Flow—an elusive state where time seems to dissolve, and we’re fully immersed in the present moment. Join me, Sonya Looney, in this deep dive into the world of flow with the remarkable Dr. Orin Davis, a luminary in positive psychology and the first recipient of a doctorate in the field. In this episode, he guides us through the complexities of what flow really means, and how we can incorporate it in our lives – both personally and professionally.
From caring for ourselves to choosing activities aligned with our intrinsic motivations, we uncover the nuances of personal and team flow. Separating fact from fiction, we tackle common myths surrounding flow, distinguishing it from peak experiences and delving into its applicability to everyone. Plus, Orin offers trips to find full potential of flow in your life.
So what is flow? Orin crafts a definition that demystifies flow, highlighting its fusion of action and consciousness. We explore why individuals seek flow and its stark differences from engagement, competition, and creativity. Orin defined flow as “the optimal experience.”
It’s a broader experience where we are highly focused, applying a high level of skill relative to our own average level to something we consider challenging. This allows us to get lost in the activity, feel in control of the situation, and do something that we are intrinsically motivated to do.
Flow experiences often leave us feeling a sense of joy, progress and accomplishment afterwards. He noted that people tend to remember specific flow experiences from long ago, even decades prior, and these high points stay with us and can reinforce our intrinsic motivation to do things for their own sake. Orin also mentioned that flow experiences can enhance our feelings of competence and reinforce our sense of self through pushing our skills to a higher level of mastery.
The Science of Flow
Our understanding of flow has changed dramatically since Hungarian-American psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi recognized and named the psychological concept of “flow” as a highly focused mental state conducive to productivity. There are many misconceptions about flow that have arisen from definitions in older research papers from the 1970s-1990s that may not reflect Csikszentmihalyi’s latest thinking. He emphasized that you cannot simply “trigger” a flow state by following a checklist, as the popular literature sometimes suggests.
One thing that was surprising that Orin said about the flow state was that neuroscience is not currently advanced enough to analyze or measure flow in the brain. He said that while there have been some incremental findings, the technology is not there yet and we don’t fully understand the brain or flow well enough to make definitive claims about what’s happening neurologically during a flow state. This was surprising because many assume flow must correlate strongly to brain activity, but our understanding is still limited.
True flow requires intrinsic motivation to do an activity for its own sake. It also emerges from balancing skill and challenge, not just focused engagement alone. While focused states can feel good, they are not necessarily flow if intrinsic motivation and skill-challenge balance are lacking.
Cultivating flow in the workplace
In the workplace, fostering a culture of flow isn’t just a luxury—it’s a game-changer. Imagine teams seamlessly collaborating, communication flowing effortlessly, and a collective energy propelling everyone towards shared goals. It’s more than possible; it’s transformative.
By emphasizing trust, clear communication, shared objectives, and constructive feedback, we create an environment where individual and team flow can flourish. The workplace becomes a space not only for productivity but for personal and collective growth, where every member is empowered to tap into their best selves, contributing to a dynamic and thriving professional ecosystem.
This looks like curating team dynamics, unraveling the significance of trust, communication, and shared objectives in fostering collective flow. As Orin imparts his wisdom, we discover actionable insights to cultivate this transformative state, creating a roadmap for individuals and teams to thrive.
Organizational dynamics are impacted in a huge way by trust. Orin’s expertise provides valuable insights for companies seeking to enhance their culture, innovation, and employee well-being.
Flow is not an exclusive club. As we explore the pathways to individual and team flow, we find not only enhanced productivity but a profound connection to our innate capabilities. Trust, clear communication, shared goals, and thoughtful feedback emerge as the cornerstones of this journey. The workplace, rather than being a mundane space of tasks, becomes an arena for self-discovery and collective empowerment. So, let’s continue this exciting expedition, transforming not just how we work but how we experience the very essence of our professional lives.
Here are Orin’s key takeaways:
- What is flow?: When your skills match the challenge, you’re motivated from within, fully absorbed in the moment, and self-consciousness fades away.
- Myths about flow: Research papers from the 1970s-1990s may have misled our approach to finding a true flow state
- Building team flow: requires trust, open communication, common goals, and regular feedback.
- Tips for how to cultivate flow: Doing things you love, aligning with your skills, and dedicating focused time
- Why feedback is so crucial: It can spotlight processes, not just results, and be delivered respectfully to foster trust
Listen to Orin’s episode about finding flow
If you found today’s episode enlightening and want to hear more, make sure to subscribe and leave a review on your favorite podcast platform. Be sure to share this episode!
Want to learn more about Orin and finding your flow?
- Check out Orin’s website
- Learn more about flow states with psychologist Jonah Paquette
- Struggling to find your flow? Listen to this solo episode about the paradox of comparison
- Flow theory with an expert and updates on its evolution. (0:02)
- Flow and its relationship to skill and challenge in research and neuroscience. (2:34)
- Flow experiences and their impact on motivation and performance. (5:48)
- Flow state vs. engagement in immersive activities. (11:43)
- Motivation and flow in various activities. (15:06)
- Flow experiences and outcomes in work. (22:51)
- Creativity, flow, mindfulness, and meditation. (32:42)
- Flow and peak experiences in daily life. (39:52)
- Flow and team flow in various contexts. (43:04)
- Building trust in teams and organizations. (52:51)
- Flow experiences and their universality. (1:00:49)
Sonya Looney 0:02
Oren, it’s been so fun to develop a friendship with you through lots of different conversations before jumping on this podcast. So welcome to the show. Thank you very much pleasure. So I am very excited to talk to you because you’re an expert on flow. And
as we’ve discussed, there is a lot of confused people out there about flow. So can you first define flow for us?
Orin C. Davis 0:25
I think we’re all confused about flow. It’s a tough topic. So I think I think the way that I would define flow is the flow is what we would call the optimal experience. So it’s a broader experience in which we’re highly focused, we’re applying a high level of skill relative to our own average level, to something that we consider challenging, that allows us to get lost in the activity feel like we’re in control of the situation. And it’s something that we’re intrinsically motivated to do.
Sonya Looney 1:01
Okay, so I’m going to read to you what came out of choosing the highs book, who you were his student is, right, your characterize flow is characterized by merging of action and awareness, a sense of control, high concentration, loss of self consciousness and transformation of time.
Orin C. Davis 1:18
So that is what that’s one definition from one of his books. I’ve read them all, I don’t remember which ones which definitions in which book, but one challenge we run into is that chicks that may has books didn’t always match his thinking. And it’s funny, because it’s a conversation that he and I had, I think, my second or third year of grad school, that, you know, what’s in his books is sort of like what he was thinking at the time. And he was one of those people that was always updating his thinking. And so we talked about something, and I mentioned something from the book. So he basically say, the equivalent of not his language, but he says something that’s the equivalent of, well, that was so 2005. That’s what I was thinking when I wrote it. But that’s not what I’m thinking now. And he was he was way beyond, you know, his thinking was way beyond what was in his books. And that was probably one of the coolest parts about being his grad student was I was getting really like his latest thinking really where he was at. And these definitions have evolved over the years. So it’s actually ironically, you know, you and I were talking earlier about some of the misconceptions about flow, you see people that are quoting from like, 1975 1990. I’m not saying don’t do that. But like, that’s not the latest thinking.
Sonya Looney 2:33
Yeah. And that’s actually a general question that I have, because I’ve written a lot of research papers in the last several months. And I’ll notice when the paper was written, and I wonder to myself, you know, has this been updated? And I just haven’t found the updated paper, or maybe that there hasn’t been funding to do the research to show that this has been updated? So like, how can people have an idea if they are citing or quoting, updated research or not?
Orin C. Davis 2:59
So I mean, this is just a general research question. I always recommend, you know, digging through Google Scholar a little bit, or, you know, what are the other reference sites? You’re just one of the psychology search engines? There are a couple that are out there. But yeah, just to just take a look and see what’s see what may have been any major researchers in that zone, check the website, a lot of us put our papers on our websites, or at least, you know, or CVS or something like that. So you can see what’s out there. So
Sonya Looney 3:28
you mentioned, you mentioned, like high skill and challenge. So in flow, some of the questions that come up is, you know, is it a skill Challenge Match? If you need the challenge to be a little bit more than skill? Or vice versa? Like around? What is that relationship between skill and challenge? So
Orin C. Davis 3:46
I think part of what it is people like numbers and people like quantifying things. And I think that one of the things that we run into is because we’ve got that desire to quantify, we try to a lot of that there’s a lot of emphasis on the challenge skill part, because those are things that are much easier to measure. But I think that you know, and when we’ve done the measurements, like I’m done, Chip sent me Hi, one of their papers on chess, like blow in chess, was pointing out that actually, you want challenge to be slightly higher than skill level. But I mean, the longer the short of it is, you want something that you’re going to have to struggle to get. It’s not, it’s not something that you can just grasp easily. It’s got to be something that you’re going to have to work for. And you’re really going to have to put forth a lot of effort to get to, and
Sonya Looney 4:33
has it been measured in the brain? Or is it? Is it based on self questionnaire self reporting?
Orin C. Davis 4:41
I’m gonna start with the second part. It’s always measured as a self report. When you say has it been measured in the brain? I’m going to say absolutely not. But there were a whole lot of neuroscientists that I was totally just offended right now. Um, what I would point out is that in my opinion, and a lot of other opinions, neuroscience is not up to the challenge yet of analyzing flow or very much else yet the technology isn’t there, we don’t understand enough about the brain. And we also don’t understand enough about flow. So like, we don’t know a lot about the brain. And we really don’t know a lot about flow. And so this is like, you know, two blind spots overlapping, which just means we’re really, we’re really way out of any zone where we can make definitive pronouncements. That said, there’s been some progress in trying to understand this, the progress has been incremental, we’ve gotten some hints, but what I would argue is that the absolute most robust findings that we found thus far in neuroscience, probably aren’t much more than hits.
Sonya Looney 5:48
Okay. And I also forgot to ask this question like, for us, it seems obvious, but maybe for someone listening that never heard of flow before, like, why would we want to be in a flow state? So
Orin C. Davis 5:58
I generally put on the school experiences more than stay, it’s probably a question we’ll get to later. But why flow experiences often, because the way that we feel afterwards is probably want to it’s unique experience. It’s an ineffable experience. And it’s one of those high points that you can experience, sometimes even in life, or in a day, or in a week, a month, a year. But I can tell you that I think about some of the flow experiences that I’ve had in my life, and I can still remember them, even flow experiences, from what say, 30 years ago, I remember those, they stay with us as major high points, we feel great about them. And that can often reinforce our feelings of intrinsic motivation, the idea that we want to do something for its own sake. So for instance, the full experience, I’ll start about 30 years ago, I used to skate, I was a figure skater, I loved it. And the feeling of being, you know, on the floor was fantastic. Like skating had a fantastic feeling. And the floor experiences that I had when I was doing challenging moves, and succeeding at them. And, you know, putting in succeeding at them, because I put forth an unusual effort. And I really nailed something that you know, meant a lot to me that I was really trying to get to, you remember that it stays with you. And it sort of it also sort of reinforces a lot of skating, and it makes you want to try for new heights. So for all those reasons, it’s that high performance, it’s a reminder of the joy of the experience. It’s what encourages us to want to do more do better. So across all those reasons, we love those experiences.
Sonya Looney 7:42
I also want to ask you something about the about just me his book, in his book, and you can tell me if this has been updated, or his thinking has changed, or had had changed on this is he said your sense of self emerges as a stronger sense of self through differentiation and integration. I’m different because of the things that I’m able to do. But I’m also connected, because of all these different things. So can you talk more about that? Absolutely.
Orin C. Davis 8:08
So differentiation, integration, very old concept, tricks that me I borrowed it from biology, he was very much a multidisciplinary person. So he grabbed from a lot of things. And funnily enough differentiation, integration, also something that Fredriksson was talking about in the broaden and build theory. So you know, absolutely flow can play a major role in the differentiation and the integration, that we that flow, our flow experiences help us understand how and why we’re unique. And also that allows us to, let’s say, new levels of mastery that we then integrate into ourselves that become part of our identity, we’re using our uniqueness. And often when we’re using our skills in the, at these high levels, that’s often putting a stamp of our uniqueness on the activities that we’re engaged it. And that also feels amazing because we’re, we’re putting ourselves into it literally.
Sonya Looney 9:00
So in the mass media, you know, there’s books on flow and people talking about, you know, I’m your flow coach, or here’s all these, here’s this checklist that you can do to get into flow. It seems to me that that is not like, you can’t just make a checklist and now you’re in flow. Can you talk more about like, how people can experience flow in their lives, if it is something you can just cultivate and then start experiencing more flow?
Orin C. Davis 9:29
So I think a holy grail for a lot of us in flow research is finding some kind of intervention that would promote more flow experiences, either better ones or more frequent ones, no one’s found one yet. I’m one of the people who’s working on it. I spoke with a lot of scientists and one of the researchers in the field, we’ve all got some ideas, but no one’s put out anything that’s reliable in part because, you know, again, you’re grabbing your drive on people’s uniqueness here. And you’re drawing on circumstances you’re drawing on context, something that my dissertation work even you know, from the 10 years ago or so, one of the things that we noticed was the context matters. And trying to come up with an algorithm that fits all the contextual pieces. It’s a no go. So far, I’ve come up with a couple of things. But those those are very broad preliminary things, I’m still building on it. Others are also building on it coming up with their own systems for that. But right now, we’re still we’re still trying to pin down what flow is and what the experience is, and how it is and why it works and what’s going on. So we’re a little fuzzy on all that still, even though you know, flow has been around for going on almost 60 years soon enough. So there’s a lot to figure out still, what I would say is, there are a lot of misconceptions about flow, mostly because it’s got so many moving parts, and people aren’t clear on which parts are the key. So a lot of what people talk about is the deeply focused experience. And what I’ll point out is deeply focused experiences often lead to higher performance anyway, like over and above the challenge to balance all the rest of that stuff, when we’re deeply focused on something we do better. And people often feel really good about the fact that they’ve done better. And when we’re deeply focused, we can often access greater skill, so we can go for a greater challenge. That’s not quite a flow experience. But people often conflate it with one because we feel good afterwards. And we were highly focused. And you know, there was challenge and there was a high level of skill, it’s not quite the same thing. And I think that the main differentiator has to do with the intrinsic motivation. We’re not always factoring that in and that’s that’s kind of the it’s one of the for lack of a better term is one of the fudge factors, that is not getting included a lot in the popular literature, they’re, they’re not often including that piece. And they’re focusing mostly on the state aspect of flow. And so one of the things before why call flow and experience rather than a state is because the state aspect of it is necessary, but not sufficient. When people are talking about a flow state, what they’re really talking about is the absorptive aspect of it, when you’re just highly focused, and you’re in that sort of trance, when you’re just totally absorbed in the activity, very much part of flow experiences. But I would argue that full was more than that checks that may I point out the flow is more than that. And because it’s more than that, you can’t just think of it, you can’t reduce flow to this highly focused situation and some of the consequences that come out of it. But we’re seeing in the popular media, it’s reducing the that and when you think about it that way, then you can borrow from the meditation literature, the hypnosis that are to the idea of doing things like quote, unquote, triggering flow. No, you can’t do that. Because you can’t trigger the intrinsic motivation part, you can’t trigger the desire to do something for its own sake. What what you can do is you can trigger people to go into that highly focused state, I mean, posted nine suggestions and say this, your practice meditators, you know, can often your drop into their meditative experience in a meditative state much faster. And so people talk about like flow coaches coaching you how to get into the flow state, no, you get into the absorptive state, yes. But flow was emerging in the research on flow shows that flow emerges as part of a greater experience. Now, there are those who are, you know, very, very well versed in psychological states. And would argue that I’m that I’m mincing words that, you know, flow is more of a psychological state. But they’re using psychological state in the same way that I’m using experience. And they don’t mean state, like trance state, which is how the popular media is using it. And so part of this is the word state can imply a whole bunch of things. And it’s kind of more slippery meaning. And some people haven’t really gotten what psychologists mean by a state. And here, it would be something that is like a broader experience, like a temporary thing, because blow is temporary. You can’t stay in flow all day. So this, let’s say you’re in flow for an hour that in psychology, we might call that a State experience, so to speak, but it’s not. But that’s not what people are telling me when they say, Oh, you can jump into a flow state, they’re talking about a trance.
Sonya Looney 14:25
Yeah, that was actually something that I wanted to ask you about is differentiating engagement versus flow. Because a lot of times people will think that they’re in a flow state, if they are immersed in what they’re doing, or like, they’re writing something and they’re like, Oh, it’s coming so easily. And but they’re also like, feel really good afterwards. And, and they’re not as self conscious about the work. They’re doing it just flowing through them. And I think that that is a state of flow are a state quote, of flow, when really, that’s not flow that’s just a deeply immersed mindfully, even mindfully aware experience. So how can somebody differentiate and no like, well, was that a state of engagement? Or was that a state of flow? Alright, experience a flow. Sorry.
Orin C. Davis 15:06
Anyway want to look at it? I think I think what I would point out is there there are a couple of differentiators. But again, I would I would argue that, you know, at this point, when we’re talking about differentiators, I’m not sure that anybody at this point has the hard and fast, it’s definitely like this, or it’s definitely like that. I would say that how we feel about the activity and our desire to do the activity is one of the differentiators. This is what I was saying about intrinsic motivation. So for instance, you know, when I, when I was skating, or you know, I’m also a dancer, I like dancing, I want to be in it, I want to be doing the activity success or failure is often out of the equation. And that’s one of the indicators that, you know, we’re experiencing flow more than, you know, experiencing engagement. Often we’re looking engagement, success or failure, like the result of that outcome is, it’s more important to us. Now, you know, obviously, when I’m when I’m dancing, when I’m skating, or I played volleyball, you know, when I play volleyball, like, well, I’m playing the when I want to win, but whether I win or lose is not part of it. Because I’m intrinsically motivated to play I want to play. And for me, I feel good because I was in the game, and I played well. And, you know, win lose. That’s not That’s not the point. It’s, did I play to win? Did I play? Well, did I put my best efforts in there? You know, and was a challenge, you know, it was it was I having to put forth my best efforts. But it’s the fact that I just want to be in the game. I just want to play. I want to be out there on the court, I want to I want to be in the rallies, I want good rallies. And like that’s what I’m really going for. And so the example you get the one writing, I love to write also, I haven’t had as much flow in writing. Admittedly, I’ve had more of the engagement states. And part of that is I think that the way I felt about the process afterwards, maybe it was like, okay, that might have been a good writing session. I did some good writing there. And I feel good about it. But I’m not thinking like, I loved the process of doing that writing. I was I was having so much fun in the writing it the act of writing felt so good to me, that I just wanted to be writing. I was very goal oriented with that writing, I wanted to finish this piece. And if I did, if I had finished the experience, without finishing the piece, I might have actually been ticked.
Sonya Looney 17:40
Yeah, like you’re not writing to write, you’re writing to learn or you’re writing to convey an idea to teach somebody something. It’s not just to write, yeah,
Orin C. Davis 17:47
I want this, I want this done. And when it’s when it’s so heavily gory, a goal oriented, like one of the things that we that we talked about in the flow research is, we know fear of failure. We’re not worried about failing, we don’t, we don’t really, we don’t care if we fail, we just want to be doing it. When I’m writing, I care if I fail, I care very much if I fail, whereas when I’m playing volleyball, like, look, if I play if I play my game, I play my best game. And I lose like that was fun. Like I’m walking off the court. I’m smiling, I’m I’m having fun, this was great. And you know, sometimes it’s, by the way, the opposite like, you know, I’ll win the game. And it’s like, that was a lousy, there was a lot of the game that wasn’t fun. And I walk off the court disappointed despite having won because it didn’t feel like a good game.
Sonya Looney 18:37
I love this. Number one, I’ve won bike races and felt very dissatisfied with the win. And I felt like I didn’t deserve to win. Because I didn’t perform in a certain way I didn’t perform at what I felt was my potential. And I didn’t have fun. And this brings this this like makes me ask the question about competition, because in competitive environments, can you truly only be intrinsically motivated to be there because the pressure of the competition does help creates more challenge than you normally would have had. So maybe you have to raise your skill level in order to overcome those challenges. You can truly be only intrinsically motivated.
Orin C. Davis 19:16
It can be that doesn’t mean it will be. And some of it is it’s what you turn it into. And you take that competitive Do you internalize that competitive environment and make winning and make it about winning? Or do you internalize that competitive environment and say, I want to do my best. And then it’s like, look, when you make when you take the competition and say, Okay, this is giving me a bar. Now I want to see how far I can go. Then it is that it can become a full experience. It can actually be conducive to blow, but when so it’s all about whether the goal is your performance like performing at your best or whether the outcome matters to you.
Sonya Looney 19:58
And you care about the outcome but how performance goals. And that’s what you’re evaluating yourself on.
Orin C. Davis 20:02
Well, the outcome is there to help. So it’s to help give you the goal. So one of the one of the characteristics of Bo is that you have a clear goal. And having a clear goal every step of the way, often the outcome is that goal. So for example, like when I’m playing volleyball, I’m playing to win, I’m absolutely playing to win. And that is, that is my clear goal. But that’s just something I’m working towards. It’s not whether I achieve that goal, not achieve that goal, it’s more, it’s more to help me focus, it’s more to help me know how to apply the skills and and one of the other aspects of what was the feedback, getting, getting consistent feedback to know whether you’re doing it, right. And that goal, and that feedback work together. And often, you know, competition can help us with that, because it’s giving us the goal and the feedback. You know, if you’re in a bike race, for example, you’ve got all the other bikers there. So that’s feedback, you got, you know, the the finish line. And that’s, that’s a goal, and the bikers around you, and how far you are in the finish line. These are, this is all like a goal feedback system that helps guide your performance. And it tells you like, Okay, if all the bikers are pulling ahead of you like are you better step it up, or you’re or you better be pacing yourself properly. So you could really push it at the end, you know, part of your strategy, whatever it is, but it’s giving you that it’s giving you some guidance on how to perform, and that’s what it’s there for. And if you’re using it that light, then it can be very much conducive to flow because the competition is giving you feedback, your competitors are giving you feedback about what level of performance you might be getting at that moment. Now it is relative, but also like, how good is your strategy? Is it working? Is it getting you where you want to go? Something like that?
Sonya Looney 21:41
That’s kind of like having the outcome in mind is the flow is the the current and the river, right? Like, that’s gonna direct you when you’re in the river. But how you choose to act when you’re in the river, how you’re going to swim or paddle or whatever it is, you’re doing like that? Is the the process goals.
Orin C. Davis 21:57
In a sense, yeah.
Sonya Looney 22:01
So what did I get? In a sense? What did I get wrong?
Orin C. Davis 22:03
So I’m not sure if it’s the current in the river as much as well, the current of the river is more feedback, I would argue, then then the goal because usually you’re trying to get somewhere. But current gives you an idea of like, where things are going, and it helps you get the lay of the land. But where you need to go maybe actually, against the current maybe with the current maybe across the courier. So it’s just a goal, rather than sorry, it’s just feedback. And then you have to use that as part of your environment relative to your goal.
Sonya Looney 22:34
So I also think I’m just pushing back a little bit too, because like, I think that you can be doing work with intrinsic motivation and be in a state of engagement, but not experience flow like you because on the motivation continuum, you can have like that autonomy, like you can have an autonomous form of motivation. But that’s not exactly the same thing as intrinsic motivation. Like, I’m doing something because I want an outcome, but I truly love the thing that I’m doing. But there’s an outcome that I’m reaching for that I want, versus I’m doing this thing, because I just love this thing.
Orin C. Davis 23:06
So I think he answered your own question there. It’s that when we love the outcome, when we’re so focused on the outcome that often detracts from the flow experience.
Sonya Looney 23:13
So how do people detach from the outcome?
Orin C. Davis 23:19
Sometimes we can’t, we don’t, and we shouldn’t. So I would argue that in a lot of cases that like, it’s not always worth sacrificing the outcome for the flow experience. And like, one of the things about flow, is that and this is another thing that’s often you know, misunderstood in the literature. Flow is hard to do. And it’s hard to achieve. And it’s hard to experience. And consequently, it’s not something that happens all day, every day. It’s a rare experience, in part because for a lot of the things that we do or that we need to do, the outcome is going to matter a lot. And we are very focused on that outcome. And we need that high outcome or we need a good outcome. So being able to divorce, the outcome and the quality of the outcome from what we’re trying to do. Not always so easy, not always so possible. Now, I will point out, we can still have full experiences when the outcome matters. But in those cases, we’re focused less on the outcome, we’re focused more on the process. And often, it can be very difficult. For the context. Let’s say for example, when you’re when you’re doing when you’re having experiences at work, and you you need to produce good work. And there’s often pressure from bosses, clients, company, whatever the work you produce, has to be good. And that can make it harder to have a full experience. If you can, however, just say I want to do my best at this work. And I’m not worried about what the outcome is going to be. I feel like if I do my best it will whatever Where I get will be good enough. And if it’s not a good outcome, that’s going to be okay. And it’s very hard to get to that point, especially to get your bosses or the company or the clients to say this is not a good outcome, that’s going to be okay. Sometimes it’s the fact that this is a really difficult thing. And what and especially in the world of knowledge work, it’s not, it’s never definitive. It’s not always good, we do our best. And sometimes even when we do our best, it’s not going to be the best outcome may not even be good outcome. Sometimes Sometimes that is impossible, sometimes we you miss apprehended pieces of the situation, or the work or the task or something along those lines. So because of that, I would say that our flow experiences when the outcome matters, only going to happen, if we can focus on the process. And let go of how much we need to control the fact that the outcome must be good.
Sonya Looney 26:00
I’m going to make this even more complicated. So a lot of times when people are trying to achieve a certain outcome, and you and I were actually kind of talking about this, it’s because they want to feel like they are enough like they have not separated themselves from the work. So it’s like this work might not be up to snuff, but I am, I am good enough. And I did my best work, even though the work itself might not be up to whatever somebody else’s expectations may be. So I’m wondering if somebody is, has differentiated themselves from the work a little bit more, if that actually helps them be in higher states of engagement or experience more flow in their lives?
Orin C. Davis 26:42
I would say yes, actually, and that, I think it’s about wanting to do your own best and to bring your uniqueness into it. And the more we can bring our unique combination of skill and insight and experience and draw on that, to, for lack of a better term play our game. I think the more likely it is that we can experience flow. And you know, play our game is actually something I drew from my volleyball coach back in high school. I’m Lindy del, she always used to remind us, you know, play your game, you know that our opponents may be trying to draw us into a game that’s not ours, or into a style of a game that’s not ours, as you kept on reminding us play your game, we have our style of playing, it’s what we practice is what works for us, let’s not get drawn by context or by demand characteristics into this other this thing that’s not us.
Sonya Looney 27:43
So interesting, one of the mantras I have for myself, and that my coaching clients use is ride your own race, because it’s so easy to get caught up in what everybody else is doing.
Orin C. Davis 27:52
Yeah, and especially in the workplace, we can get caught up in what our bosses they are, what the client is going to think or all that stuff. And it’s like, at the end of the day, where we need to, we need to provide our best work. And outcome, we have to remember that the quality of the outcome, or the evaluation of the outcome is not entirely contingent upon us anyway. And that’s like more than anything else. That’s a very hard thing to remember that the quality of the outcome is not entirely contingent upon us, we can produce what we believe is a great outcome. And then we give it to somebody else. They go Yeah. It’s like, I had no way and you look at it objectively, like I had no way to see that reaction coming. And you know, or maybe they were, you know, multiple clues. And in retrospect, these clues are more important than those clues, but I didn’t know that at the time, and, and so on. And you know, sometimes people’s reactions to things are more about them than they are about you, you know you you make something great. And then somebody else doesn’t like it, that may not be about you that may be about them. We don’t always think about it that way. We often think like if somebody doesn’t like it, well, that means that we did a bad job. Maybe they just don’t like it, maybe this is about them. Maybe it’s their tastes, their situation, whatever it is. And we forget that there are factors that are entirely out of our control. And it’s hard to let go of those. Because we do want to think that we can that we can control whether something turns out to be good or not. And we forget that we can’t always do that.
Sonya Looney 29:30
We bring creativity into the mix here because it sounds like when somebody is doing their best work it creates an environment for creativity whereas if there is a lot of external pressures and concerns about evaluation, it’s harder to be creative.
Orin C. Davis 29:47
Quarter but not impossible. So I had something he sent me I also discussed the chick sent me how it was a creativity researcher at his at his core, you know he was Jack. It was Jack Ethel’s grad student and that’s, you know, creativity problem solving problem finding Things along those lines. That’s actually how he sent me I stumbled upon flow was, he was doing an analysis of problem solving and problem finding under Jeff Getzel. So creativity, totally fair game here. And yes, you know, when we’re having fun experiences, we are more likely to be bringing forth our uniqueness. And therefore, that will often yield part of the novelty, that’s necessary, but then having the clear goals and having the feedback is often what helps us bring in the usefulness. So tourism opulus definition of creativity is both the novel and the useful. And I think that flow interacts with the well, because when we’re bringing forth our uniqueness, when we’re applying our skills that the above average level, we’re probably adding a level of novelty to it. But then when we were focusing on clear goals, when we’re taking the feedback, that’s probably helping us, you know, converge enough that we’re making whatever result we’re producing useful.
Sonya Looney 30:56
This is kind of a question in left field, uniqueness. And then I think about, like, in part, like, you have a PhD in positive psychology, correct? Yep. So and please correct me if I say something that’s wrong, but signature strengths is such a big part in positive psychology, or at least through when what I’m learning signature strengths and uniqueness is there, like some sort of cross sectional area here, because it seems like your signature strengths can be what makes you unique in the way that you do things.
Orin C. Davis 31:29
One piece, but I would also point out signature strengths change. I mean, it’s something to keep in mind is that like, you know, the V model is, which is a very good model strengths, I should add, but one of the things about it is our signature strengths can change over the years. And, you know, part of that is that actually, for those who are taking the BA every so often, it’s actually a neat little diary. That’s one of the things that had some fun doing it, you know, taking the BIA every so often and just seeing like how my results change over the years, like how my signature strengths change. How, you know, I was focusing on this strength, you know, 10 years ago, and I’m focusing on this one now. But I would argue that you know, something that somebody remembers that the BIA Values in Action or signature strengths, or the way in which we act upon our values. And so that’s going to change depending on context, depending on our stage in life, depending on a whole lot of things. So it might be one indicator of uniqueness. And certainly, you know, whatever combination of signature strengths we get, that is certainly a indicator of our unique result, the whole thing, of course, but yeah, it gives us it gives us a view into it. And it’s often a good way to just take a quick look like, where am I at? What kind of combination? Am I Am I showing these days? So
Sonya Looney 32:45
sure, cool. Okay, I’m gonna move on a little bit, because some people have submitted amazing questions I’m going to talk about, I’d like to talk about individual flow for just a couple more minutes. And then I have a ton of questions from people in my class actually, about team flow, which I know that you’re also an expert on that. You, you briefly talked about the difference between flow and mindfulness and meditation. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Orin C. Davis 33:11
Sure. So when we put us first of all, mindfulness and meditation are really, really, really broad items. So meditation covers an incredible range of deeply focused states and experiences of many different kinds. Mindfulness, also, I will point out, and again, I want to get too much into this. But mindfulness at its core, you know, is your comes from Southeast Asia, and like, you know, Buddhism, Hinduism, this is something very, very specific. And it’s been taken out of context, often in the Western world. And it’s been taken out of its religious and spiritual contexts. And people are talking about mindfulness now separate from the religious and spiritual context, which I would argue you really should not be doing at all. And like, if you want to talk about a form of attentional meditation, go ahead and do that. But mindfulness Sati is like that’s, that’s something unique, and one type of meditation. But for each of these things, it’s got fewer pieces to it, than flow. And part of that is deliberately so like, the entire point of many different kinds of meditations, is to zoom in on one particular feature or aspect or thought, or pattern. And it’s not really so outside of that one thing. It’s not necessarily so goal directed. It’s, I mean, we can have low experiences while engaging in meditation. But it’s not very likely. And meditation is not always something that we’re doing for intrinsic motivation. Meditation is often an exercise. It’s something that we’re doing. It’s a spiritual thing. It does bring us to great heights, but I wouldn’t necessarily want to conflate a spiritual high With the height of a flow experience, they’re very separate things and they give us they’re both ineffable experiences, but different kinds. And getting a spiritual high is not the same as getting that experiential hochma flow from a flow experience pull activity.
Sonya Looney 35:18
It seems like you know, secularize meditation people are trying to improve their sense of attention and focus and emotional regulation. It seems like if you have done some sort of attentional training, we’ll call it that, then you might be it might be easier for you to experience flow states because the level of distraction whenever you’re doing something might not be as prevalent.
Orin C. Davis 35:44
Possibly, I don’t think anybody has proven that yet. It’s it’s not something I could gain sale say that much. I’m not I’m not sure to gainsay that. But I don’t think I’ve seen that proven yet. But I mean, listen, when we’re doing that emotional and cognitive weightlifting, which is how I think of it, as you know, emotional and cognitive weightlifting. I mean, certainly, that adds to our capacity to focus. And it adds to our capacity to remove distractions and to step away from distractions, and to keep them out. So certainly would certainly would make us better at doing what’s necessary to experience flow, it certainly can’t hurt. But a lot of the work I think about Dwight says work on autotelic personality. And I think that, you know, looking at that developing that cultivating that may turn out to be a lot more important than you know, that cognitive and emotional weightlifting, although I’m sure it’s related, it’s developing the it’s developing into the kind of person that can come couldn’t convert activities into being something that they liked to do for their own sake. And that’s not necessarily the best definition of autotelic personality. But I’ll leave that one white.
Sonya Looney 37:01
I’m going to add in one more question here, which is, so when you’re doing something for its own sake, I don’t know if I understand this, because if you’re doing something for its own sake, you’re still experiencing emotions around it. So like, are you actually doing it for its own sake? Are you doing it because it makes you feel good? Like, what’s the difference there.
Orin C. Davis 37:23
So I would argue, it’s what makes you feel good. So for instance, if you’re doing something because you get a pat on the head, you’re not doing it for its own sake, you feel good about it, because you get a pat on the head, or you give yourself a pat on the head, or you get a reminder of the pat on the head or something like that was you know, when you’re doing an activity for its own sake, you’re doing it because you want to engage in the act. So for example, if you if you are cycling, for its own sake, it’s because you want to be cycling, you just want to be cycling. It’s not for this part, will what we’re saying about being divorced from the outcome. It’s not about necessarily the rewards and the benefits or whatever else, you like the act of cycling, the experience of cycling, the feel of cycling, and what you’re doing when you cycle, not necessarily the outcome. And so you know, if your good feelings, for example, are coming from the outcome of it, that’s not necessarily doing something for its own sake, that cover the question.
Sonya Looney 38:27
I’m smiling, because I don’t think you can ever separate it. Like if you have ever received external feedback that made you feel good, that’s going to be tied into it forever, whenever you’re doing the activity, like even if it’s subconscious.
Orin C. Davis 38:42
I’m not sure you’re correct about that, actually. It in some cases, extrinsic motivation may lead us into something. But we can develop our own reasons. And those become those become the dominant. And if you want to make the argument that it’s never going to be 100%, it’s only 99. I can’t get into that either. But what I would say is that when when we’re getting to a point where all the motivation we’re really recognizing is how much we love engaging in the activity, then, even if there is a piece that is somewhat extrinsic, if that’s not being noticed, I would argue that functionally, functionally, its intrinsic motivation. I think I would agree with you, if you were if you were to counter that by saying there’s nothing that’s 100%. Intrinsic. Yeah, probably true. But I would say that there are things that are close enough that it’s functionally intrinsic. So
Sonya Looney 39:36
it’s like the the intent matters more than like, what’s what’s like subconsciously happening.
Orin C. Davis 39:41
Yeah, also, I’m a little fuzzy on the subconscious point, but
Sonya Looney 39:47
Okay, the last one on individual flow is flow. Someone asked, What’s the difference between flow and peak experiences?
Orin C. Davis 39:57
Oh, that’s a tough one. I think So thing you know, you’re looking at, let’s say previous work on peak experience through, you know what Maslow was talking about as peak experiences. There’s like this, if we took them as a Venn diagram, there’s a whole, that there’s a lot of overlap between those two, what I would argue is that you, for instance, when we were talking about spiritual highs, those can also be peak experiences, that may not be a flow experience. So I would say that our peak experiences they are the highest that we get in life. So for example, a lot of people, when they’re in relationships, they get certain peak experiences in those relationships, really, really deep, profound moments of friendship, or people in romantic relationships that have profound moments of love, or joy. Parents, you know, often talk about like peak moments of parenting, those are very separate from flow, they are peak experiences, but their peak experiences you know, more that are momentary things, or, you know, experiential things that are not necessarily about the effort you’re putting in in the moment, but maybe a function of a whole lot of other accomplished of a whole lot of other contextual factors all at the same time. As soon as they may even be related to let’s say, you know, moments, for instance, weddings, that why are weddings, such peak experiences, especially for you know, the two getting married, it’s quite the experience for them. And many of them, it’s, it’s a very deep and profound experience for them. It is it is a peak experience for them, not necessarily flub, and part because it’s not necessarily challenging, that they’re putting forth this high school effort. But it is still a profound moment in their lives, or let’s say, a moment when you’ve just gotten a realization about the way the world works. And it just totally changes your perspective on everything. It is a peak experience, I would argue, and it’s something that where we feel our greatest level of humanity, in part, because our uniqueness is being activated in that moment. And that because the uniqueness is being activated, and the peak experiences and the flow experiences and so on. I think that there’s a lot of overlap there. But we can have, I think, I think that our uniqueness is related to the peak experiences, and some and also in the full experiences. But so the full experiences require more effort, activity, the goal and the feedback, the challenge, the skill, the intrinsic motivation, whereas we do have peak experiences that builds on our uniqueness that may not necessarily be apropos, for example, people getting married, they’re not necessarily putting effort in that moment of peak experience. But gosh, I think almost every, I think almost every couple in love, you know, has memories, that peak experience of getting married.
Sonya Looney 42:50
Somebody said, how can you cultivate more flow in your daily life? And I kind of think that you can’t cultivate it in your daily life. Is that? Is that an accurate thing that I said or not?
Orin C. Davis 43:03
I don’t think so. But I understand why you say it. But I don’t think it’s correct, I actually do think that you can cultivate flow in daily life, but what I would point out is, it’s still gonna be limited. Because for experiences, what we need to do to have low experiences requires a lot of energy, we’d have to put all it takes a lot of energy to hit a flow experience. And to be in one and to maintain one, you’re not going to be able to hold that for very long. So you might be able to do this, you know, depending on the length of the experience, you know, maybe a few hours a day. And again, I don’t want to prescribe, like, you know, upper and lower limits on any of this. But I do think that, you know, depending on the context, depending on you know, what control we have over our lives, things like that it is possible to experience full every day, that doesn’t mean everybody can or will or does, but it’s possible. I think part of it would be first of all, making sure that we’re taking care of ourselves mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, spiritually writ large here. If we’re taking care of ourselves, that’s first. Second, I would say if we’re making sure that we’re choosing our activities carefully. And we are of course, setting aside time and context, we do see that, you know, we do need a context that is conducive to flow. So are we able to set up that context, a situation, let’s say where we can focus or a situation where we’re able to apply our best selves, where we’ve got the energy to do it, when we’re able to clear our heads and, you know, get into the activity and activity, being able to find activities that we’re intrinsically motivated to do and so on. So it is possible. Likely I don’t know too many people who experience full every day. It’s that’s going to be it’s a big ask and it’s a big challenge. I do find a lot of people that experience engagement every day.
Sonya Looney 45:06
I think that we’ve colored a huge, beautiful picture for people to understand a lot more about flow and the nuances around it. So let’s move into Team flow. How do you define team flow? And how does one facilitate it? If they can at all? So there’s,
Orin C. Davis 45:23
there’s so much to say about team code. I want to point out that the world’s leading expert on this one is Jeff Olson house, and he’s my co author on a lot of these things that I think we’d be talking to Jeff at some points. Yeah. And yeah, he’s gonna come on. So I do want to leave some I do want to leave some questions for him, especially because he is he is the world’s leading expert on Team flow. I’m, I joke that Jeff is the captain. I’m the co pilot, but he is the captain. And he’s the one he’s the He’s the great expert on this. So I’ll let him let them define the team flow there. What I would, what I would say is that it’s a it’s a suit, it’s it’s an higher order experience, in which every team member is experiencing flow. And then there’s the higher order experience of the team as a unit experiencing flow, which they’re all deriving from the teen’s dynamic. And that is that is intentionally a broad definition, because I know that Jeff is gonna get into the intricacies that and he’ll and he’ll do it better than I will.
Sonya Looney 46:23
Can we talk about it for just a couple of minutes, okay. Because I’ll probably put that episode out, and maybe like six months, so people might have even forgotten. So if you can’t cultivate, like, you cannot trigger flow. How do you experience? How do you get everybody on the team to have team flow, because you cannot trigger that experience.
Orin C. Davis 46:43
So rather than thinking about triggering the experience, there’s a whole lot of factors that go into this. And Jeff and I have been looking at, we’ve been looking at Team flow together for over over a decade now. And we found a whole lot of pitfalls that teams fall into, and then a whole lot of things that people should be doing. And the first thing and the most important thing is the team needs to be cultivated deliberately. And that’s often error number one. And the most common error we see we see as to why teams can’t experience team flow is because the team’s not cultivated intentionally. They just throw people together haphazardly, they don’t think about why they’re there. So you got to bring people together, where everybody knows why they’re there. And everybody knows why they’ve been brought in. And there’s a couple of mentality of skill sets and abilities and desires to do activities. So the team is convening with a reason. Everybody knows why they’re there. Everybody knows how they can and will be able to contribute. And everybody’s got individual challenges, the team has challenges. There’s feedback to ensure that every individual knows that they’re doing it right, and the team knows they’re doing it right. And again, this also comes into the team’s dynamic. So some of the feedback is coming from the activity that some of the feedback is coming from the team and the development of the higher order product the team is putting together. And so as we put these things together, we can we can start to build this, this foundation for Team flow in which can emerge and team flow is an emerging experience, just like individual flow. And so no, we can’t trigger it. But we can certainly put the right elements in there. We also need to make sure that there is trust that people trust one another that there’s good communication. And each of these things can be facilitated and developed. And so there’s tiempo was being higher order and being such an incredible experience. It’s harder to get to than the individual flow. And you are dependent upon other people. And there’s there’s actually an interdependence that happens. 14 flow and building that interdependence comes with, you know, the reason why the team is brought together the collective ambition of the team. Oh, why everybody’s there. The high skill integration, as we call it, that people have the complementarity of skills they’re putting they’re putting in each of these pieces, helps enable team flow to emerge.
Sonya Looney 49:13
And like, what are the benefits of Team flow versus individual flow?
Orin C. Davis 49:19
I mean, TiVos, in many cases, it’s very, the benefits of individual flow extended to the team level. So the team often feels a sense of joy, progress, and accomplishment. So we’re all feeling it together. And we feel like it’s something we all made as a team and it actually makes the team want to come together again. And it really also cements a bond, you know, something amazing that we’ve all done together. And there’s something amazing is often the experience that we built I mean against in many cases, it’s divorced from the outcome that the outcome is almost always better. But that’s correlation correlation, not a causation. We still have the feeling that we did something amazing together, we feel a camaraderie and that togetherness that sense of unity that we all feel is again, like a peak experience, so to speak. And that has that, you know, again, inevitability to it, and makes us want to convene again, we feel like we did well together, and it’s an experience you never forget.
Sonya Looney 50:16
And I’m assuming this has to be done in person like it being like on Zoom altogether, working, for example, probably isn’t as effective as being in person.
Orin C. Davis 50:29
I know that there are some people who think that it is, but I’m with you on this, I think team flow is not likely to occur in these situations. Certainly what I will say what I will say is, I don’t believe team flow is possible with a bunch of folks who’ve never met before. In person, you have to have those in person interactions in order to build the trust in order to build the communication patterns, and so on. And what I would point out is, part of the reason why remote teams are unlikely to be able to experience team flow is because the communication is limited. And the ability to observe one another as limited, the ability to give feedback is limited when we’re not unless and until we get to a point where you and I can see holographic projections of each other in the space where I can see everything you’re doing, you can see everything I’m doing. And we can see one another completely, something’s going to be missing in the communication. And it’s harder to build that trust remotely, it’s harder to build Free Wheeling interactions. I mean, just just to give you an example, there’s so many situations on, you know, zoom, or other teams or other chat features where people end up talking over one another because there’s delays in the conversation. We’re also missing all the hand gestures, the body language, you’re only seeing somebody from like the shoulders up most of the time. So just for instance, I’ve been gesturing with my hands through almost this entire conversation, I have no idea how much of it really got onto the camera. I know, I know for a fact that some of it is below the level of the camera. And so I’m making a whole lot of hand gestures. And you’re you’re missing it. The whole audience is missing. It can’t see your Christmas jammies. Can’t see like, Oh, I’m Jewish. Christmas. But yeah. But yeah, so but I’m saying like, you know, nobody ever gets you that also, I definitely recommend you wear pants or at least a product pants or whatever appropriate bottom. But yeah, so we’re not seeing all that and constantly makes the communication the feedback a lot harder. So I very much pushback and people say, Oh, remote teams are just as good. No, they’re not. No, I’m sorry. That’s a pretense that we want to have. And I’m not saying that remote teams can’t perform adequately. Certainly they can. But at the highest level? No.
Sonya Looney 52:52
Yeah, it seems like to have a remote team that performs well, or maybe if you’ve developed in person, trust and connection already as a team, then you might perform better digitally than you would otherwise. Like if you haven’t met in person and develop those relationships.
Orin C. Davis 53:11
So think that once you have the trust, and the communication and the feedback, and you know, the team, really the team members really know one another, then you might be able to go remote. But I think that that’s not something that you can build, you know, I see I see organizations say, oh, yeah, well, you know, we’ll do two days a team building exercises, and then we’re going to be fine. No, you won’t. You’re not getting, you’re not getting the peak performance, you’re not getting the team flow like that.
Sonya Looney 53:38
So it sounds like trust is a really big part of of Team flow from what you said. So how do you build trust in an organization?
Orin C. Davis 53:49
Well, that’s a tough one. But it’s also a big one. But how do we build trust in an organization. So I think part of it is we need to be able to get to know, folks. And we need to be able to make ourselves known to other people and feel that it’s safe to do that. And part of the part of the challenge of trust, and this is again, not only leading expert on trust, but from what I know of it, I would I would argue that part of the problem at trust is it almost always requires somebody to take chances first, we have to venture trust, and then you know, see what works out. And so you often need people who are brave enough to venture things and see what happens there. And so part of that is we need to see the outcome of those ventures not only in the short term, but in the long term. Trust is built over time. And there are levels of trust. So I mean, you know, at first we venture something small and that works out. And so that cements some trust and then some higher trust in some higher trust and some higher trust. But we’re talking about getting teams you know, to Team Full levels. We’re talking about a pretty strong sense of trust. As a trust that when you say I’m going to x, you’re going to do it. And that you’re going to handle that effectively, and that you’re going to be responsible and that you’re going to do your best and that you don’t have some, you know, alternative motivations that we don’t know about hidden agendas. And by the way, hidden agendas are one of those things that can totally sink a team, and often are one of the undermine errs of trust, we need to be able to ensure that we really do know what everybody wants. And part of the problem is that in the workplace, we put people on teams, but we don’t always loved the incentives for the people on the team, we often and we’re not always aligning all the motivations. And in some cases, we’re having situations where people have misaligned incentives, or team members have misaligned incentives. And that, that can very much ruin the trust and in some cases, make it impossible to trust somebody because if they can’t reveal their, their motivations, and their incentives, and so on, and especially if you sense that it’s there, it’s hard to trust people on your team, and therefore it’s hard to perform. So, so companies kind of need to think about how that’s all going also, again, how companies handle failure, how companies handle mistakes, these things also really undermine the trust. And I’ve seen a lot in companies where a manager or a CEO or a board or a C suite, whatever it is, can be over emphatic about failure being a bad thing, or somebody can screw something up, and it becomes disastrous. And everybody sees that, and that weakens everybody else’s trust. So something that people miss is that, you know, when, when somebody screws up on something, and they get the axe, everybody’s watching that. Everybody learns from that somebody screws up, and they get berated by a manager, and so on. Everybody’s watching everybody’s learning, and everybody’s losing trust. And but at the same time, I want to, I want to hit the flip side of that, you know, as a manager, you’re responsible for the results of your team, that’s high pressure. And as a CEO, you’re responsible for the results of the company. That’s high pressure. And so like, you know, I just want to point out that this is not arbitrary. This isn’t bad. And this pressure isn’t coming from nowhere, that it’s very justified and understandable.
Sonya Looney 57:24
That’s really complicated. Yeah.
Orin C. Davis 57:26
That’s how I say, Oh, it’s good, though. And the thing is, these these misalignments often get in the way, and sometimes they become irreconcilable.
Sonya Looney 57:41
Yeah, it also sounds like you’re talking about feedback, the importance of feedback for flow experiences and the management in a team setting or even to one another, there is feedback that has to be given and done in a certain way that can erode trust, or that can further build it.
Orin C. Davis 57:57
Absolutely, yes. And feedback systems performance management, yeah, you and I could talk for an hour on that. It’s something that’s been there, for lack of a better term performance management has been keeping you up at night lately, thinking a lot about how we’re doing that very badly. And part of that is because we’re getting a little too results oriented, and not enough process oriented. And we’re focusing more on you know, good results, not good process. And it’s funny, it brings me to mind. It’s gonna sound like a funny story. But when I was a freshman at Brandeis, I took a physics course I took an examined physics did really poorly on one of the questions, and the professor gave me only half credit. And I probably because I got the answer wrong. And I met with the professor afterwards, and I asked him what was going on. And I told him, they were discussing, I said, you can see that I set this up correctly, I obviously knew what I was doing. And what he said to me was, but did you analyze your answer? What do you mean? Did you check your answer? Did you see if your answer was right? I’m sort of looking at him. And he says, give me a unit analysis on your answer. Is it what unit should the answer be? And I said, in meters per second, he said, look at your answer. Is that meters per second? Yeah. So he said, and that is why you got half credit on the question, because you should have known, even though you said that upright, you should have known that you did something wrong in the middle. You should have known that your process was wrong somewhere in the middle by analyzing your answer and the fact that it’s not the fact that your answer was wrong. If it was just in your answer was wrong would have taken off just a couple of points. Is that your failure to analyze your answer and a double check. It tells me that you did something wrong in your process. Your process was bad. And you didn’t think this through like a physicist, therefore you’re losing half credit on this said, understood, Professor Have a nice day, not not exactly those terms. But and by the way, it was a great lesson, as you can imagine freshman year for me was 23 years ago. And I still remember that lesson from Professor Cantor may rest in peace. And like it was a great lesson that, you know, sometimes it’s the, you know, sometimes the bad answer comes from bad process. And, you know, when you look at your answer, you can see that your process didn’t get you there, even if you started in the right spot. And but we’re focusing only and that was my error, because I was focusing only on the answer. But so what the answer was wrong, whatever. And he was saying, sometimes bad answer, bad process, if it had been the only the answer, like if I’d done it everything up to everything up to like the up to the answer. We just got the answer wrong. Okay, fine. But, but that’s the thing. We’re thinking more about answers than we are about processes. And that’s one of our issues in feedback and performance management, all the rest of that stuff. We’re only focusing on, did you get the right outcome? Not? How did you get there. But in some cases, by the way, it’s the opposite. We’re focusing only on how people got there. Sometimes, all’s well, that ends well. And I’m finding that in business, we’re finding a lot of managers, a lot of bosses, who don’t have that discretion to know when to just say, all’s well, that ends well. And even if it ended, well, this was a bad process. And maybe this ended badly, but the process was good. So that’s okay. And sometimes this was a bad ending. And that implies the process was that each of these scenarios, we’re not seeing that people have the discretion on it.
Sonya Looney 1:01:37
That is such an important point. And the metaphor that you gave, well, it was a real story, but also a metaphor. And then also for you to go back to your instructor and say, Hey, like, can you tell me why I didn’t get the the points that I think I maybe deserve for this? And that he could give you an answer that made sense to you. Because I think that when people, some people actually want feedback on why something didn’t go well, and then they don’t get an answer, so that they can improve upon that. And that can be another challenge.
Orin C. Davis 1:02:02
Well, I would point out that I had been trained by then by, you know, teachers in high school, to seek out the answers that way not to necessarily be seeking only points but to be seeking, like, what did I do wrong. And that was that took a number of I will say, hard hitting lessons from some very, very good teachers in school. But not everybody gets those hard hitting lessons. And I’ve been finding, you know, now in my days, as a professor, many of my students have not had those hard hitting lessons. They’re just looking for points. They’re looking for answers. And I think that that’s something that many of us may be doing by default, we may need to be trained out of it. I was fortunate that I was, and I will say it was not a pleasant experience. But I think for many of us, we have to train ourselves out of that to look again at process and what we do, and you have to decide when is the outcome the most important thing? And when is it not? And I mean, not saying I didn’t care about my grades I very much did. But I also wanted to make sure that I was doing a good job. And in this case, you know, I hadn’t done as well of a job as I should have.
Sonya Looney 1:03:12
This might be in the weeds for people. But I also want to ask it, because because because you are a professor. So my background is I have my master’s degree in electrical engineering where there is lots of right answers. And there are lots of wrong answers. But now I’m in psychology where you write a paper and then you get like a subjective grade. And I’ve actually gone back and been not trying to get points, but just trying to understand like, Well, why didn’t I get you know, where were the points taken off here so that I can improve my process, but then no good feedback was given on how to improve the process. So like, subjectively, how do you give better feedback if there is no right quote, right answer.
Orin C. Davis 1:03:48
So here’s the way to explain it is that I would argue even in electrical engineering, the higher level you go in any field, it stops being about the right answer and the wrong answer and becomes being more about a more defensible answer and a less defensible, answer this that makes more sense and answers and holds together better an answer that does not hold well, that does not hold its own water. So things are more parsimonious things are less parsimonious, and that that’s more how we’re evaluating the answer.
Sonya Looney 1:04:18
Okay, that makes so much sense. Okay, well, I think this is a good place to wrap it up. Is there anything else that you want people to know about flow before we sign off?
Orin C. Davis 1:04:31
I think it’s something that you’ve sent me Highness to emphasize was the fact that flows for everyone. And that, you know, people often look at the circumstances or may look at the context and say flow is impossible for me here. And I think Chuck’s and Mihai was very emphatic about the fact that anyone, anyone, anywhere, doesn’t matter who they are, or what the circumstances of their life are. Anyone can have a boat experience, anyone can get there. It’s not it doesn’t matter what country you’re in whether you’re in a developing country or developed country, you’re rich, you’re poor, you’re this, you’re that whatever it is, blows for everyone. And it’s something that everyone can develop an experience and something that can be encouraged in everyone. And I think that I think that often one of the things that we often miss when we’re talking when we’re getting into these weeds about like, how do we find more flow every day and all the rest of that stuff we forget that flows for everyone. And that it is it is it can be a universally known experience. And the research really does show all of this that flows experienced widely, and can be experienced anywhere and by anyone. And I think when we get in the weeds of this, we often forget that like it is even if it is a great ineffable experience. It is something that’s available to anyone.
Sonya Looney 1:05:53
Well, thanks so much for coming on the show and where can people find your work if they want to learn more?
Orin C. Davis 1:05:58
Sure, they can check out my website, the quality of life laboratory www.qllav.org. That’s q lab.org.
Sonya Looney 1:06:07
Great. Well, thanks so much.
Orin C. Davis 1:06:09
Thank you, Sonya.