by Matt Boltz
The concept of flow has been around for a very long time and is commonly known as being “in the zone” or being focused, engaged, and happy with the activity you are performing. Flow is an extremely valuable concept that can be applied to many different areas of life. The best breakdown of flow I’ve heard was in an interview with mixed martial arts coach Firas Zahabi. He uses flow in terms of fitness and training his fighters, which include arguably the best mixed martial artist of all-time in Georges St-Pierre.
Firas used the example of Person A and Person B completing pull-ups. A reaches muscle failure after doing 10 pull-ups in a day and it takes A two days to recover. At the end of the week A has completed 30 pull-ups. However, B can complete 5 pull-ups in a day and doesn’t overstress their body, so no recovery time is needed. This means that B can do 35 pull-ups in a week. Over time B will be able to do more pull-ups than Person A so Person B will have more repetitions and gain more experience. To put it another way, you can’t redline the engine in your car for very long without it blowing up but if you drive it at a reasonable pace it will last a long time. Flow can and should be used in your organization to increase employee retention and improve morale.
Let’s look at the chart below. You will see the “Flow Channel” with Anxiety in the section above and Boredom in the section below. As a leader in your organization it is critical to ensure your employees are in a state of flow. If they are overworked, stressed, untrained, or isolated they will be in the Anxiety section. If your employees are not challenged, not learning, or not valued they will fall into the Boredom section. By having employees outside of the Flow Channel your organization is at risk of having high turnover, low morale, and reduced productivity which will result in negative financial impacts.
Flow is crucial for people with physically demanding jobs. In order to work a lengthy career in a physical job you can’t redline your body for an extended number of years. Your body will begin to breakdown at some point. People in these positions may need to work shorter days, take more breaks, or spend part of their time learning another role at the company to achieve their flow state. Flow isn’t just about being in the zone, it’s also about longevity.
By following the 3 Principles of an Effective Organization (Individualism, Collaboration, and Education) you can determine how to keep your employees in a state of flow. Open up communication to determine what incentives motivate each member of your staff, set the expectation that they are accountable for their work but give them freedom to fail and discover the best way to complete tasks (Individualism); allow people to work together to share information, balance the workload, and create efficient processes (Collaboration); and encourage the people in your organization to learn new things within their team and with other departments (Education). This gives people the best opportunity to achieve flow.