If you haven’t read Steven Kotler’s “The Rise of Superman“, I highly recommend it. In the book Steven describes the flow state that is best recognized when athlete’s hit that “zone” during training or competition. The so-called “runner’s high”. An amazing example of this is illustrated in Danny Way’s incredible jump over the Great Wall of China on his skateboard after shattering his ankle and tearing his ACL on a practice run earlier in the day (check out the video). A feat that even the most prolific athlete couldn’t conquer, Danny did it under extreme circumstances. The book essentially goes into the “how” of this and other examples of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, attributing this to a flow state.
Extrapolating this to the office environment is a simple jump (punny, huh?). Capturing the ability for employees to experience flow would make a company unmatchable in their execution. Alas, offices are not run this way. Shouts from the top of the food chain, where the goal is ambiguous or worse, is not seen to have value to the team executing the order, are blithely managed. “Ambiguity is always negatively perceived”.
Kotler describes in the section ‘Hacking Flow’, that the environment we are in directly influences our ability to get into a flow state. Recently, to save money (sorry, nothing to fostering teamwork), offices have shifted to a hot-desk style where employees are required to sit wherever there is an opening, never having a set location each day. This, along with cubicle farms, are inversely proportionate to the amount of flow a person can experience. Flow requires focus, and who can focus when someone is talking loudly to their spouse, a client, whomever, sneezing, coughing, eating Doritos, when you are just trying to get the damned spreadsheet filled in?! As Greylock Partners venture capitalist James Slavet wrote on Forbes.com “These interruptions…move us out of ‘flow’ and increase research and design cycle times and costs dramatically. Studies have shown that each time a flow state is disrupted it takes 15 minutes to get back into flow, if you can get back in at all.” Something to think about next time you decide to bring in grandma’s leftover tuna casserole and eat at your desk.
I hope you check out the book and if you do, let me know your thoughts.
And go for a run. Get outside. Walk. Breathe. Get into the flow.