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Psychological Flow and #Lean

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Challenge vs Skill Diagram

Challenge vs Skill Diagram

In Lean, we talk a lot of Flow: how a process can add value step by step, without ever stopping, up to the time the product is sold to a customer.

Now, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi also introduced the concept of psychological flow in which people are in a very attractive mental state. That state occurs when people work on a task that is both challenging to them AND they feel like they have enough skills to tackle it.

How does it relate to Lean?

Well, in non Lean companies (dare I say most of them?) people are usually  entangled in processes that are far from providing a state of psychological flow:

  • either there are not challenging enough and require few skills on their part and they feel bored at work
  • or the challenge is high but they feel like they lack the proper skills to perform, and they feel stressed (anxiety).

As per the diagram above, people rarely are in the yellow part of it (arousal, control or flow).

What can be done to change that? Well, what Lean is all about: remove muda, mura and muri!

By improving processes, it is thus possible to remove all that administrativia that often is neither challenging nor requiring high levels of skills to be done.

  • muda (non-value added activities) is neither challenging nor requiring skills to be done, hence negatively impacting workers
  • mura (unevenness) makes work fluctuate between a high challenge and a low one, making people oscillate between anxiety and apathy
  • and muri (unreasonable) adds to the challenge without a possibility to achieve it with skills, hence producing anxiety

So, working to create a Lean company is striving to make processes and people flow.

What’s more, the link between the two is the traditional problem solving activity of Lean when the processes raise problems that are solved by people. This raise their skill level, which result in improved processes that are thus better capable of raising more subtle problems, to be solved again. A virtuous circle.

I hope to see how this can be turned more strength-based in another blog post…

 

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