Sometimes when I am teaching, time stops. I am explaining data modeling concepts and answering questions and I am completely in the moment. It’s a great feeling. This feeling is called “flow”.
I am in flow state often when I teach, but also sometimes in a tough tennis match or while working on a puzzle with my daughter.
Flow has the greatest impact when a decision has to be made quickly. For some of us, especially those of us in the public safety arena, must make life and death decisions.
Flow-based Leadership by Judy Glick-Smith focuses on how to enter a flow state and use it to make better decisions when faced with tough situations. The book pulls you right in from the first page with a story of how a firefighter survived the 9/11 attacks. He described what he did to survive, and a key ingredient was flow. Leveraging Judy’s research of flow in the fire service industry, the book contains lots of stories and first-person encounters by firefighters to illustrate flow in action.
Although most examples are given from the world of public safety, where situations are emergent and decisions have to be made quickly and correctly, Judy makes connections that show how to leverage flow within organizations for better decisions and higher quality deliverables.
Here is a run-down on each chapter:
- Chapter 1 provides a history of the study of flow. It breaks down the components of flow and gives examples of how being in a flow state results in better decision making, especially in critical situations.
- Chapter 2 discusses the preconditions, the triggers of flow, and techniques for how to consciously initiate flow.
- Chapters 3 and 4 further define and illustrate the concepts of flow-based decision making and flow-based leadership, including how individuals and organizations currently think about decision making.
- Chapter 5 provides a high-level overview of the Georgia Smoke Diver (GSD) program. The GSD program is an extreme experiential training program in the fire service focusing on mental as well as physical aspects, much like military special forces like the NavySeals, Army Rangers, or the Green Berets. GSD serves as a model for the flow-based organizational framework presented in Chapter 6.
- Chapter 6 describes the flow-based organizational framework derived from the GSD program, which addresses the question: “How will you integrate these components into your life and organization to facilitate situational awareness, a safety mindset and culture, flow-based decision making, critical thinking, and innovation?”
One section of the book that had a large impact on me was the five mechanisms of flow that must be in place for us to be able to consciously initiate flow, as shown in the following figure from the book:
Here is a quick summary of each of these five (much more information on each of these in the book):
- Knowledge of our own triggers of flow. Recall what put you in a flow state and make yourself feel like that again.
- This is where training and experience come in. The more we are ready for a situation, the easier it is to get “in the zone.”
- Physical readiness. Exercise keeps us fit and makes it easier to initiate flow states.
- Mental alignment. The ability to react effectively requires feedback, active awareness, and low levels of inhibition: three common elements of flow.
- Spiritual connection. Judy says, “Alan Watts wrote about the Buddhist Middle Path, or Noble Eight-Fold Path of right understanding: right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.”
There are lots of great stories throughout the book, and I love how Judy weaves them into a series of important messages we can all apply to make better decisions and have fuller moments.