‘Getting into the flow’: what does that even mean?


Blog article / Tuesday, January 9th, 2018

Everybody knows that feeling. You seem unstoppable, everything seems to be going naturally and time is standing still (or is flying, depending on how you see it). You started working at 4pm but after a quick look at your watch you realize it’s getting more closer to 4 am now – the next day. If you recognize yourself in this, you might be familiar with the concept of ‘getting into the flow’: achieving a state of mind in which everything seems possible and you’re just… rocking it.

Flow, also known as the ‘zone’, 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 the activity (source: Wikipedia). Interestingly, one literally loses sense of time and space: you’re so caught up in your work or project everything else disappears (including your SO – yes, you know what I mean).

In 1975, a guy named Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (what’s in a name?) came up with this fantastic scheme to put the concept of ‘flow’ in a bit of context:

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s flow matrix

I love this matrix, because it makes a beautiful connection between mental state of mind and Abilities (or Skills) versus Challenges. It shows why it’s so important that companies in general, and more specifically managers, bosses, product owners (and all other leading professionals) have to make sure that whatever they do, is challenging, but takes into account the relevant skillset of the team involved. Without these two factors, don’t expect miracles, creativity, fun or groundbreaking, innovative concepts from your folks. Culture eats strategy for breakfast, is a well-known saying in the digital world, strengthening this: you have to create the right circumstances for people get into the flow, a feeling of control, arousal, etc.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”
– Peter Drucker

So when you start a new project, consider your team and ask yourself:

  1. How can I make the task at hand challenging? Are we pushing ourselves enough? Are we adding the most value for our client? What is each team member’s challenge and does it fit him or her?
  2. Which skill sets are required for the task at hand? Who is doing what? Will they need to learn and expand their skills in order to tackle the challenge at hand?

I’ve seen this go wrong too many times. Everybody knows that one guy that’s waaayyy to relaxed (high skillset, low challenge) or that one person that is constantly walking on eggshells because he or she is not equipped to face the complex challenge at hand (low skillset, high challenge). Both are unhealthy and undesirable for the workplace.

That all being sad, finding the lazy person in the room can pay off, as Bill Gates articulates beautifully:

“I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”
– Bill Gates

I wonder if he was talking about the designer of this poster:

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