181. Brian Rivera on the Flow System
The traditional approaches to the structure and management of firms are becoming barriers to customer value. The Austrian capital theory approach recognizes that all value in the corporation flows to it from the value experiences of customers. Therefore traditional organizational design — centralization, hierarchies, divisions, bureaucracy, command-and-control — insofar as they are poorly aligned with customer value actually detract from the value of the firm.
There are alternative approaches to business organization, several of which we have highlighted in Economics For Business. One well-articulated alternative is The Flow System (Mises.org/E4B_181_Book). We talk to one of the authors of the concept, Brian Rivera.
Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights
The first principle of all business organization is the delivery of customer value.
The superiority and broad applicability of the Austrian business model emanates from its value-dominant logic. The purpose of business is to facilitate a value experience on the part of the customer. Only value matters, and all else (resources employed, raw materials used, production costs, organization, supplier partnerships, etc.) follows. Austrian capital theory enables managers to identify value drivers (i.e. what resources, raw materials, production costs, organization, partnerships result in the most value for customers).
The focus of the Flow System is to deliver the best value to the customer through FLOW: the interconnection of complexity thinking, distributed leadership, and team science.
Flow is another term for entrepreneurial judgment.
In Brian Rivera’s book, The Flow System, flow is described as “a narrative of in-the-moment decision making of judgments”. It is entrepreneurial action and interaction with the environment, irrespective of structure. It’s goal-oriented adaptive and collaborative behavior of teams and firms.
The Austrian perceptions of the market as a flow, value as a flow and capital as a flow mean that the Austrian business model is perfectly consistent with The Flow System.
Mastering complexity thinking is fundamental to implementing the flow system.
Many business environments exhibit high variability and uncertainty. We’ve used the term VUCA to characterize them: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. All business managers and entrepreneurs can benefit from adopting a complexity world-view, and understanding business as a complex system.
Complex adaptive systems are open, continuously dynamic, evolving, learning, and responsive to external changes. They can oscillate between order and disorder, they’re non-linear and can’t be predicted or controlled.
Brian Rivera highlights a number of techniques to manage in such an environment, including:
Sensemaking: the development of narratives or storytelling to conceptualize the complex environment and develop an appropriate set of mental models. The question to ask is, “What’s the story?” — the story that can unite the firm and its partners around a shared understanding and shared purpose.
Weak signal detection: in complexity, signals are never clear; uncertainty is the norm and errors are always a possibility. Weak signal detection is simply intensifying the scnning of the environment for insights and noticing more, so that both threats and opportunities can be detected earlier to avoid surprise.
Action: the only source of real knowledge about the world is experience, and experience results from action. Therefore, The Flow System emphasizes action — the D and the A in the OODA loop.
The Flow System employs a new definition of leadership: distributed leadership.
Distributed leadership is described as leadership that extends horizontally, vertically and every place between. The tools of leadership are not structures (such as hierarchy and top-down management) but methods:
- Psychological safety
- Active listening
- Shared mental models
- Bias towards action
Perhaps the most essential factor is psychological safety among team members. It’s a group property — a shared belief in which the team is safe from interpersonal risk taking. Individuals can speak up, take risks, and experiment without fear of criticism or reprisal so long as every action fits within the shared belief framework. There is no command structure, and teams are the building blocks of the organization.
There’s a new field of team science for collaborative functioning in the workplace.
Team science is multi-disciplinary. Teams are necessary for the development of solutions in many problem areas, and the research behind team science has been conducted in many fields (ecology, healthcare, organizational science, psychology and more).
A team is a collection of individuals with a shared goal, who interact and are interdependent in their tasks, who have different roles while sharing responsibility for outcomes, and constitute a social entity embedded in a larger system (a business unit or corporation) requiring them to manage relationships across organizational boundaries.
A major section of the book The Flow System is devoted to an overview of the current state of team science as it relates to business organizations, covering team size and composition, teamwork, team processes and team transitions, team culture, team effectiveness, and combining teams for multi-team scaling.
Here’s a sample concerning the functions of shared leadership in a team:
- Compelling team purpose — exceeding individual goals.
- Members work jointly to integrate their complementary talent and skills.
- Outcomes are collective, joint efforts.
- Members adapt their working approach to each other.
- Mutual accountability plus individual accountability.
Core principles and attributes of The Flow System.
- Customer first
- Value is a flow
- Complexity thinking, distributed leadership and team science can facilitate the flow when they are interconnected and synchronized.
E4B Knowledge Graphic — “The Flow System Guide” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_181_PDF
The Flow System by by John Turner, Nigel Thurlow, and Brian Rivera: Mises.org/E4B_181_Book
Teams That Work: The Seven Drivers Of Tea Effectiveness by Scott Tannenbaum and Eduardo Salas: Mises.org/E4B_181_Book2