Researcher R. Keith Sawyer looks to comedians and jazz groups for 10 keys to more creative, successful teams in the office, on the field, and beyond.
To view the original article on Greater Good click here by R. Keith Sawyer
They developed the show in a small suite of rooms on the sixth floor of 130 West 56th Street in Manhattan. Caesar created a fun and improvisational environment, where the team would riff on each other’s ideas constantly. “Jokes would be changed 50 times,” Mel Brooks later remembered. “We’d take an eight-minute sketch and rewrite it in eight minutes.” They constantly reworked the same scene until something really great emerged. The writers felt like they belonged to something greater than themselves. Critics and TV historians call this comic gold. I call it “group flow.”
Famed psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly coined the term “flow” to describe a particular state of heightened consciousness—what some people refer to as being “in the zone.”
Csikszentmihaly discovered that extremely creative people are at their peak when they experience “a unified flowing from one moment to the next, in which we feel in control of our actions, and in which there is little distinction between self and environment; between stimulus and response; or between past, present, and future.” When they enter the flow state, people from a wide range of professions describe feeling a sense of competence and control, a loss of self-consciousness, and they get so absorbed in the task that they lose track of time.
Researchers have spent a lot of time studying how individuals achieve flow, and how it benefits them and their work. But as Mel Brooks and his partners in Sid Caesar’s laugh factory could confirm, sometimes super-creative groups like jazz ensembles, theater troupes, or comedy writing teams get into flow together.
Indeed, group flow is important for all of us, because so many of our personal and professional activities are spent in groups, and we all want these groups to be more effective and more fun—whether they’re a sports team, a business meeting, a non-profit board, a PTA, or a boy scout troop. Decades of scientific research have revealed that great creativity almost always springs from collaboration, conversation, and social networks—challenging our mythical image of the isolated genius. And research shows that when a group is in flow, it’s more likely to resolve problems with surprising and creative solutions.
So how can business managers, coaches, and the rest of us foster group flow? I first explored this question while working on my Ph.D. with Csikszentmihaly at the University of Chicago. A jazz pianist myself, I started my research by studying jazz ensembles; then, I branched out to study improv theater groups, business teams, and sports teams.
I discovered that group flow isn’t just a matter of luck. Rather, it tends to emerge when 10 key conditions are in place. In these 10 conditions we can find lessons for workplaces, sports teams, and just about any other group that wants its work to be more effective and gratifying.
To understand the roots of group flow, it helps to understand a bit more about how individuals find flow.
Drawing on research with mountain climbers, club dancers, artists, and scientists, Csikszentmihalyi found that people are more likely to get into flow when their environment has four important characteristics.
First and most importantly, they’re doing something where their skills match the challenge of the task. If the challenge is too great for their skills, they get frustrated; if the task isn’t challenging enough, they simply get bored.
Second, flow occurs when the goal is clear, and third, when there’s constant and immediate feedback about how close you are to achieving that goal.
Fourth, flow occurs when you’re free to fully concentrate on the task.