Recently, I attended a rock concert by The Who. In the middle of one of their classic songs, “Teenage Wasteland,” (Baba O’Riely) lead singer Roger Daltry, stopped singing, stepped back from the front of the stage and looked around the arena in amazement. Everyone in the standing-room-only audience of was singing, standing, swaying, and singing the song together. All were lost in the moment, thinking of nothing but the present . . .
I had goosebumps. That experience is what I call a collective flow state.
I read an account of Bill Russell, one of the greatest basketball players in history, was talking to a group at a JPMorgan Leadership offsite meeting. He described a playoff game where, for five minutes, the court “opened up” to him: somehow he knew where every player was (including those who were behind his back) and exactly what moves he needed to make. Even more mysterious, all of Russell’s teammates felt exactly the same. They scored more points during those five minutes than ever before. Leaving the court in victory, they turned to one another and said, “We have to figure out how to do that again!”
Another collective flow state.
Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was one of the first to research flow states and has written several books on the subject. He defines flow state as being completely present and fully immersed in a task. We all have experienced it at one time or another. Usually the moment we notice it is when we lose it (just like when I try to remember one of my dreams). It’s a joyful, productive state that people long to experience as often as possible.
However, I’d suggest we devote more study to the notion of Collective Flow States. I think they have the potential of helping all of our teams and maybe even families work better and accomplish more.
I’ve witnessed some activities that seem enhance the potential of groups to experience Collective Flow States:
- Share minds and spirits as you share a meal. At Gym Momentum Camp when we have dinner we sometimes pick a topic to cover. A flowing conversation occurs in which everyone listens and everyone participates–sometimes producing a collective flow state. Sometimes producing laughter and mayhem.
- Take people out of their everyday routine. As Gymnastics professionals we become all absorbed in our coaching, the gymnasts and the business, Sometimes we need to get out of the gym. I recently became a partner in a new Adventure Course called TAKE FLIGHT AERIAL ADVENTURES. After spending a day up there with some of my coaches working on challenging tasks together, we found ourselves a closer-knit, more boundaryless group. Similarly, MIT Professors Peter Senge and Otto Scharmer have described the productivity leaps experienced by groups after tackling similar “stretch, group challenges” when used in the middle of their normal work assignments.
- Experience “being present” with others. The more you “feel” the collective flow state, the better you can model it for others. Like many other people, I can report that my meditation practice feels different and much deeper when it happens in a room with others.
- Become deeply conscious of others. When I am on stage. Whether speaking about gymnastics, doing stand up comedy or playing in my band (we suck, but we’re loud!) I have to become engaged with the audience, Listen to their reactions or even their silence. It makes me better.
- Train your mind to be more present. Harvard professor Dan Gilbert has found that aimless thoughts occupy our minds 46.9% of the time. If you can teach yourself to be more present by reducing the wandering thoughts, you’ll be more likely to be able to listen to others, connect with others, and have a collective flow. Work in mind training is being done at all the major universities and by a number of for-profit companies.
In a world where collective problem-solving has been hampered by conflict, dissension, confusion, and mutual incomprehension, any experience that can enable people in groups to work, create, and achieve more effectively and joyfully together seems to be profoundly necessary–and important.
Have you experienced what I’m calling a collective flow state? How did it happen? Have you found any practical methods for re-attaining that state? Share your observations and help launch a dialogue on this neglected topic. SHARING IS CARING!