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Susan C Hasty

John, I admire your offer to crowdsource this conversation. I believe we're just beginning to tap into our abundance by accessing the power of the crowd.

The Law of Requisite Variety, coined by W Ross Ashby, asserts that "variety is required to regulate variety". Simply put, managing diversity comes down to two basic ways. 1. Reduce it or constrain it (causing friction) or 2. Absorb it or creating flow. Systems require both stability and homeostasis to survive. The balancing act comes down to flexibility and consistency. The answer may be in where to put flexibility to create balance. I reference this in more detail on my podcast titled Lucrative leadership Conversations. My co-host, Gene Morton, and I ask the question "How can leaders tap into their genius and the genius of others to thrive in an exponentially changing world? I've set up a linkedin group (also named Lucrative Leadership Conversations) with the hope of engaging minds on the topic. I hope you'll consider contributing there.

Mark Heyer

In his new book, The Physics of Life: The evolution of everything, Adrian Bejan stakes out a vast new territory for the Constructal Law and introduces the concept of universal evolution based on the principles of Constructal Law flow evolution. Life is defined as all that flows, morphs and evolves. Biology, cognition, society, economics and technical life forms are all consequences of the same principle of nature.

You asked the question, is more flow always better? Imagine a house on fire, with a group of neighbors gathered around. A single fireman holds a fire hose and controls its flow of water into the burning house. Realizing that more water is needed, the bosses start turning up the pressure on the flow of water, which exerts more pressure on the constraints of the hose, causing it to twist and snake around. Ultimately, the hapless fireman lets go and the hose becomes chaotic, whipping around unpredictably through the crowd.

It seems that human societies work in much the same way, turning up the pressure on control (friction) systems like governments, until the brink of chaos is reached. A most interesting topic and thanks for your wide ranging explorations. Another question: by understanding the mechanisms of social flow evolution, can we influence their direction?


John. I'd recommend you listen to frank wilczek in krista tippet's podcast On Being. He talks about complimentarity. Where two opposites can both be fundamental truths.
Frank recommends thinking about a problem using one lense at a time. In your case, friction and then flow. He says it's impossible to think of both at the same time.

I have been thinking about similar conflicts where 2 things are opposite but hold true. A way of dealing with this is to find a higher vision that joins both narratives, a holistic statement. A vision where both sides come together. 'Life' 'wellbeing' - those sorts of concepts.

Another way of thinking of the problem is Einstein's theory of relativity. Moving while staying still

Another way is thinking about flows and friction in the brain. The wider the axons (info flow) the smaller the space for computing (thinking). Humans have a larger computing to axon size ratio. Meaning we are designed to value computing over quick reaction. It also makes the different parts of our brain more segregated.

So maybe friction is western society and flow is eastern?

I love systems thinking!


Organizations and organizational constructs are boundaries. Stocks and flows of knowledge is not enough to describe them as there is some form of transformation when crossing. The measurements on inside are different than outside. For instance outside the firm the efficiency of knowledge interactions can be measured as currency (contracts, profit, market share, etc) But inside we know monetary incentives yield false results, they are too easily gamed. The inside currency is not concrete. It isn't contracts or obligations, as those are artifacts of hierarchy. I suspect the internal currency is favors, freely given and redeemed. So to address your observations on finding a viable pace please consider the translation at the boundaries. In KM classes long age we talked about "impedance mismatch" I have no memory of the original source of the term.

John Cousineau

John: IMO, most effective way to optimize flows and friction and fragility:

1/ understand flows more clearly. Measure causal effects of a flow on desired outcomes so the present state of that flow, and effects of daily practices on it, are clearer for everyone affected to see.

As McKinsey notes, breakthroughs in performance are typically preceded by revolutions in measurement. The metaphor of IoT foretells huge opportunities to understand complex flows faster, and in more granular detail.

The craft of data visualization foretells huge opportunities to paint pictures of flow that make the story of performance much clearer for everyone to see. It becomes a new cross-domain language with which to come to a shared agreement on reality.

2/ THEN use what's discovered [and now observable] to have more honest [cross-domain, friction-inducing] about what to try as new ways to improve results, in flow, by improving practices, in the flow. Progress to better is a team sport. Which requires candid conversations, conducted with purpose.

3/ reduce the fragility of interventions. By shrinking the cycle times needed to witness the effects of changes made on outcomes. And shrinking the size of interventions tested. When the cost of 'flawed fixes' is shrunk, there's much less risk in trying new things. Which gives added purpose to learning at scale. And added value to it when it occurs at speed.

In sum: [small moves]+[smartly made from a clearer understanding of reality and more honest cross-domain dialogues on what to do about it]+[whose effects are quickly observable]=[better flows]+[from productive friction]+[with less fragility]

Trust this adds some value. Thanks for making me think.

- John


Very interesting, John. My short answer is: remove human decision-making as much as possible and replace it with a series of algorithms that function much in the way of high speed (automated) trading technology within complex adaptive networks that replace most of what now transpires within federal and state gov't. A big pill to swallow, but if we're ever going to get to a place of predictive government, that is really our ultimate answer.


In August 2011 saw a cable channel like National Geographic (?), a documentary about the Nabataeans and civilization of Petra. A part of this documentary does not get out of my head ... the part that refers to the technique of the Nabataeans to carry water along km and km. They drew the inclination of the pipe does not flow for maximum efficiency transported but the most effective. The maximum efficiency leads to frequent breakage of the pipes.

Taran A Rampersad

I've always thought in flows. In my mind, I've always called it the CoT - Calculus of Things (The acronym is new). What has happened of late is that we've built silos - think pipes - all over the place in how information flows, which affects where knowledge is dispersed...

My issue I'm thinking of these days is making sense of all that knowledge and finding wisdom. As everything goes about it's own CoT, there is friction between - but there is also a lack of friction between as some things become isolated in their own pipelines, such that they cannot be easily disrupted.

This has got me thinking about it again - thank you for that.

Paul Carlile

When are you in Boston or up for a call; I would love to think about this with you!

Blair Forlaw

A key difference between stocks and flows is that stocks are something we draw on and use up, while flows are (should be?) highly participatory. The active participation of people creating, co-creating, and re-creating knowledge fuels a flow and also (because we all bring unique backgrounds and perspectives to the process) creates healthy friction. As participants in the flow, we have a responsibility to engage with others in the process, which requires taking the time and energy to get to know them. Unless / until we can change our understanding about learning from a view of passive receiving to active creating, we will be stymied. Of course, you have already written extensively on this. : )

Sarah Queen

This resonates with me. I think that one friction in some flows (thinking of political discourse & a few projects at work) is going to be the reminder that the source of the information is a human. As you point out about a need for diversity--flows make polarizing ruts when you're not having to share ideas face to face with people that disagree. A slow-down to see sources as a fellow humans seems very healthy. A slow-down from a regulation seems bureaucratic and less positive. Technology has hampered our ability to focus on humanity and civility...do you think it can bring it back?

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