inputs and outputs, and follows simple rules or algorithms between its individual agents. These independent agents within a complex adaptive system are human or non-human by nature.
In other words, certain inputs and outputs flow from machine to machine, human to human, human to machine, or machine to human. These input and output flows between the agents constitute the Information Flow, which is based on the rules of the Technical Flow, essentially the rules of the industry specific game one plays. In Lean, for example, Kanban is an Information Flow system that refers to the right information at the right time in the right quality and quantity. Lean’s “visual management” system is also part of the Information Flow. Visual management, like a scoreboard in a game, provides feedback on progress towards a goal or on variations that alert us to a potential drift away from that goal. An Andon is yet another very prominent feedback signal of the Information Flow. In summary, Information Flow forms the link or the communication channel between the Technical Flow and the Human Flow.
Human Flow, based on Mihaly’s research, is what makes us humans happier. To achieve Human Flow the following conditions, as discussed, must be met. People need to know what to do, the goal and how to achieve it, using the rules while possessing the appropriate skill. These conditions are provided by the Technical Flow or the Lean system. The Information Flow provides the appropriate feedback required to see how one is progressing towards the goal.
The third condition to get into “Human Flow” and therefore a happier place is ability to concentrate on the task at hand. I initially struggled with this seemingly obvious condition. I now think this the key reason for the concept of waste or “muda” in the Toyota philosophy. Waste interferes with the flow. Waste distracts us from our ability to concentrate. The dictionary definition of a “concentrate” is a “substance made by removing or reducing the diluting agent; a concentrated form of something”. In Lean this equates to “value add” only, no unnecessary material, work, transport, or etc. In other words, we remove waste from our systems so we can fully concentrate on the actual task at hand. The task that leads directly to the desired goal without any detours.
Ozgene’s vision “to advance humanity” can therefore be translated “to increase happiness” based on Mihaly’s Human Flow concept. Ozgene’s vision to “inspire curiosity” describes the person evaluating if the challenge and perceived skill are appropriately balanced. If the balance is right a person will become curious. If the goal is set to high more training is required or the person will get anxious. If the challenge is too low for the given skill level, the person will become bored quickly and needs a higher challenge.
The purpose of the Lean system, the Technical Flow, is therefore to allow humans to get into Human Flow and hence happier staff. The output of the Technical Flow makes for happy clients by minimising lead times, pursuing zero defects and minimising costs. Happy clients stabilise Cash Flow. And so the virtuous cycle continues to flow.
All of this Technical Flow and happiness sounds too far-fetched? Watch people play video games on their smartphones. Clear goals, clear rules, instant feedback, total concentration - they lose all sense of time - and at least for the time being they are in the zone and feel happy.
- Frank, CEO -