Making your business hyper-productive – Part I: Flow

flowing river

The 3 Fundamentals

I have found three fundamental elements to creating a productive team within a business environment, or, for that matter, any environment, as these same principles can be applied to a start-up, a fully-fledged enterprise, a household, a family camping trip, or just about any endeavour. These three elements are: Flow, Emergence and Empathy. Instilling a team with these ways of thinking will greatly increase the chances of success. Let’s begin with flow.

What is Flow?

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water, my friend.”

Bruce Lee

Flow is movement through a system. It can apply to a group of individuals or a product.


Traditionally businesses created a goal and a plan to reach that goal, then they stuck to both the goal and the plan whatever happened and however long it took. Some businesses, especially larger less-flexible corporations still employ this method. Flow is the opposite method: a goal is defined but with an undetermined path. The team is always fluid and conscious of its environment and the impacting forces, constantly asking how to make the goal possible or how to work better. The question is never “Can we?”, only “How will we?”

The movement from predetermined to responsive is exemplified in business by the move from waterfall to agile. Even fast food is going in this direction. Gone are the days of brightly lit, single menus with fixed selection, now are the days of Lemonade and 800 degrees where fast food is designed iteratively, fixing the end goal with the path to get there.

Psychological flow – for individuals

Brought into the zeitgeist through “gamification”, it describes a way of designing systems and experiences to get users into the zone: into flow. In neuroscience it is known as transient hypofrontality. In this state, the perception of the passage of time changes. When flow is achieved, many hours can pass by unnoticed, or a single moment can extend in slow motion. While complex and multi-faceted, at the most simple level, to achieve flow the system needs to deliver a balance between frustration and boredom; it is just hard enough to keep the player engaged, but not so hard that he/she grows frustrated. As the player’s skills improve, the game must increase in difficulty to allow “flow” to happen.

Facilitating flow

In the work environment, enabling individual team members to enter “flow” is the result of striking a balance between enjoyment and challenge. Good managers facilitate flow. They give the employees control over their workload and schedule, while simultaneously creating boundaries that are solid and clear but within which creativity is allowed and encouraged. A great example of this is Virgin’s recent decision to allow employees to choose the frequency and length of their own vacations by negotiation with their colleagues.

Many brainstorming and management techniques, as well as tools and services exist to help create flow in a team. The core of it comes down to have clear company-wide goals and creating a culture that encourages adaptation to achieve those goals.

While seeking to climb a mountain, one can look at neither the ground directly ahead nor the horizon, lest she bumps her head into a tree or falls into a chasm; be aware of one’s surroundings and the ultimate goal, then adapt.

What you can do now to achieve flow

  • start tracking team happiness: a daily email asking employees to rate their satisfaction, a weekly retrospective meet-up to improve team practices or just checking regularly with individuals
  • set clear, achievable goals at every level: for the company, the department, the team and the individuals
  • give your team/staff control: actively look for ways to give more freedom, a self-managed team produces better and sticks around longer

You are now on your way to flow and a more productive business.


Recommended reading:

Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers” by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, James Macanufo

“How to get into the zone” by James Aldworth



cauri runs rhubarb studios, a technology incubator in downtown Los Angeles. He is instructor fellow for product management and user experience at General Assembly; he also designed the curriculum and teaches at General Assembly product management. cauri loves technology and thinks longevity is a inevitable outcome of technological advance.

Rise of the intrapreneur

intrapreneur innovation

I really disliked the term when I first heard it “Intrapreneur”. Sounds like a term thought up by a second-rate marketing department. However after a few recent engagements in multi-national enterprises I think the concept may hold the future of these companies.

The rise of consumer-led product design used by startups & small companies and championed by processes such as Eric Ries’ lean startup and design thinking has changed consumer expectations. People want products made specifically for them that give them value. They care less about how the marketing sells it to them because they can read a hundred reviews and ask their friends. If they find little use for it… forget it.

This forces us to make better products. New processes mean products can now be made more economically in small batches which gives the startups a fighting chance. Now add to that the ability to adjust the features of the product quickly based on continuous customer feedback and you have a winner: small companies disrupting large ones and threatening enterprise growth and bottom line.

So how does an enterprise fight this trend? If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Throw out a lot of the old “best practice” jargon and get lean and agile.

Create consumer-led design teams in house that are empowered, agile and not constricted by project budgets: enter the intreapreneur. The intrapreneur functions just as an entrepreneur but within an enterprise and benefitting its interests. 3 principles to a successful intrepreneurial endeavour:

  • Your team must operate autonomously – you cannot have layers of management overseeing everything you do and measuring it against the usual company metrics
  • You have to have an ongoing budget, not one linked to a specific project by project budget
  • You need a cross-fuctional team that can do everything necessary to explore, test and create the product

Setting up an intrapreneurial department in a larger company can happen quickly and provide rapid returns. It can reinvent a product line or a whole company; change brand perception; accelerate CSR initiatives; open new revenue streams and more. So get to it. Now, if we could just find a better word for it.

Originally posted on Linkedin



cauri runs rhubarb studios, a technology incubator in downtown Los Angeles. He is instructor fellow for product management and user experience at General Assembly; he also designed the curriculum and teaches at General Assembly product management. cauri loves technology and thinks of it as the application of science to real problems.