I have had a bit of hard time recently and was not able to concentrate to my passion: to serendipity related issues and my research work on serendipity management. That really caused some stress, which again lowered my creativity, causing more stress – you might be familiar with this kind of state of mind. So the last few weeks have really reminded me about the importance of finding the ”Flow” state again.
Flow was introduced in 2003 by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book “Good Business. Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning”. He describes Flow in terms of eight conditions, the meanings of which might vary in different situation, but still they are the most important components of what it feels like to be in Flow. (Ref. Chernenko, Glotova, Marjomaa: “NetWork Oasis: Creativity Supporting Hybrid Space”, paper presented at HCI Las Vegas, 2005)
1) Goals are clear. True enjoyment comes not from global goals, like winning the game or earning money, but from the each step, each moment on the way to this goal. For a deeper involvement in any activity it is essential to know what tasks one must do each moment.
2) Feedback is immediate. It is important to give necessary information on time to stay absorbed in an activity. One needs to know, that, what he does, matters. Feedback may come from various sources, but preferably that it comes from the activity itself; it means the high trust to internal standards and lead to satisfaction and enjoyment of doing the activity.
3) A balance between opportunity and capacity. Flow occurs, when challenges and skills are high and equal to each other. If skills improve, one must increase the challenges, otherwise the task will become boring. But with too high challenges and low skills one might feel depressive, as the gap between the opportunities and capacities is too huge. Thus, one needs to decrease goals and improve skills. Challenges higher then skills lead to desire for learning.
4) Concentration deepens. When involvement into activity passes some threshold of intensity, one suddenly feels being deep in the work, interaction or any other activity. In such moments the distinction between self and activity disappears, the concentration is so high that one feels like in different reality, the ties with everyday routine life vanish.
5) The present is what matters. In Flow the world narrows to the limited space of the present moment task, all the other everyday problems have no chance to register in mind. This is the way in which Flow allows to escape from reality, like the art and science do.
6) Control is no problem. One feels a strong sense of being in control in Flow. It means that one has the ability to control each small step of his performance, even in smallest and the most insignificant details.
7) The sense of time is altered. The time pass differs in Flow from the normal, it can be much faster, or slower, or it can even stand. In the sense of time adopts itself according to the action.
8) The loss of ego. When in Flow, one forgets not only the reality problems but also even one’s very self. This is a result of deep concentration on the task. After the “Flow” experience self-esteem of a person appears in a stronger form.
The Flow state can be illustrated by this figure
My understanding is that Flow (I type it with big letter just from pure respect to the phenomena) is an essential element for serendipity, because it helps us to be insightful and alert. If you study the figure, it looks like reaching Flow is not that difficult, but in everyday life you have many distractions which will throw you out from the zone. My decision to become a life-style entrepreneur few years ago is very strongly based on the desire to achieve Flow state in my life. While working for someone else you are not able to control and manage the two decisive elements of Flow – how to balance the challenge of the task at hand and the resources available. You have to cope with situations, where you are most of the time either stressed or bored, because of the ”command and control” code of conduct principles in our push world (like John Hagel et all brilliantly describe this institutional world of ours in ”The Power of Pull”).
The essential element of serendipity – to have insight – is strongly hampered if not working in Flow. You might encounter an unexpected incident – maybe a new knowledge/idea or person or a whole community – but because of the stress or the boredom you just don’t react, the Heureka moment never comes.
How to increase the chances to enter Flow zone and release your full creativity potential? To have the perfect answer is mission impossible, but let’s try to figure out some elements.
1) Try to increase your independence –like John Hagel et al are suggesting ”Make your passion your profession”. The ultimate choice is to quit your job and become an independent entrepreneur.
2) Keep on working on matters which you are passionate about – even if it’s a hobby, you will create with your passion a kind of ”pull” factor, which again deepens your commitment, attracts other people and step by step will increase your social capital. The more passion and commitment you show, the easier for you is to attract people and ideas – and maybe one day start a career of your own based on your strong social capital.
3) Hang around with passionate people, follow their actions and try to learn, how they are able to move to Flow zone.
The incentive of reaching for Flow is the great feeling you will get, when you can personally experience the wisdom by Albert Szent-Gyorgyi ” Discovery consist of seeing what everybody has seen, and thinking what nobody has thought”. When you experience this feeling in your real life moment, then you really understand, what I am trying to describe here. Keep on flowing!