Imagine an archer, perfectly still. He draws back the bow, takes aim, balances the arrow perfectly. His concentration is total, his attention extreme, he is in a state of flow, a state of pure calm conducive to an ultimate performance: firing the arrow into the middle of the target. A concept derived from research by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi on the creativity and psychology of happiness, flow may be defined as a state of motivation and concentration that occurs when an individual is totally immersed in an activity.
The state of flow is often compared to an optimal experience of happiness characterised by an intense impression of freedom, accomplishment and skill during which all notion of time and all material constraints seem to disappear.
In a state of flow, you experience a sort of ecstasy, as if you were standing outside normal daily reality. All powers of observation, analysis, reflexivity, reasoning, imagination and intuition are galvanised. In a state of flow, we are completely engaged and focused on what we are doing, whether pursuing our intellectual curiosity or as the result of learning. We experience a kind of “ecstasy”, as if we were standing outside normal daily reality. We feel immense clarity, fluidity, complete mastery as to what must be accomplished and how we are to progress. We know that what we are doing is achievable, that we possess the required skills and abilities and we are neither anxious nor overcome by boredom from time to time. We are filled with a feeling of serenity. We have no anxiety, nor do we feel a euphoric omnipotence, despite evolving towards solutions that we would never have imagined. Immersed in our activity, we don’t notice time passing, and we enjoy a special and memorable experience.
Let’s imagine for a moment that we could experience this state of flow on a regular basis at work. We would be operating in a sort of “high performance” mode. All too often, we experience a number of noise and/or visual distractions in the office that prevent us from focusing our full attention on the task at hand and from plunging into a state of pure calm. If we could delve into a state of flow, we would be much more efficient and productive on a daily basis. It would also be possible to measure this enhanced performance by means of perceived productivity (do you perceive that you’ve been very efficient or more efficient under certain and/or new working conditions?). The best conditions for achieving a state of flow are spacious areas, in which visual and noise distractions are reduced to a minimum. Ceiling height also plays a role in encouraging new ideas and boosting the imagination. Ideally, workspaces that promote flow are sparsely decorated and exude an atmosphere of calm and serenity. In terms of colour, shades of blue, beige and grey are preferable, combined with natural materials. Lighting is designed to disperse light that is as close as possible to natural light. Special arrangements may also be made, such as silent areas, aquariums or places for contemplation offering a wide view of the exterior.
According to research by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, flow can also be experienced collectively within a group or team: perfect harmony, a feeling of unity, full awareness of what your team-mates are doing, seamless, synergistic and pleasant cooperation, giving each person the impression of being at one with the team. Such a strong driving force is begging to be unleashed in order to get the best performance out of the team. The main conditions conducive to “team flow” are spacious areas that can be rearranged to foster creative work, fitted with places to sit and large-format whiteboards. Work is mainly done standing up and moving around. Work sessions are structured and organised: diagrams showing input information, flow charts, a project summary, a secure place (here, everything can be said out loud, not just in your head), a wall display of results, open topics, and individual, working group and plenary sessions. The group is focused on the same goals. The work uses spatial arrangements (drawing, painting, sculpture, joinery, modelling, etc.). The group iterates and co-builds, progressing with the help of prototypes. Efficiency is enhanced by visualising and modelling activities. Differences between participants are seen as an opportunity for the activity (not as a hindrance). The most important thing is to maintain seamless and efficient cooperation.
Whether individual or collective, achieving a state of flow therefore offers countless advantages. The more we are able to access it, the more satisfaction and performance we will get from it. Extensive awareness of this state and its benefits would allow a larger number of employees to increase their efficiency and satisfaction at work.