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Flow, the secret to happiness

It’s a state of mind, it’s an Android app and it can be induced in work groups

July 01, 2013
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The idea of “flow” as a mental state that you can almost put your hands on, or that at least in some sense is measurable and quantifiable, got its greatest or initial impetus from a psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, whose research has been published in books with titles like The Concept of Flow; Beyond Boredom and Anxiety; and The Flow Experience and its Significance for Human Psychology.

A concise definition describes flow as a “unique state of concentration in which action seems to be effortless.” A more verbose one says flow is the “mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and enjoyment in the process of an activity.” A final definition might be, “a staple of sports announcers.”

As Mihaly might be the first to admit, this idea that we humans have mental states that strike us as analogous to, say, the way water moves in nature, in all its beauty and majesty, seems to be embedded in language itself rather than being something that somebody came up with at a specific time or place.

In fact, one writer on this subject seems to go very far out of his way to note that all this new stuff has nothing to do with the 1960s phrase “go with the flow.” Guess he didn’t want us to think it had anything to do with beatniks or hippies.

Some things flow, while others do not. Cash, most noticeably, flows, but so does information. A basketball or even a baseball game can flow, but can the same really be said about a football game? Here we’re talking bulk solids.

Controlling the flow

In ancient times humans seized control of the physical-world flow, with ditches and drainage and irrigation work being necessary conditions for agriculture, and civilization itself.  In more modern days, in pursuit of process production, we know flow and how to move it through pipes, tubes, hoses and fittings.

As this flowmeter solutions supplement to Processing magazine makes clear, there are more ways to measure flow than you can shake a stick at, and process industry professionals on a daily basis apply the principles of flow to a world that isn’t conceptual but real. Process industries change the flow itself, mixing it up on the one hand or filtering and separating it on the other; heating or cooling it and transforming it into something other.

Thus, it’s not at all surprising that, having once discovered this other, mental-state kind of flow, psychologists and sundry are next seeking to gain control of it, for either profit or pleasure. Self-proclaimed gurus, whether on the marketing side or the spiritual side, proclaim that being able to tap into flow-like mental states is the “secret to happiness.”

In order to achieve flow in the workplace, researchers say, three conditions are necessary: goals must be clear, feedback immediate and a balance must be found between opportunity and capacity. The commercially available software program called “Flow,” for online task management and team collaboration, undoubtedly incorporates many of the tools researchers have devised in an attempt to demonstrate that flow can be measured and controlled. But at the end of the day a lot of it is just a new way of stating eternal truths about how all kinds of work gets done.

On the other hand, we’re extremely good at applying flow to games and entertainment. The cigarette-sated individual seated in front of a casino slot machine may be the most classic example of someone who is in the flow. “Flow” is also an Android app on Google Play that is a puzzle game that allows you to connect matching colors with pipe, to create a flow while you’re in the flow.

In this issue

We hope you enjoy this 2013 edition of Processing’s Flowmeter Solutions. It’s clear “flow” can mean many different things to many different people. From this point on, however, we promise to stick to our knitting and talk about flow as in the chemical, food & beverage, pharmaceutical and other process industries.

A bent-tube Coriolis flowmeter and its use in entrained gas applications is the subject of the issue’s lead feature. For much of the general public the idea of entrained gas and its possible deleterious effects is associated with the Deep Horizon oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. But multiphase flows can be important wherever ratio blending is being done and gas can be entrained, such as in pharmaceutical or water/waste applications involving use of a metering pump.

Also in this issue, Dr. Jesse Yoder, a regular contributor to Processing magazine, talks about custody transfer in the oil & gas industry. My understanding is in the oil fields what’s measured at the individual wells and the delivered aggregated output from many wells rarely matches up. And the challenge isn’t just technical. The economics of oil-and-gas exploration and development are such that a well’s output may be split up into minute percentages of ownership. So a lot of money is riding on those transfers.

Finally, because Processing’s readers are equipment users, we have a feature editorial on flow and other type measurements when it comes to the pumps that move the flow.

Thanks for giving us a look.

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