The Obsolete Mysteries of Flow, Stream, Chain, Alignment, and Capture

Picture by Francesco Tomasinelli and Emmanuel Biggi

Fuzzy language promotes fuzzy thinking, and popularity makes fuzzy thinking hard to eliminate. Hardened fuzzy thinking becomes the basis of even more fuzzy thinking and, even worse, of bad decisions that have real consequences including things like confusion, CYA, failure, and dogma. This illustrates why getting rid of fuzzy language is critical even if it is an unpopular thing to do.

Demystification attacks the confusion that results from not examining the way the language is used. An astonishing amount of energy is spent every year on debating what is meant by “value”. Most of that energy is provoked by confusion about what has already been said before — or more precisely, how it has been said.

What follows here is an example of how seemingly overlapping ideas are distinct, are easier to understand separately than when not, and then are more useful in combination than when they are not properly distinguished. The distinctions explain what idea each term is trying to address that the other ones do not — basically, practicing the fundamental purpose of the growth of language.

First, the baseline


Anything that “flows” has a point of origin and a direction of progress towards a destination. This will be true regardless of whether the origin or the destination are currently the preferred ones.


A “stream”, by definition, always has an input, otherwise the stream dies or disappears. For any given stream, some or all of the input is known and desired. Where only some is known and desired, inputs may include known and undesirable, and may include unknowns. Most importantly, a given stream can have multiple points of input as well as multiple types of inputs.

The only thing in the stream is specific events and conditions that are both recognized on their own and recognized as influencing progression in the direction of a flow.

The configuration of the influencers (inputs) constitutes the stream.


The chaining of influences constitutes the flow.

Part 2, the main event

Regarding “Value” as the topic: a value stream is not “a stream of value”.

Value does not flow or stream. Instead, what flows in the stream is the progression of realizing the opportunity in which a future state of something will be deemed valuable.

Said again but slightly differently, for anything referred to as a “value stream”, what is being referred to is a pattern of events that supports:

· the progressive development and preservation of …

· the requisite opportunity to have …

· intended value attributed to …

· the outcome at a target destination.

In that sense, we understand that inputs and influences enable the progression of opportunity realization; hence we are comfortable saying that an input or an influence can be “value-able”.

But in those terms, it is obvious that what makes an affect “valuable” is the contribution (event) that it makes to the progression. What makes an effect valuable is its contribution to the desirability of a future state.

Part 3, the operations


Being a progressive contributor is the defining role of the included input or influence. The input or influence is assessed according to whether it is performing that role sufficiently.

If it is sufficient, then we say that the input or influence is aligned with target value. If it is insufficient, then we say that the input or influence is misaligned or out of alignment.

The “actors” in the roles are any party that is doing the requisite work. A given producing organization X can source that work in many different ways.

That immediately explains why the value-enabling chain at one producing organization or time might be instantiated as a stream in a way that differs from another producing organization or time. Different organizations, and/or the same given organization at different times, will have demands, resources and limitations (constraints) that are not the same from one effort to another.

The basic narrative is that there is a reason to traverse some given territory for reaching a destination (the gap between needed and provided); there are generally advisable ways to try to traverse it; and there are multiple specific ways to actually do it, by given travelers at given locations and given time periods.

Like a map, the idea presented in a “value stream” describes a way to do it but does not cause it; it is a concept, not an event.

Managing a value stream is not the same as managing with a value stream. Changing the map does not equate to changing the travelling.


Capturing value means something in terms of activity but something else in terms of accomplishment. But both meanings, separately and together, emphasize that “capture” is not primarily referring to building, not even metaphorically. It is instead referring to finding.

First, by analogy, “capture” presumes that value already exists and is in the environment where it might be discovered and practically retained. More specifically, it presumes that there are existing conditions that can be selected for use on demand for a benefit-to-purpose. But on closer examination, it is evident here that the benefit depends on what “usage” is like. In terms of chaining and flow, the logic to apply is to select and subscribe inputs and influences. This makes it clear that “capturing” assumes design and assumes plans for progress in supporting the opportunity.

Second, how do we know if (when) “value” is captured? Proof of any capture is always a matter of observation that verifies control of the captive. Measurement is a primary type of active observation, regardless of whether it is subjective, objective, qualitative, quantitative, low precision or high precision. The underlying common ingredient is criteria, and the use of criteria qualifies or disqualifies something for recognition. In recognition, the measurement attributes relevance to certain observed conditions (including characteristics and outcomes). Here, “capturing” means that the acknowledgement from measurement recognizes probable control of actual benefit.

Part 4, the leftovers

Following the above, it is difficult to not think about business processes and throughput. Identified distinctively:

  • a process is an actor in a work role, applicable as an influencer at an input of a stream.
  • throughput is a measure of the rate of progression in a flow

By knowing the distinctions we know how they fit into the larger picture with the above. More importantly we know why to use them instead of other terms, when prescribing, creating, seeking, or assessing a state of being valuable.

© 2021 malcolm ryder / archestra research




Malcolm is a strategist, solution developer and knowledge management professional in both profit and non-profit companies across business, IT and the arts.

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Malcolm Ryder

Malcolm Ryder

Malcolm is a strategist, solution developer and knowledge management professional in both profit and non-profit companies across business, IT and the arts.

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