What is Flow?
Flow is a conceptual framework for thinking about the way we live and work. Fundamentally it describes an experience in which people and organisations achieve incredible results, love what they are doing, and experience high degrees of engagement, alignment, connection and fulfillment. Flow is the path of least resistance. It incorporates aspects of business strategy and planning through aligning the natural talents and ‘Flow Profiles’ of the people involved with the requirements of the organisation.
Wikipedia defines personal flow as: A mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. It is a state of supreme creativity and productivity.
This definition can be extended to teams and organisations as follows: An organisational approach and culture of operation in which the organisaion and all its staff are fully immersed in the core purpose of the organisation, with an experience of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. It is a state of supreme creativity, adaptability and productivity.
Flow incorporates philosophical, spiritual, strategic and financial concepts. It incorporates ideas from personal development, positive psychology, organisational development, organisational culture and productivity sciences.
It applies across scales – from individuals through to teams and organisations, and into communities.
It applies across time – from moment to moment, through to an experience over years and decades.
I engage with the concept of Flow through six key ideas.
Flow is Experiential – not just theory.
Flow is easily recognizable, and can be felt and experienced by all. It is a state that we all have felt at one time or another, either as an individual or in a team or organisation. You are focused, loving what you are doing and who you are doing it with, feeling energized, time flows quickly and whatever you are doing seems easy and natural. You feel like you are at the right place, at the right time, and with the right people. Work does not feel like work. You wake up in the morning and are excited about what you will be doing that day, and who you will be with.
Path of Least Resistance
Flow happens when you (or your team) are pursuing the path of least resistance. Doing what is required feels ‘easy’ (even if challenging), and gets results. If it does not – if it feels like hard, stubborn work and you are not getting anywhere – then you are likely to be out of Flow. When this happens, either you are doing the wrong thing, or you have the wrong people doing it.
Flow Requires Others
You cannot get yourself into flow. At an organisational level, Flow requires the participation of all the role players. Intrinsically the word FLOW implies that there has to be movement, from one to another. The value I create for the world needs to be brought to life in the world. Others require my value to enable them to get into Flow and produce and share their value. And not only does it need to be shared with the world, but it needs to be shared in the most easy and effective way possible. Flow requires an environment and culture that allows me to show up fully, to bring my ideas, solutions, mistakes and all of who I am to the table. Creating such a culture requires the whole team, under strong leadership. We bring each other into flow.
Flow as the Weather, and Flow as the Season
Flow is not an ideal world in which everything is cheery and perfect. Just like summer (the season) has rainy and windy days (the weather), so to do individuals and teams in Flow experience days in which things feel hard, or do not work. However, we know we are in Summer when there are more sunny warm days than cold and rainy days. Similarly individuals and organisations experience Flow when they quickly learn from and adapt to setbacks and mistakes, harness the creativity and resilience of the team, and move forward. And just like rainy days in summer play an integral part in our ecosystems, so too do setback and mistakes contribute to the ongoing growth and development required for Flow.
Each Path to Flow is Different
There is no one path to Flow. Each individual and organisation is different, and will require different strategies and practices.
Flow is a Practice
Creating Flow requires the ongoing implementation and repetition of successful strategies. Once a strategy is proved to work, it needs to be practiced until it becomes a habit and part of the core culture of the organisation.
Flow can be created in individuals and teams. It is not a random event only for the lucky or those that stumble on it by chance. There are practical strategies and practices that will support individuals and teams into flow.