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Ultimate Human Performance; Using Flow as a Business Tool

In this post we’ll investigate how using flow (ultimate focus) can be useful in business and how it can lead to the ultimate human performance.

We have always had an interest in the power of the human mind. Which goes beyond being mindful, but moves also into the paranormal, spirituality, neuroscience, hypnosis, auras, chakras, Tao, physics., science fiction, gaming and more relevant to business, performance, decision making and strategy.

Vision and decision making

Core elements in business are always visioning (=strategy) and first, second and maybe third stage thinking (=decision making). Both impact on performance. Inspired by Jack Black’s “Mindstore” and after reading “Bold”, I decided to pick up “The rise of superman”.

Flow

Which is all about finding Csikszentmihalyi’s flow. In flow, we are so focused on the task at hand that everything else falls away. Action and awareness merge. Time flies. Self vanishes. Performance goes through the roof.

The advertisement for flow

Flow naturally transforms a weakling into a muscleman, a sketcher into an artist, a dancer into a ballerina, a plodder into a sprinter, an ordinary person into someone extraordinary. Everything you do, you do better in flow, from baking a chocolate cake to planning a vacation to solving a differential equation to writing a business plan to playing tennis to making love. Flow is the doorway to the ‘more’ most of us seek.

More advertisement for flow

From a quality-of-life perspective, psychologists have found that the people who have the most flow in their lives are the happiest people on earth.Flow directly correlates to happiness at work and happiness at work directly correlates to success. A decade of research in the business world proves happiness raises nearly every business and educational outcome: raising sales by 37 percent, productivity by 31 percent, and accuracy on tasks by 19 percent, as well as a myriad of health and quality-of-life improvements.

Extreme athletes and flow

Yep, it is an advertisement for flow. Steven Kotler uses the extreme athletes as the medium to tell the story of flow and what we can learn. In their case it is very simple. Extreme athletes take huge risks. Risk narrows the focus very rapidly. It’s flow or die. Literally. But what these athletes do, is showing what flow can do. Performance goes through the roof and it is iterative. One builds on the other. In between a lot of those athletes die. But they don’t care. Because they live life by the fullest. A fantastic quote from the book; “It is not often that Death is told so clearly to fuck off.”

You don’t have to be an extreme athlete

You don’t have to risk life and limb to achieve the same. The book itself is a rush. And you can learn how to get in your own flow. Like being mindful, flow is another route to happiness. Csikszentmihalyi discovered that the happiest people on earth, the ones who felt their lives had the most meaning, were those who had the most peak experiences.

Getting into the flow

So what do you need. You need risk, you need a rich environment, you need novelty and unpredictability, you need self knowledge, you need purpose, you need a challenge, you need skills, you need clear goals and you need action. Which where flow is different from meditation. You can only get into flow by doing something. It works on individual as well as collective level. This leads to focussed activity. Focused activity produced a significant reward: it alters consciousness, creating experiences very similar to “mystical.”

Goals

Goals are particularly important. When the brain is charged with a clear goal, focus narrows considerably, the unimportant is disregarded, and the now is all that’s left. Just as important, in the now, there’s no past or future and a lot less room for self — which are the three intruders most likely to yank us to the then.When goals are clear, metacognition is replaced by in-the-moment cognition, and the self stays out of the picture Applying this idea in our daily life means breaking tasks into bite-size chunks and setting goals accordingly.

Groups

In a group setting these goals need to be shared. You need familiarity, blending egos, a sense of control, close listening and an always say yes rule, our final trigger, means interactions should be additive more than argumentative.

Group flow

Group flow is a social unifier and social leveler, creating what cultural anthropologists call “communitas” — that deep solidarity and togetherness that results from shared transcendent experiences. That’s why people who seek out group flow often join startups or work for themselves. Serial entrepreneurs keep starting new business as much for the flow experience, as for the additional success

What happens in flow

You develop a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness: The merging of action and awareness. From the explicit brain system to the implicit brain system. Extremely fluid brain control. Gamma brain waves. The appearance of the Voice, the voice of intuition — the center of the zone’s mystery. Carl Jung defined intuition as “perception via the unconscious” and the Voice is the end result of that perception — the unconscious mind broadcasting its perceptions to the conscious mind.

The amygdala (fight, freeze or flight) switched off. Transient hypofrontality and quieting of doubt. The unstuck in time. Ultimate focus. This is also why the Voice comes through so clearly in a flow state. With self, time, and space erased from the picture, all explicit complexity is edited out. It’s not that the Voice is turned up louder in the zone, it’s that everything that stands between us and the message is removed from the picture. The ultimate experience and in some way connected to “Infinite possibilities”, which is all about creating the ultimate experience.

Dopamine, norepinephrine, endorphins, anandamide and serotoninThese five chemicals are flow’s mighty cocktail. The same cocktail mentioned in “Out of our minds” and the cocktail created by immersive games. Video-game players get into flow so frequently that Csikszentmihalyi’s ideas have become the most widely accepted theoretical framework for explaining the lure of the joystick. Studies have shown that the amount of flow generated by a video game directly correlates to everything from player engagement to overall product success.

The business case for flow

“Because flow involves meeting challenges and developing skills,” explains Csikszentmihalyi “it leads to growth. In the state, we are aligned with our core passion and, because of flow’s incredible impact on performance, expressing that passion to our utmost”. In 2007, South Korean researchers looking at e-learning (electronic games, Web-based learning tools, and electronic tutoring) discovered significant correlation between flow and positive learning attitudes and outcomes.

Neuroelectrically, flow’s baseline brain-wave pattern of low alpha/high theta also boosts creativity, which is the essential skill for CEOs. McKinsey established that executives in flow are five times more effective than their steady-state peers.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University have found that from the marketing side of this coin, online flow experiences attract customers, mitigate price sensitivity, and positively influence subsequent buying behaviours.

Creativity and cooperation are so amplified that Greylock partner venture capitalist James Slavet, in a recent article for Forbes.com, called “flow state percentage” — defined as the amount of time employees spend in flow — the “most important management metric for building great innovation teams.” Because flow is the hallmark of high performance. When we watch a live concert or a traditional sports event, we’re essentially paying to watch people in a flow state.

When performance peaks in groups there is a collective merger of action and awareness, a group flow. As a result, in group flow, spontaneity, cooperation, communication, creativity, productivity, and overall performance all go through the roof

Time-based accounting (paying people for hours worked) needs to be replaced by flow-based accounting (paying people for the amount of time they spend in flow at work). What matters is not the amount of time you’re present, but the amount of time that you’re working at your full potential.

The ultimate reason

Flow helps you learn faster. And the ability to learn faster than your competitors is the only sustainable competitive advantage.”

Bookbuzz

From a Bookbuzz perspective reading “Thinking fast and slow”, “The future of the mind”, “Coherence”, “Carrots and sticks don’t work”, “The shallows”, “Out of our minds”, “Bioteams”, “Reinventing organisations” and many, many other books, it seems that it is all coming together.

Flow will become the ultimate motivator. It captures everything. Purpose, meaning, learning, happiness, productivity, creativity, speed, left brain, right brain, product and service design and ultimately business success. Companies will not only get Klout scores, they will get flow scores. Helping and training to achieve and apply flow. Very happy companies, with very happy staff with very happy customers.

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