In Thriveal we talk about many key tenants as we are building our practices… value pricing, results only work environments, business models and system design, and knowledge work. Part of knowledge work requires understanding how our brains function and how we build disciplines into our daily, weekly, monthly schedules so that when called upon, we are doing our best work. A concept or state of mind that might be new to some of us is the idea of Flow. Many of us have experienced this… working on a project late into the night where heavy concentration and fresh insights seemed to ‘flow.’ We finished our project exhausted yet exhilarated with a glow of satisfaction and confidence that stayed with us.
Research on the various states of consciousness have taught us about the complexity of our minds and how much this influences our decision making, our motivation, and our performance over time. Flow is an optimal state of consciousness. Mihayl Csikszentmihalyi is sort of the godfather of flow. He saw ten core components of flow:
• Clear goals
• A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness
• Distorted sense of time
• Direct and immediate feedback
• Balance between ability and level and challenge
• Sense of personal control over the situation
• Activity is intrinsically rewarding, so action is effortless
• A lack of awareness of bodily needs
• Absorption: narrowing of awareness down to the activity itself
In The Rise of Superman, the author Steven Kotler shows us how we can look to extreme sport athletes to see individuals who are pushing the boundaries of human performance. They are flow junkies and are denying the “impossible” at every corner. They are the ones taking a skateboard over the The Great Wall of China (after breaking his ankle the day before on a test run, see it here) or skydiving from space to earth at 800 mph (see it here). In many ways, as CPA firm owners we have to push the boundaries of human performance with our high technical knowledge, our speed of delivery, and our innovation and ideas to improve others’ lives. We need to tap the resources of flow where we feel our best and perform at our peak.
In our pursuit to enter flow there can be different on-ramps for different types of people:
• For writers, painters, dancers, musicians, and scientists, creativity is their trigger
• For endurance athletes, runner’s high is their trigger
• For philanthropists, helper’s high is their trigger
• For technology enthusiasts, video games and writing code is their trigger
There are both internal and external environmental triggers to flow.
• External – qualities in the environment that drive people deeper to the zone (office design is one example)
• Internal – putting oneself in high consequence situations (mental, social, emotional, creative risks). One trigger is the challenge/skill ratio. This is the relationship between the difficulty of the task and our ability to perform the task. Pushing ourselves to do work that is 4% greater than our skills will push us toward flow.
Another trigger to flow is Group Flow. This is where you bring the lives of like-minded individuals together. In those healthy environments, challenge, encouragement, competition and care all happen. There is an amazing energy that is generated both individually and corporately. That very energy can push us to do more than we ever dream possible… to push our boundaries and radically accelerate performance in our lives. Firm culture is certainly a consideration here. Thriveal is excellent example of group flow. So many of us can attest to the ways that the communitas shared in Thriveal which has done so much to create flow in our lives and to push us toward the “impossible.”
So much of the research around flow has identified the powerful biological aspects of the state. Because we are trespassing into intensely complicated neurochemicals in our bodies (Chapter 4 deals with much of the science of flow), we need to consider the dangerous side of flow.
• Constantly pushing the challenge/skill ratio can lead to exceeding the traditional margins for safety.
• There can be long stretches where the flow state is inaccessible – risk of depression, mental frustration.
• Athletes hit walls, writers experience writer’s block, executives over commit and burn out.
• Those that have experienced flow in the past (as a child, possibly through flow triggers play… instrument playing, painting, skateboarding, bike riding, etc) never go back because it is a “waste of time” for adults.
Why does flow matter? The skills called for in the 21st century are grit, fortitude, courage, creativity, resilience, cooperation, critical thinking, pattern recognition, and high-speed decision making. The speed of innovation and change that is happening calls us to do the impossible. With the knowledge and experience of seeing action and adventure athletes reliably reproducing the flow state, we can take that to the other domains of society in our own work and our own families.
p.s. If you didn’t watch the video links referenced above… you must!
Scott is one part of a team of individuals that make up Kregel & Company. We change people’s lives by coming alongside those in their pursuit of doing good. At our core, we are givers looking to give opportunity, peace of mind and inspiration to small businesses and their owners. We help starters and established companies with practical accounting and tax consulting and compliance solutions. Whether you are looking to move your business accounting to the cloud, need ongoing bookkeeping support or desire strategic tax, financial and operational planning, Kregel & Company CPA will provide innovative solutions to save on taxes, prevent costly mistakes and free up your valuable time to run your business. We specialize in working with Creatives… those that use their minds to make a living, and the leaders of those small businesses. You could be a medical practitioner, a professional services firm, or a construction industry professional. Working together, we look to enrich the lives of our customers so that they are better off through their relationship with us.