February 8, 2013

Collective Flow State: From the Who to Your Team.


When your mind and heart are truly open abundance will flow to you effortlessly and easily.

In December, I attended a rock concert by the Who at Barclays Center here in New York. In the middle of one of their classic songs, "Teenage Wasteland," 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 18,000 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.

Bill Russell, one of the greatest basketball players in history, was talking to a group of us 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 sports teams, orchestras, business units, academic 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. I wrote recently about Jeffersonian Dinners–gatherings of 12-15 people including group conversation focused on a meaningful theme. A flowing conversation occurs in which everyone listens and everyone participates–sometimes producing a collective flow state.

• Take people out of their everyday routine. After several days at Outward Bound working on challenging tasks together, teams at my old firm, JPMorgan Partners, found themselves 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. At Berklee College of Music, where I am on the board, students learn not only to perform well but also to listen to, be aware of, and connect with the audience–an experience the great jazz clarinet player Anat Cohen calls "spiritual." It takes musicians with managed egos and refined listening skills to be aware of the audience while they are letting go in an improvisation.

• 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 (including some I've invested in–check out www.getsomeheadspace.com and http://www.interaxon.ca if you have an interest).

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.

Write Your Comment

  1. LilipopLisa

    Hi I believe music can produce the state, of the present moment. A music video clip, recently enabled me to Tweet an example. The band Coldplay at Glastonbury, You Tube it & when you watch the crowd who have already experienced a Great deal of collective good energy,from the festival for the last few days,everyone having had in union, an excellent vibe time. The last night of the festival & a phenomenal band playing,they are in a collective state in the "Now" of the music,& the ambiance this creates, creates energy from each individual, that merges like containers of water when meeting the sea,"ALL" merge into "One" collective consciousness... Then as "One", & as the music builds up, & peaks,the crowd collectively experience euphoria : ) That is how I cam example being "One with the "ALL"... It`s ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE!

  2. Ashland

    I believe that in order to attain this state, it is important for the artist or leader to create an emotional bond with the listener/follower. I have asked myself in the past, what makes an artist captivating to me? When an artist reveals his or her true identity, that artist becomes magnetic. When the listener is able to share needs, desires, and the `so-called` trivial concerns of life, then this artist who most revere as `God-like` becomes very personal. The artist and listener are able to connect through the art. Being locally present isn`t even necessary because they are connected in spiritual terms. The same can be said for a teacher or a Psychologist or yoga instructor. The truth and compassion expressed by the leader is able to captivate all whom are in his or her presence. This leads to a common vision. When many souls with a common vision commune, it is likely that this `collective flow state` will occur. An intoxicating love and presence will surely be experienced. Be inspired and inspire! xoxo, Ashland

  3. pathros

    I was meditating in a rock cellar when the wall I was looking at disappeared and was replaced by a very bright light that like 10,000 suns, the world completely vanished at the same time. This technique has shown me that we must overcome everything to see the truth that is there and has been there behind the facade.

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