John Flach received his Ph.D. in human experimental psychology from The Ohio State University in 1984. After more than 30 years teaching and supervising graduate research in universities, he joined Mile Two LLC a custom software development company as a Senior Cognitive Systems Engineer. John has written extensively about Cognitive Systems Engineering (CSE) and Ecological approaches to human performance and design (including 3 co-authored books; 3 co-edited books; and more than 180 archival publications). After many years of talking and writing about CSE and EID, he welcomes the opportunity to test what he has learned against the challenge of designing practical solutions to contemporary business problems. See John's author page on Amazon for access to his books: https://www.amazon.com/John-Flach/e/B001KHKPW0.
In spite of my best judgement and due to some serendipitous events I ended up in graduate school at The Ohio State University working with Rich Jagacinski in 1978. I distinctly remember sitting in front of an analog computer and pretending to understand as Rich explained to me that linking two integrators in a closed circuit would produce a sinusoidal signal. Six years and two kids later, with support and encouragement from my wife I finally completed the Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology.
In 1984 I began my academic career at the University of Illinois where I had joint appointments in three departments [Mechanical & Industrial Engineering (50%); Psychology (25%); and Institute of Aviation (25%)]. Although people warned me of the difficulties associated with split appointments, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to explore cognition in the context of evolving information technologies and complex work domains. While at Illinois I had an opportunity to work with some outstanding people, including Chris Wickens, Neville Moray, Penny Sanderson, Gavan Lintern, Peter Kugler, and Kim Vicente. Also, while at Illinois I was introduced to Jens Rasmussen. Perhaps, the work with Kim Vicente and Jens Rasmussen was most influential on my future work.
After six years, however, I found that my interests in applied problems that crossed disciplinary silos did not align with the expectations of the University. I was not offered tenure at Illinois. In essence, I was banished to the "Pointless Forest." Now with three kids and thinking that my academic career might be over, my wife and I began searching for a new home.
Fortunately, we found a new home in Dayton, OH and in 1990 I started a new position in the Psychology Department at Wright State University with joint funding from the Air Force Research Laboratories at Wright-Patterson AFB. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new Ph.D. program in Human Factors and Industrial/Organizational Psychology and to help shape a program that better aligned with my own vision for an applied Cognitive Psychology. I particularly valued my collaborations with Rik Warren (at AFRL) to frame an approach to "active psychophysics" that integrated concepts from Ecological Psychology (structural invariants in optical flow fields) with principles of control theory; and also my collaborations with Kevin Bennett in relation to developing pedagogies for teaching Cognitive Systems Engineering (CSE) and Ecological Interface Design (EID).
In many ways, my situation in Dayton turned out to be the realization of what I was hoping to achieve at Illinois. Like Oblio, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that everything in the Pointless Forest had a point!
Over the years I have benefited greatly from numerous international collaborations. Early collaborations with Jens Rasmussen and his research group at Riso helped set the foundation for much of my thinking. Collaborations with the Industrial Design Engineering group at TU Delft (Gerda Smets, Kees Overbeeke, PJ Stappers, and Fred Voorhorst) gave me my first real exposure to design thinking and research through design. Additionally, collaborations with the Human Systems Group in Aeronautical Engineering at TU Delft (Max Mulder, Rene van Paassen, Matthijs Amelink, Clark Borst) have given me an opportunity to explore EID concepts in the aviation domain.
In 2004 I reluctantly took over the responsibilities of Chair of the Department of Psychology at Wright State. Despite my inexperience and muddling style of leadership the department continued to grow and thrive. I was extremely lucky to have an excellent Dean (Michele Wheatly) - she and I were able to collaborate with the Engineering College (Forouzan Golshani and John Gallegher) to win several large NSF awards in the area of Technology-based Learning with Disabilities.
In 2012 I happily handed off the responsibilities of administrivia and returned to my role of professor. Then in 2017 I took advantage of an early retirement Incentive offered by the university to take a deeper journey into the Pointless Forest. I left the Ivory Tower to join a small startup design company (Mile Two) that focuses on improving the fit between people and technology. I soon discovered that actually building software to support cognitive systems is a lot harder than arm chair quarterbacking from behind the walls of the Ivory Tower. The challenge is humbling, but welcome. When I joined Mile Two it was a company of a dozen people. And in a very short time it has grown to over 120 people.
At the end of the day, despite many years of formal education and extensive reading about human performance and design, my understanding of human performance stems most directly from my failures at sports, ineptitude with music, and general uneasiness with modern technologies and organizations. I came to psychology seeking reasons why things that seemed to come so easily to others were difficult for me. This has led me to explore general issues of coordination and control in cognitive systems across a wide range of domains - including aviation, process control, military command & control, and healthcare.
One of my greatest pleasures is participating on multidisciplinary teams to explore how information technologies can be used to help people manage the complexities of modern life. I particularly welcome opportunities to watch and talk with domain experts about their work and the tricks of the trade that allow them to manage complexities that exceed the capabilities of mere humans. I have been lucky to have had many interesting adventures in other peoples' domains within the Pointless Forest. However, the original problems remain unsolved - I remain a clumsy athlete, an inept musician, and am always the last to learn to trust and use new technologies.
To learn more, here is a recent interview I did for the Naturalistic Decision Making Podcast: