THE S-FACTOR BLOG
How to Get Your Leadership Flow On
Laird Hamilton tow-in surfs Jaws, an 80-foot wave off the coast of Hawaii.
Alex Honnold free-solo climbs Yosemite’s Half Dome. No ropes. Just shoes, shorts, chalk and rock.
Shane McConkey ski-base jumps off The Eiger.
Tyler Bradt kayaks 189 feet off Palouse Falls, Washington.
Breakthroughs in athletic performance have been remarkable the last 20 years. While technology and training explain part of the advances, both extreme athletes, brain neuroscientists and psychologists increasingly explain these performances by a higher frequency of mental focus – the frequency of flow.
Legendary free-solo climber, base jumper and extreme slackliner, Dean Potter described the flow experience as a momentary state of hyper-awareness. He says of slacklining: “When I’m out on the line it really brings out my creativity. Ya know, if you’re lucky . . . brief moments when you’re just seeing everything. Seeing the beautiful world . . . all that’s there . . . right in the moment.”
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience, define flow as the mental state of compete absorption in the current experience. In his 2014 Harvard Business Review article Create a Work Environment That Fosters Flow, Steven Kotler of the Flow Genome Project, defines it as:
Technically defined as an “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best,” the term takes its name from the sensation it confers. In flow, every action, every decision, arises seamlessly from the last. In this state, we are so focused on the task at hand that all else falls away. Action and awareness merge. Our sense of self vanishes. Our sense of time distorts. And performance goes through the roof.
Flow isn’t only for extreme athletes. It’s for business leaders and teams and companies are paying attention. A 10-year study by McKinsey & Co. revealed that top executives are 5 times more effective in a flow state. Leaders who improve flow 15-20% double their productivity. They also outperform on creativity, the number one talent desired by today’s CEOs. No surprise that Facebook, Google and Patagonia are all creating conditions for flow so they can enhance creativity, accelerate innovation, improve productivity and simply create more joy in the workplace. And with more joy there is more flow.
Flow is ubiquitous according to Csikszentmihalyi, who identified 15 flow triggers that we can use to create conditions for flow. Here are a few to consider.
Take a risk. Do something that makes you uncomfortable but not so uncomfortable that you’re totally gripped with fear. You don’t have to sky dive. Triggers for flow can be social and psychological. What you must do is take a risk that have some consequence. For example, renowned fine artist Jennifer Till paints on small canvases. Then she started creating huge wall-sized work to push herself through to the next level.
Set a goal. A tangible goal will power you or a team to new level of focus. There is nothing like a sprint on a project at work, or a 100 meter dash, to “heighten and tighten” in Kotler’s words, your attention and energy to the present.
Focus intensely. Go to a quiet location with the tools you need to dive in and focus exclusively on the task at hand. No cell phones or responding to the next social post. Just one, narrow focus. Meditation is a powerful practice. As an elite level Nordic skier a few years back, I regularly trained 20 hours per week. My training plan was tuned. I worked hard but I was missing my goals. Frustrated, I cut back my hours and started daily meditation. The next season, I raced and placed among the fastest skiers in America.
Indulge in your passions and purpose. As Simon Sinek says, focus on your “Why.” Work on the one thing gives you a deep sense of meaning and intrinsic value; something that is true to who you are as a person and something you believe in. When we do this, all distractions tend to fall away. And flow rises.
Add in autonomy and mastery. Edward Deci, Director of the Human Motivation Program at the University of Rochester and author of Why We Do What We Do, says when people are grounded in purpose and are supported to work autonomously and master a unique competency, conditions are tuned for new levels of creativity and productivity.
Be patient. Be mindful that like any new skill, it takes time and patience with yourself as you progress
A few years back, Dennis Kimmetto set a world record for the marathon at 2:02:57, an average pace of 4:42/mile, re-igniting conversations of 1954 when Bannister challenged the 4:00 mile barrier. Nike just announced Breaking2, a quest to break the 2-hour barrier. This is a 3% increase, ironically. Will it be flow that moves Nike’s athletes through the 2-hour barrier?
Is it flow that holds the key to our next level of innovation in life and business?
If you want to talk about how to build a mindset for performance, feel free to reach out to me here. I’d love to talk.
As an undergraduate, I studied androgyny as a force for creativity and transformation. It wasn’t my idea. Truth be told, I was carrying a “big bag of nothing” for a thesis topic and time was running out. My mentor offered it up. She said the future would be owned by creators powered by an androgynous mindset. Was I ever confused. But was she ever right.
Get a weekly email with the best of inspiration, insights and more.