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  • Writer's pictureSTEVEN KOTLER

The Formula for Group Flow and Crisis

Two things we learned in 2020: We miss witnessing the impossible, and we deplore being in crisis.

Like the Blip in Avengers: Endgame, change happened almost instantly. No more live sports, no movie theaters, no dance recitals, and no more eating out at our favorite restaurant.

The Pandemic is our Blip.

It caused massive financial chaos around the world as we tried to find the ‘new normal.’

I’m watching people have emotional withdrawal symptoms from not being able to watch others in flow. Think about it. We pay a lot of money to experience other people in flow. We want to go to the greatest game ever, to see athletes performing at their peak. We pay money because we're actually hoping that the athletes are going to be in flow. When we go to a movie, we want the actors to be in flow. That’s a key element to a great movie. We pay out the nose to experience what other people can produce in flow. It connects us.

Logically, we suffered. Lack of data combined with fear is a bad combination. It suspended logic in many ways and left us irrationally facing some problems.

I give you the Great Toilet Paper Crisis of 2020.

But seriously, the shortage of seeing others defy the impossible mixed with lack of resources gave us a dire outlook. Like this crisis had no endpoint.

Here’s the saving truth.

We’re biologically hardwired to find the solution in almost any crisis.

So, when discussing a crisis, we have to talk about group flow.

I wrote a book with Peter Diamandis called Abundance. The theme of the book was about exponentially accelerating technology. For the first time in history, a powerful technology was allowing people to literally solve grand global challenges and possible challenges: water shortages, energy scarcity, poverty, health care issues, etc. It allowed people to solve impossible challenges with technology. What Peter and I said in that book is that these technologies give us the power to go after all of humanity's greatest challenges. I still hold to this.

Solving the problems of 2021 requires the greatest cooperative effort in history. Everyone working together at their best.

It requires Group Flow.

The way I always explain it is, flow amplifies motivation, productivity, creativity, innovation, cooperation, collaboration, empathy, environmental awareness, fast-twitch muscle response, strength, stamina, and increases our tolerance for pain. Everything gets amplified in flow.

Flow helps us to face these kinds of crises. But where does flow come from?

Flow State

Evolution shaped human beings to perform at their best in flow. But what shaped evolution?

Scarcity of resources. When resources are scarce, you have two options.

1. You can fight over resources (like toilet paper) or run for your life.

2. Or you can get collaborative, cooperative, team up, innovate, create, and get new resources.

Flow amplifies certain skills. This wide variety turns out to be everything you need to fight, flee, explore, or innovate. And since impossible is a form of extreme innovation, this explains why the state is always present when the impossible becomes possible. Flow is to extreme innovation as oxygen is to breathing — simply the biology of how it gets done.

Human Cooperatives

The Navy Seals are a great example of Group Flow in a time of crisis. When entering the chaos of combat, they rely on an unusual form of teamwork. A group of individual soldiers transforms into a tight, seamless, fluid machine.

In peak performance research, this experience is known as "group flow."

University of North Carolina psychologist Keith Sawyer (a student of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) fully describes this in his book, Group Genius.

Sawyer spent almost 15 years studying group flow in improv jazz musicians and improv comedy troupes. He discovered that individual flow states have triggers – pre-conditions that produce more flow. In the same way, he found that group flow also has triggers. These triggers are the starting point for high flow, peak performing teams.

The cool thing is when you understand these triggers, you can begin to deploy them in your own life and in your organization.

What Can You Do with Flow Triggers?

It doesn’t matter what your end goal is. It doesn’t matter if you’re rebuilding a business, solving remote learning challenges, or wading through political agendas. Even working on ending world hunger – all of it gets done faster with human collaboration. Often, you get a better outcome than expected.

Here are all of the Group Flow Triggers, one by one:

1. Serious Concentration: Everyone in the group must have max attention tuned in to the present. No distractions.

2. Shared, Clear Goals: This is a balancing act. You need enough focus, so the team knows when they are close to a solution. Equally, you need to leave things open enough to foster creativity.

3. Good Communication: Always move the conversation forward. Drawing on the most important rule of improv… "Yes, and…" goes a lot further than "No, but…"

4. Familiarity: Having a common language and communication style based on unspoken understandings is necessary.

5. Equal participation (and skill level): Think of professional athletes playing with amateurs. The professionals will be bored, and the amateurs frustrated.

6. Shared Risk: Know there is a risk of failure. There's no creativity without failure, and there's no Group Flow without risk.

7. Sense of Control: Think autonomy and competence. It's about getting to choose your own challenges and having the necessary skills to achieve them.

8. Close Listening: Be fully engaged and have the ability to always say yes.

Look at your life through the lens of these triggers. How often do I experience group flow? When I do, which of these triggers tend to bring it on? When I want it to show up, how can I use these triggers to get more of it?

Now run the experiment. Add a few of these triggers into your next few weeks. You’ll discover a lot about succeeding during a crisis.

For the full story on group flow you need to read the peak performance playbook I just wrote, The Art of Impossible.

Also, did I mention, there’s major awesome free stuff that comes with every copy when you pre-order right now.

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