TAKE MORE SOCIAL RISKS.
Flow follows focus, and taking risks drives focus into the now. For adventure athletes, risk can be serious injury or even death, but in the workplace it doesn’t have to be as extreme.
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“The brain can’t tell the difference between physical consequences and emotional risk,” says Kotler. “Taking social risks is the same as physical risks.” Speak up at meetings, share creative ideas, approach a stranger or tell the truth when it feels awkward.
“In Silicon Valley, the idea is to fail fast or fail forward,” he says. “If you’re not giving employees space to fail, you’re not giving them space to risk. Move fast and break things. Engage in rapid experimentation. High consequences will drive flow and you get further faster.”
UP THE AMOUNT OF NOVELTY AND COMPLEXITY IN YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT
The atmosphere around you can trigger flow, and Kotler says novelty, unpredictability, and complexity will get you there. “In surfing, no two waves are same,” he says.
In business, the idea is to get out of habits and routines. “Automatic pilot is efficient and routines save the brain energy, but it doesn’t put you into flow,” says Kotler. Instead, shake things up. Vary your route. Even brush your teeth with the wrong hand. Against-the-grain tricks will demand focus, says Kotler.
Pixar is a great example of a rich environment, says Kotler. Steve Jobs designed an atrium in the center of its offices, positioning the meeting rooms, cafeteria, mailboxes, and bathrooms around it.
“Steve Jobs artificially created the environmental conditions that massively upped the amount of novelty, unpredictability, and complexity in the environment because people across departments and disciplines started running into each other and having conversations,” says Kotler. “As a result, flow, innovation, and creativity went up.”
USE ALL OF YOUR SENSES.
The final external flow trigger happens when you pay attention with all sensory streams, listening, looking, smelling, tasting, and touching. Action and adventure sports demand deep embodiment, says Kotler. A kayaker, for example, pays attention to the environment with his whole body, becoming literally part of the flow of the world, says Kotler.
Montessori education is another example, promoting learning through doing and engaging multiple sensory streams. You can emulate its effect in the business world through whole body experiences and mindfulness. Kotler says meditation, balance, and agility training, and even video games will get you there.
“Flow shows up when we’re stretching, pushing our skills to the max,” says Kotler. “It’s an uncomfortable place to be in the moment, but the payoff is a deeper life satisfaction.”