Author: David Brock, president, Partners in Excellence
For several years, I’ve been a struggling student of Tai Chi. There is such elegance in the movements. It’s an important part of my meditation and fitness practices. Tai Chi is actually a Martial Art. I’ve had instructors go through a “fight,” using the slow forms of Tai Chi, then do exactly the same thing at full speed.
As you practice, you learn individual movements that are linked to create a form. For example a series of movements might be “Part The Wild Horse’s Mane,” followed by “White Crane Spreads Its Wings,” “Brush Knee and Step Forward.” Each movement flows smoothly from the previous movement. Depending on the form you are doing, there may be 37 – 108 movements in the form.
I struggle with my practice. What I tend to do is focus on mastering a particular movement. But often, when I complete that movement, I find myself off balance. The reason is each movement is designed to flow into the next movement, and moving from one to the next to the next enables you to be balanced and smoothly complete the form. But when you break it down to individual movements, most of the time you are off balance and struggle with the other steps.
The Power of Flow
In Tai Chi, they talk about the whole process as “flow.” And it’s that flow that makes Tai Chi so powerful. If you practice any martial art, the same principle applies; it’s not the individual movements, but movements flowing smoothly after each other that enable you to achieve your goal.
We see the concept of flow as foundational in many other areas. For example, the famed Toyota Production System (TPS) was based on concepts of flow. Each step in the process flowed naturally to the next step, then the next until the products finally were built and shipped to customers. While optimizing each step was important, the governing design principle for effective manufacturing processes was the flow of the entire line. Sometimes people would focus more on the individual steps and not on the end-to-end process. When this was done, the manufacturing process was sub-optimized. For example, some workstations might be waiting for a long time, idle. Alternatively, WIP might build up after one manufacturing step. All of these were indications of a badly designed process, generally far less efficient, perhaps much more error-prone or expensive.
Flow is an important concept in helping our customers buy, engaging them effectively and efficiently, and helping them move smoothly through their buying process.
Unfortunately, too often, we seem to lose the idea that our effectiveness and ability to produce results is the culmination of a number of interventions and activities that result in a customer decision. We tend to focus on “If you do this one thing…” As a result, we may focus only on prospecting, or only on objection handling, or anything else. Sometimes the focus is even more narrow, “Use this subject line …, Say these words …” With this type of advice, the focus is only on doing that thing, but there is seldom any identification about how this one thing flows to the next and the next and the next.
Putting Flow Into Practice
Like my Tai Chi, this focus on “this one thing; these specific words,” leaves us unbalanced in our overall engagement process. We know how to do that thing, say a pattern interrupt, but we don’t know what to do next.
Buying and selling is a flow process—sometimes not as smooth as we want, but we want to try to make it as smooth as possible, otherwise the customer may abandon the project. While we want to make sure each step is done as well as possible, we can never lose sight that all of these must be executed smoothly and consistently. Otherwise, we may never complete the process successfully.