Week 50: Vol. 50. Managing Flow: Seeing The Whole System

25 Dec

VOL. 50

"Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static ‘snapshots.’ It is a set of general principles - distilled over the course of the twentieth century, spanning fields as diverse as the physical and social sciences, engineering, and management. During the last thirty years, these tools have been applied to understand a wide range of corporate, urban, regional, economic, political, ecological, and even psychological systems. And systems thinking is a sensibility - for the subtle interconnectedness that gives living systems their unique character."


- Peter Senge

The Fifth Discipline

flow dimension shaded

For the past 55 weeks, we have been reviewing many concrete principles and practices designed to remove interference, induce focus, and invite flow. Each practice has its time and place based upon your current level of understanding and capacity to focus on the right system, at the right time, for the right duration—what I call “Attentional Leadership”.

This process of directing your attention inside, outside, future, past—all paradoxically within the present, sounds complex, and it is. Sometimes you may feel like a monkey fiddling around under the hood of your car, not knowing what will happen if you pull on a wire, grab a tube, yank off a belt, or spin an auxiliary motor in the opposite direction.

While monkeys’ weren’t designed to be mechanics, you have developed a highly sophisticated toolkit to influence your inter-connected systems--inside and out.

Throughout our time together we have looked at many factors that influence performance/flow within a 12-dimension framework. From a time perspective we have explored strategies within the Long-Future (LS), Short-Future (SF), Focus (F: being in the moment), Short-Past (SP), and Long-Past (LP). From an external perspective, we have explored the Extended Environment (EE) and the Immediate Environment (IE). And from an internal perspective, we have explored the Physical, Emotional, Psychological, Philosophical, and Spiritual dimensions.

By identifying key principles and practices within each dimension we have focused attention on certain leverage points from which to remove interference and distraction in order to support your capacity to focus on What’s Important Now—your WIN.

Each of these principles/tools/practices increases your influence, but as we’ve discussed, the Flow Assets and Flow Liabilities that make up your current Personal Flow Formula are based on your unique arena and circumstances (time and place).

Towards the end of a Finding Your Flow workshop, I ask each participant to state his or her #1 Flow Asset and #1 Flow Liability. I’m always intrigued by their personalized answers. While considering a particular arena some lack vision. Others struggle with attitude. Many claim a lack of physical activity that hinders energy. Others speak of a limited self-image that keeps them from reaching their goals.

The unique combination of elements that make up each person’s Personal Flow Formula remind me that everyone must discover that “one thing” (among many) that will have the greatest impact on focus and flow.

But understanding these many elements also requires a keen awareness of the interconnected nature of these practice areas.

Like pulling a shoestring, tug on any segment and you'll affect the whole of it. Or, consider a billiard table: strike one ball and many others are impacted. This is both good news and bad news.

You have probably noticed that depriving yourself of sleep impacts your energy level and ability to focus. Allow yourself to ruminate on negative thoughts and you begin to trigger unwanted feelings. Violate your personal philosophy or code of conduct and self-esteem is affected. Fail to pay attention to your mistakes and it is more difficult to set new goals. If your purpose or vision is unclear—well then, it’s difficult to even take action. You are a ship floating without a rudder.

It’s one thing to recognize the importance of vision, goals, thoughts, emotions, time maximization, self-image building, and the like, and yet another to see how intimately interconnected they all are. Ignore any one of these precious levers and they begin to influence other parts of the system.

In positive contrast, developing capacity and mastering these tools and practices in one dimension begins to positively influence the others. They feed off one another and conspire together to maximize the overall system.

For instance, identifying your purpose unleashes your ability to mentally construct your missions, vision, and legacy. From these images, your goals become ever more clear. Clear goals invite action—and actions produce the feedback loops for learning.

Moving towards your dreams elevates thoughts and mood. Energy begins to increase. You seek to be at your best physical self because you need a vessel that will get you from where you are today to where you see yourself 1, 5, 10, even 20 years from now. The practice of faith and tapping into a higher power can help you build the resiliency to rally during the difficult times and find meaning in what you are doing.

Positive actions begin to spill over into your immediate environment. You are influencing yourself; you are influencing others and the environments you engage with—with both inner and outer systems working together for your benefit.

Success breeds more success and failure becomes re-positioned as the master teacher—not the enemy. By recognizing this you get to see your past differently. Old mistakes now become teachable moments. Fixed mindsets and negative self-images become more fluid as you begin to redefine your personal history—seeing anew what’s possible—and re-framing your past.

An unfolding is taking place to help you fulfill the measure of your creation—and on and on it goes.  The billiard balls keep impacting one another with every action taken…good or bad.

Now as we near the end of these initial 60 flow tools, remember and be mindful of the dynamic nature of these many interconnected principles and practices. By continuing to identify and work on your “one thing” week-by-week, month-by-month, and year-by-year, your new skills and habits will work together to produce a multiplier effect—influencing your whole system, inside and out.



  • This week, begin noticing the influence that each practice has on the other. Notice the connection between your thoughts and emotions, your sleep and your energy. Notice how setting daily goals produces greater focus. Explore the relationship between purpose and your engagement. Notice when you are acting on your deepest values and when you are compromising them. What does this feel like?
  • Remember that your current results and circumstances are a result of everything you have been believing, valuing, thinking, and acting moment by moment; that where you place your attention is where you will get the greatest results.
  • Take time just to notice the interconnected nature of your inner and outer systems and explore ways to influence yourself for focused and positive results.


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