Interview with Rían Doris, COO of The Flow Research Collective
Rían Doris is COO of The Flow Research Collective. He and I had a conversation about accessing flow states in the workplace and when acquiring skills. Rian shares insights about how you can use the tools of elite athletes, military operators, and startup founders to increase your productivity and skill acquisition.
“What we try and do is make your work feel like skiing.” -Rian Doris
Below is the transcript of our conversation.
Brendan Carr: The first thing I want to ask you about is the relationship between focus and productivity. Can I be productive and be on top of my notifications on my phone and all that?
Rian Doris: It’s a good question man. The way I think about it is that firstly there’s a difference between focus and flow. Flow is obviously what we work around and teach people how to get into but essentially when you focus for a long enough period of time you will end up driving yourself into a flow state. Now you could get into flow, which is a state that’s even beyond focus where there’s a whole physiological shift taking place where performance dramatically improves. You could get into that state, which is a state again beyond focus, doing things that aren’t actually going to move you towards your goals. Potentially reading the news, you get into flow while committing a crime, you could get into flow while video gaming. A huge example. So the activity that you get into flow or are focusing when doing is absolutely important. In other words, you could be very focused playing a video game, committing a crime, robbing a bank or whatever it is, but arguably those aren’t actually productive activities. You know the way I like to describe it is accurate focus or accurate flow states, which is the idea of getting into a flow state while doing a thing that is actually going to move you towards your goals and is productive depending on what you’re actually optimizing for.
Brendan Carr: And with the flow state that’s like the dream. How would you describe that as someone who’s in this business? Because I think probably a lot of people who are listening are familiar but maybe a few are like what does that mean exactly? Or it sounds kind of woo-woo.
Rian Doris: Yeah, it definitely does sound kind of woo-woo. So we always describe flow as an optimal state of consciousness. You feel your best and you perform your best and in terms of the feeling that that state comes with it’s that sense of being totally immersed in the task at hand. Totally honed into whatever it is that you’re doing where action and awareness merge. Your attention kind of just focuses on the thing that you’re doing, time disappears so you hear people talking about the fact that hours went by and what feels like minutes and they just got lost and absorbed in their work. Your sense of self goes offline so that inner dialogue tends to nag at people quite a lot telling them that they’re not good enough or overly analyzing whatever it is that they’re doing that goes offline. So you’re free of that inner voice and the burden that comes with that while in a flow state. And then a lot of people just refer to it as being in the zone and that’s the term that people are most familiar with and everyone describes that they got into the zone on friday afternoon and were really productive or they got into state and managed to knock out a ton of work or whatever. So I think everyone’s experienced it and when you hear the description of it most people can remember or recall the last time they were in that state.
Brendan Carr: And there are a lot of different things that trigger the flow state and you’ve said that focus is the meta trigger. It’s a thing above all that we must have. What do you suggest people do first of all just to focus themselves before they’re even getting into the finer points of trying to achieve a flow state?
Rian Doris: So there’s two things, there’s 22 triggers for flow and there’s two things that all those triggers are doing, they’re either reducing cognitive load and cognitive load is the amount of information that you’re trying to hold in your mind at any given time or those flow triggers are increasing dopamine and norepinephrine and as a result driving focus. And that’s where focus is this meta flow trigger so that all the triggers in other words are either reducing down cognitive load or increasing dopamine and norepinephrine which is increasing focus. The best place to start is to start doing one of those two things either increasing focus and driving norepinephrine and dopamine which are two focusing chemical neurochemicals or reducing cognitive load and I always think the best thing to start with especially given the fact that so many people are so overwhelmed and don’t really want to add in new habits or tactics or techniques to take on more information is to reduce cognitive load. And one of the best ways to reduce cognitive load is to eliminate and remove things from your life to remove clutter to remove tasks that are unnecessary.
Brendan Carr: To be specific, when you say clutter you’re saying like if I’ve got a lot of stuff on my desk even that’s something?
Rian Doris: Exactly. Environmental clutter is a big one, but then also removing the clutter from your actual life so all of the tasks that aren’t high leverage that aren’t possible to get into flow within. You know one of the things I like to say as well is that the less time you spend doing low-level activities that you’re not going to be able to get into flow i,n like parking or dealing with customer service support or replying to frustrating emails or any of those things that don’t facilitate flow, then the more time you have left over for the important activities. Maybe for you it’s writing that you can get into flow in. That’s just a very broad way of like the less time you direct towards things that aren’t very flow inductive the more time you’ve got left over to focus on the high leverage activities that are productive and that facilitate getting into a flow state.
Brendan Carr: You said that flow is autotelic too, that it’s something that once you start getting more of it you want to keep coming back. It’s pleasant for its own sake. Can there be a dark side to that as well? Will I end up just a flow junkie if I start optimizing my life for that?
Rian Doris: Definitely, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, he’s the godfather of flow science we like to call him. He did a lot of the foundational research on this. He’s a hungarian psychologist and he uses the term autotelic Steven Kotler, Director of Flow Research Collective, who wrote these books, describes that as a fancy way of saying addictive. Autotelic is very close to addictive in that sense Autotelic means that the activity is worthwhile in and of itself. You’re not just doing it to produce some end, but you’re actually enjoying the writing. Not just for the thing that’s going to be written at the end of the writing session, but because the activity of writing is just so inherently pleasurable in itself. So that’s what it is to be autotelic and that can be incredibly powerful and beneficial when channeled onto the right kinds of activities. If you can make activities that are good for you like exercise like doing whatever work it is that you need to do to progress within your career like your family life social things relationships if you can make those activities autotelic and pleasurable enough to do in and of themselves that’s huge because you’re all of a sudden then intrinsically motivated to do all of those things and do all those things a lot. That’s great, but if you’re getting that autotelic sense where you’re just pulled back into doing the thing on activities that aren’t going to benefit you or that are going to harm you like again a simple example is video games when people get video game addiction it’s actually usually what’s happening is the autotelic element of the flow state that they’re getting when they’re playing the video games is getting so strong and out of control that they just want to keep playing the different games. It feels so good and they can just go and go and go and go and generally video games aren’t really being done for an end. I mean the end is obviously to level up within the game but there’s not an end outside of the game that they’re actually pursuing. Steven has a whole chapter actually on this topic as well and writes in The Rise of Superman called the dark side of flow and he talks about as well how that autotelic desire to come back for the activity to pursue that state of flow which is so pleasurable and exhilarating more and more and more results in action adventure sports athletes for example pushing too hard taking risks that are too big jumping off mountains that are too high and injuring or killing themselves as a result of it for the pursuit of more flow. You can also get things like workaholism you know which you see within the entrepreneurial community. A lot of guys or women obviously who are loving building their company so much because it’s such a strong sense of flow that they just get totally overrun by that and end up working way too hard and burning relationships and damaging themselves. You can end up overdoing certain activities especially if those activities aren’t things that are going to be good for you by getting into flow a lot and then having those activities become more autotelic.
Brendan Carr: There’s this tension here. There’s all this value and pleasure in the flow state and then you don’t want to go too far with it. I wonder how do you personally navigate that? I mean we’ve talked a little bit earlier about jiu jitsu. When you were starting brazilian jiu jitsu did you try to get yourself in a flow state when you showed up or did you have some way to kind of reign it in because you don’t want to overdo it and get injured? How do you work the flow in your life?
Rian Doris: the way I would think about it is that being overly obsessed with an activity and having that activity get too autotelic is a great problem to have. Most people are much more on the other end of the spectrum they’ve got a push and they’ve got a force and they’ve got to wake up and force themselves to get up in the morning and they need a massive coffee in order to give them the push to be able to start work or they’ve got to force themselves to go to the gym or whatever it is. For most people the dark side of flow is not actually something that they’re dealing with for people who are playing in this space and have been for a long time or have certain activities that they are really really really deeply into then it’s more of a concern but generally what’s a much bigger challenge for most people is getting into that state in the first place rather than reigning it back.
Brendan Carr: So how were you using that when you were learning jiu-jitsu? Were you doing something to get yourself into flow when you were there to acquire the skill faster?
Rian Doris: With jujitsu I probably didn’t get to the point of explicitly applying flow triggers to it. It’s an interesting one actually, I hadn’t thought about jiu jitsu in particular. Activities like that, the reason so many people love doing them, the reason they’re so great and so alluring the same with surfing the same with a lot of other action adventure sports like skiing is that they’re inherently packed with flow triggers. You don’t need to consciously or explicitly hack flow outside of doing the activity. The activity has the flow triggers built into it. For example, if you look at some of the what we call the external triggers like high consequences, risk, novelty, complexity all of those are inherent to the activity. If you’re doing jiu jitsu there’s a risk you get choked out there are high consequences of getting choked out you can black out, it can hurt. There’s novelty in the fact that you don’t know what is going to happen in terms of the next move. There’s complexity in terms of the different range of motions or grapples that you could go with. Same with surfing or snowboarding, there’s risk, there’s all of these things already within the activity.
Brendan Carr: And a literal, physical sense of flow too. You’re moving like a wave.
Rian Doris: Exactly! That’s why Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called the term flow. It’s sort of onomatopoeic in that it describes the feeling of flow which is that flowy feeling. With those activities the way I think about those is that you know doing those activities is hacking flow in and of itself because those activities are already inherently rich in flow triggers. You don’t need necessarily to come into jitsu and be like which of the 22 flow triggers do I try and optimize for here you just do the jiu jitsu and enjoy it and know that the triggers are in the activity and that’s why people like those activities. It’s why so many people surf why so many people do all of these different things because they inherently trigger flow same as video games.
Brendan Carr: With things that maybe aren’t so inherently pleasurable but you still want to acquire a skill or learn something, I’ve heard discussion of flow and language learning for example, how how could you be working those triggers to better acquire that skill?
Rian Doris: It’s a great question. One of the things that I like to always say that we try and do is make your work feel like skiing. From a neurophysiological standpoint that state that people love that they get into when they’re doing all of the other activities we’ve been talking about like surfing skiing doing jiu jitsu it’s the state that they’re after the state of flow more so than the activity they don’t necessarily like the activity they like where the activity brings them which is into that certain state that they’re chasing and that state has a neurophysiological signature that is correlated or attached to it or that shows up with the state and there’s no reason from a neurobiological standpoint that you can’t replicate that neurophysiological state in a totally different activity like working and that’s but when you’re doing an activity like working that maybe is inherently less rich or potent in flow triggers that’s when you start consciously layering in the flow triggers which is what you’re asking and so what what three of the big ones that we talk about are clear goals the challenge skills balance which you may have heard about and then immediate feedback and so there that’s an example of three psychological triggers that you would want to deploy within your work to make your work more flowy so that you can start to get into the same state when you’re working even if it’s just computer work and email as you’re getting into when you’re skiing or when you’re video gaming or when you’re doing jiu jitsu or whatever it is and so there’s lots of different ways you can you can deploy those triggers um but with clear goals for example the point there is just to have an extremely clear goal around what you’re doing in the moment down to a very microscopic level that most people don’t actually have most people have a general idea that they’re working on a powerpoint presentation or something like that but they haven’t got a goal clear enough to the point that you know they know that they’re finishing the deck that they’re currently or they’re finishing the slide they’re currently working on or whatever it is because the clearer you set those goals even down to a really really specific minute level the more that you can go away from that kind of divergent thinking and analyzing the prefrontal cortex is much more active and you’re wondering about whether what you’re doing is the right thing to do and wondering about how to do it and that part of your brain and that kind of cognition can shut down because the goal is so clear there’s no there’s no wondering there’s no question there’s no high level analysis so you can just execute and go straight in and drop into flow much more easily when you have clear goals like that set so that’s just one example
Brendan Carr: How would you use that in things that might seem ambiguous to set a goal like say in surfing? You show up and you don’t know what the surf is going to be like or how many waves you’re going to catch that day. How do you manipulate that to best have that clear goal?
Rian Doris: with something like surfing personally at least I wouldn’t even bother trying okay because again surfing has all these these other floats there’s like novelty complexity unpredictability risk in it already so you don’t necessarily I don’t think need to layer those yeah you’re gonna get into a flow set anyway when you’re up yeah exactly exactly because you’re plucking all these different triggers so there’s 22 triggers in total there are psychological triggers there’s environmental triggers creative triggers group flow triggers and so you don’t necessarily need all 22 to be present at once you sort of need to pluck a number of triggers to be able to get yourself into that state and with surfing again you’ve already got like five big ones active within the activity and of itself so you don’t necessarily I don’t think need to set clear goals on top of that one that is relevant to surfing that is also relevant to work would be the challenge skills balance and that’s the idea that flow exists at the sweet spot between boredom and anxiety as you may have heard before so you want the activity or the task that you’re doing to be the perfect level of stimulation where it’s just not too hard for your current skill set which would propel you into anxiety in a stressed state but it’s also not too boring to the point that it’s not stimulating so when it’s just about difficult enough when you’re in that sweet spot between boredom and anxiety where the challenge level is just above your existing skill level then you’re much more likely to get into flow and you can definitely apply that within surfing by the length of your surfboard and by the size of the waves and the conditions that you’re going out with and the moves that you’re trying to you know pull off on the wave and things like that and you can obviously also apply that to work pretty easily as well by by increasing and decreasing the challenge level of what you’re doing.
Brendan Carr: Right. And I think Steven’s written that in the research it’s something like just four percent more than what you’re normally at. Which maybe not everything is quantified by four percent, but that gives most people an idea of what that’s like. It’s just a little.
Rian Doris: Just a little push, exactly. But you want to constantly have that little push, whereas a lot of people maybe when they start their job it’s 60 percent harder than what they’re able to do and they’re just totally overwhelmed for the first three weeks it’s stressful as hell and that it can’t keep up and then they get a hang of it and then they try to make it as manageable as possible but then overdo that and the job becomes under stimulating and boring and not challenging enough and then they’ve locked themselves out of flow on the other side so they’re like oscillating much too aggressively from way too difficult to I don’t want this to be hard at all I don’t like being in a challenged state it’s too overwhelming and then they’ve made it too easy and then they’ve not gone into flow here and they’re not getting it to float there right missing an opportunity.
Brendan Carr: What got you into all this? I’ve heard you talk a little bit about the head injury you had? Or was it the great surf in Ireland that I’m learning about?
Rian Doris: That’s a good point actually I suppose the surf in Ireland definitely did have an impact on it. I was definitely addicted to surfing when I was even about 13 my mom would drop me off at the beach at like nine in the morning and i’d surf until it was dark basically um and getting very much so into these states throughout the whole process but what got me into it personally was I had a head injury uh when I was 13 I went down 100 foot vertical water slide and tried to semI or tried to somersault off the bottom of the slide and I semi-rotated so I didn’t fully somersault I just went a little bit over and then I hit the top of my head off the concrete bottom of the pool which was only about three foot deep and the slide’s about 100 foot pretty much vertical so there’s an extremely high speed impact um and that header injury resulted in about seven years of what they called a post head injury syndrome where it’s this undiagnosable set of extremely debilitating symptoms like chronic fatigue nausea blurred vision a total inability to exercise without bringing up all of those other symptoms so it was brutal basically I missed a whole year of school the year afterwards I couldn’t remember the name of my favorite band I couldn’t remember the name of some of my friends even with suffering with severe amnesia and those symptoms those acute symptoms alleviated a little bit and the other symptoms persisted though the whole way through my teen years so I couldn’t surf I couldn’t play rugby definitely couldn’t do jiu jitsu and that was tough and I got as a result of that adversity very deeply into personal development peak performance even spirituality in certain ways at the time came across steven’s book read the rise of superman became obsessed with this idea of flow and gaining 500 increases in productivity and the fact that it was the source code or the epicenter of human beings performing at their best and there was something about the contrast of the debilitated state that I was in at the time relative to this description of such a peak state where everything is functioning so optimally and you’re so at the top of your game that I think must have sucked me in because I was like oh my god you know this is what I watch right relative to being you know exhausted all the time having terrible memory loss feeling like absolute you know terrible it it was a very appealing idea being able to get into that peak state now.
Brendan Carr: It’s interesting now hearing you tell the story. I’m reminded of hearing Steven tell his own story. Very similar, he had a debilitating illness. He was only functioning maybe an hour a day. It was getting out and getting into flow states and having friends just push him on a surfboard that really got him invigorated again.
Rian Doris: Yeah, Steven had lyme disease and funnily enough the symptoms of lyme are extremely similar to the symptoms that I had after the head injury to the point that even doctors who i’ve talked to more recently after those symptoms cleared up had thought retroactively that I may have even had undiagnosed lyme potentially as well which would be a crazy coincidence so which is what wild but yeah steven definitely had the same kind of symptom set that was extremely debilitating and then I think he probably also had obviously a similar appeal yeah to flow relative to that debilitated state.
Brendan Carr: It’s amazing you guys have these sort of parallel stories and now you’re in business together. What is your take on flow and use of drugs and alcohol? Is there a magic pill or a mushroom or something that’s going to help me to get into a flow state?
Rian Doris: I have a friend actually at the moment who is working on creating conscious flow inducing drinking environments which I find hilarious. The sort of new age community and stuff like that is so anti-alcohol yeah and he’s trying to which I think is a great idea rebrand alcohol as in almost like a cacao ceremony format and have people you know drink and open up and be vulnerable which I I think I think it’s going to work from I think it’s a great idea um but in general in general uh substances definitely have an impact on your state of consciousness and flow is a non-ordinary state of consciousness substances can absolutely create non-ordinary states of consciousness whether it’s flow or other non-ordinary states like psychedelic states or trans states responsive or states of bliss so definitely substances can tweak your state of consciousness which is what is happening when you’re in flow.
Brendan Carr: We talked a little about dancing before, people say “Oh I dance better when I’ve had a drink.” Is there some sort of science maybe to that? Like the transient hypofrontality of flow? That also with alcohol maybe people let go a little bit of that self-consciousness? That it’s liquid courage? Or is it a myth of alcohol as a performance enhancer?
Rian Doris: It’s tough. I think it’s it’s obvious and definite that alcohol amplifies bravery in a certain respect through reducing and mitigating inhibition yes and probably you know yet quieting the same parts of our cognition that get quieted during a flow state, like the inner dialogue the inner critic that nagging defeatist voice that holds so many people back so when you’re in flow and maybe as I don’t know shy dude you’re wanting to go up and talk to a girl there’s less likelihood that that voice is going to stop you from doing it oh you’re worthless don’t do it she’s going to hate you she’s going to reject you similarly to when you’re drunk you’re inebriated yeah but so there’s that element that I would imagine is similar between being in a flow state and being um drunk but there are other elements of your cognition that are drastically different so for example you know your ability to rapidly onboard and process information and make really accurate decisions goes way up in flow which definitely does not go up right when consuming alcohol so I wouldn’t think of alcohol as a performance enhancer but I would think of alcohol as a courage or bravery amplification tool I like it it has to be used wisely.
Brendan Carr: What role do you think passion has in all of this? It’s another thing that people talk about their emotions and their passions and that being something that drives them. Wanting to find the passion and that’s where they’re going to find the pleasure and work but we’re seeing with flow maybe that it’s different. What role does passion have?
Rian Doris: Passion is interesting. The way that we think about passion and flow, there’s sort of a cyclical relationship that goes on so passion is a flow trigger if you’re passionate about something you’re more likely to get into flow doing that thing which means that you’re going to do that thing more which means you’re going to spend more and more time inflow in that thing which means that you’re going to start getting that autotalic motivation that we talked about earlier around that activity which is then going to heighten the passion so it goes kind of passion flow increased intrinsic motivation increased passion increased likelihood to do the thing more which gets you even more flow in the thing yeah which makes you even more passionate about the thing and it can really compound like that so you get this kind of reinforcing passion loop that is I think responsible for the extreme level of passion that a lot of people feel and it’s a very different degree of passion than other people feel people in other words certain people are drastically more passionate about certain things than other people are and I think that them getting into flow while doing that thing is a big contributor to that massively heightened passion.
Brendan Carr: We’ve talked a lot about you and Steven Kotler. What are you guys up to at the Flow Research Collective for those who aren’t familiar?
Rian Doris: The way we describe the flow research collective is as a research and training institute. On the research side we’re partnered with universities like ucla imperial college london university of southern california ucsf a number of other big academic institutions doing research into the neurophysiological signature of flow in simpler terms attempting with the assistance of these universities and these academics attempting to figure out and determine what’s actually going on in the brain and in the body when you’re in a flow state and the clear we get on that stephen calls it decoding the neurophysiology of flow the clearer we get about what is actually happening in the brain and the body when people are inflow the better we can get at training it the more effective you can get training and reverse engineering that state so that’s the goal on the research side on the training side we’ve tried to and are in the process of building what we think is going to be the world’s most highly credentialed team of peak performance coaches so all of our coaches are either neuroscientists or psychologists at a phd level and they’ve also all got really good experience working with high performers over in many cases decades and so we’ve wanted to shake up the coaching industry in that respect from an industry that has low to no buyers to entry where you can go and pay 795 bucks and do a do a two-day workshop and then be a be a coach to having a team of coaches who are all extremely credentialed to the degree of being at the phd level and have the experience coaching and so they work with our clients who are mainly entrepreneurs and executives and other leaders who want to level up their performance to help them reduce stress overwhelm burnout which are often the biggest things they’re challenging with and spend more time in flow so they can get more done in less time and they do that through a hybridized coaching program that we have which involves this combination of one-on-one coaching from one of our psychologists or neuroscientists with content which is delivered by myself and stephen with app-based behavioral tracking and group coaching and stuff like that so it’s this kind of you know intermingling of different elements.
Brendan Carr: For people like me who are always keeping up with this and always reading every new book Steven puts out, what’s the latest that you guys are finding in your research?
Rian Doris: One thing I would look out for definitely Steven’s new book The Future is Faster Than You Think with Peter Diamandis and that’s an amazing chilling book in some respects. Exciting in many respects, freaky in other respects. It’s called The Future is Faster Than You Think which is an extremely accurate literal title because they basically chart what’s going to happen over the next decade to 100 years in terms of technological advancement and it is insane the speed at which at least they think technology is going to start disrupting and totally changing the way that we live and we work and what we notice more and more is what stephen calls the high flow advantage which is the idea that as all this massive technological change is taking place as things are switching up so much more we need the ability to focus and get into flow more and more and more because the problems that we’re having to solve are increasingly complex increasingly dense things are happening at a faster and faster pace competition is higher than ever and so we need this ability to be at a peak mental state more than ever but the counter side to that is that it’s harder than ever to focus for long periods of uninterrupted time so you can get into flow so it’s simultaneously more necessary than ever to be able to get into flow to solve the big challenging global issues that are increasingly coming up and are coming at a faster and faster pace it’s more important than ever but it’s also more difficult than ever because we’ve got such invasion from technology in terms of smartphones and distraction and chaos and busyness and noise and the idea of the high flow advantage there is that if you can learn how to get yourself into that state of flow for hours ideally every day working on really high priority things you’re going to have a massive advantage over everyone else who is caught up in the noise chronically incessantly distracted overwhelmed dealing with information overload so there’s that huge advantage there if you can basically harness the power of flow.
Brendan Carr: What is that advantage in problem solving? I think we talked a little bit about it in terms of productivity and skill acquisition. How does it play into problem solving?
Rian Doris: Research done by advanced brain monitoring at DARPA down in San Diego I believe, found that learning speeds or skill acquisition speed increases by up to 490 percent with snipers when in a flow state. I know you’re in that whole space in general. It is just an indicator that when you’re in flow you learn much more rapidly you synthesize information much more quickly for sure and you put ideas together much more quickly so lateral thinking the ability to link disparate ideas together increases much much more so you get much better at that and that skill is becoming increasingly necessary as we move on there is a great book called Range by David Epstein, if you know it?
Brendan Carr: Had him on the show. Great guy.
Rian Doris: Really? Amazing! Well his whole hypothesis is that more and more we need a range of skills that that skills aren’t going to cut it anymore in the 21st century but that meta skills are required because matter skills don’t change where skills are going to become increasingly redundant necessary and then redundant necessarily yeah so if you if you hit yourself to specific skills you’re going to be made redundant rapidly whereas if you focus on developing meta skills of which I would think of flow as one flow arguably is even more matter than a matter skill because it’s a state in general which you can deploy meta skills within yes but if you can harness flow and then focus on developing meta skills like creative problem solving learning self-awareness skill acquisition speed critical thinking you know rapid analysis things like that if you can develop these meta skills then you’re going to be much safer in terms of having the ability to provide value from an economic standpoint over the coming years and thus be you know in a better position to continue to stay current and stay needed within an organization or whatever it is and flow increases our ability to do a lot of those meta skills that are becoming more and more important so it increases creativity research done at the university of sydney found that flow increases creative problem solving by over 400 percent and then theresa mible is a great harvard psychologist who focuses on creativity found that when you get into a flow state your creativity actually spikes for up to three days after the state itself you get this kind of longer term increase in your in your creativity in general and then flow increases productivity as we said it increases learning so it’s going to enhance your ability to deploy all of these matter skills as effectively as possible which is becoming more and more important.
Brendan Carr: What do you think a leader can do to set up their team for more flow?
Rian Doris: First thing I would say is start letting your people actually work so that’s the biggest one the degree to which leaders ironically interrupt the people they’re leading and stop them from getting the damn work done that actually matters is insane I mean the degree like requiring people to email you back within 30 minutes on slack things like that just literally outright making it possible for a team to get a flow you can’t get a flow properly or in any deep significant way at least while you’re checking or scanning slack or email every 15 or 20 minutes so the first thing I would say is leave your team alone.
Brendan Carr: Specifically, is there a time period
Rian Doris: 90 minutes attention minimum. The ideal scenario what I aim for is nine hours a day and flow that’s like a very extreme end of things but I try and do three hour a three hour block flow block I call it uh or steven calls it as well where i’m totally undistracted i’ve emailed off everything off yeah then I then i’ll dip back into email a little bit i’ll do a little more kind of recovery stuff and then i’ll try and do another big three hour burst with everything blocked off just focused on the thing that i’m doing and then i’ll again check email check slack a little more recovery that might look like taking a nap going for a walk getting some food and then trying to another three hour block if you spend nine hours fully focused on your highest priority tasks deep in flow you can you can literally get done week weeks of work literally it sounds like hyperbolic but you can literally accomplish weeks of what most people are doing in that attention fragmented state in one day um so that’s the first thing I would say leaders just let let your people actually work and do the things that you’re supposed to be leading them to do in the first place and get communication policies around that to facilitate that as best as possible and very much so related to that as autonomy autonomy is a flow trigger yeah you you pay attention to what you actually have control over so micromanagement for example totally destroys flow because it inhibits autonomy so the other thing would be to let your people fit complete the things that you’re delegating to them in a way that gives them some freedom some creative expression some room to accomplish those things and give them as much autonomy as possible that’s going to drive an increase flow significantly.
Brendan Carr: So the space and the time?
Rian Doris: Exactly. Space and time, space being autonomy time being you know lack of distraction and things like that.
Brendan Carr: Then if we got meetings and things for the team are there group triggers that we could be pulling on so that collectively we’re all getting better results from when we work together?
Rian Doris: With communication and group flow the first most important thing just related to what we just mentioned is ensuring that individual work time is batched and cleanly separated from group work time so a lot of the advocates of collaboration in the workplace get that mixed up in my opinion yeah they advocate for this state of semi-communication all the time which just means that you can’t get into a group flow state and you definitely can’t get into a flow state on your own trying to work you just right constantly two monitors you get your work yeah and then your email and then you’ve got your co-workers all around you in a big open office making noise on the phone coming over asking a question then you go over ask them a question you never get into a group flow set you definitely never get into a to a singular flow state yeah so what you need is to batch and separate those out so for example maybe the first six hours of the day no meetings and then you can have a two hour amazing deep dive or whatever you need to at the end of the day but they need to be cleanly separated so you can fully go to one end of the spectrum or other and then for the group flow triggers there’s a book called Group Genius by Keith Sawyer who’s a psychologist at the University of North Carolina and he has identified 10 group flow triggers so one is shared goals so the more that the team is aligned around the same goals the more likely they are all to get into a flow state when doing a weekly you know stand-up or whatever it is risk shared risk is another one so that’s why startups are so flow prone because people are all in it together they all have loss on the line together right yeah so that’s another big one and there’s eight other great ones that he maps out which people can go into they’re all like very practical yes and is another one and that’s the taken out of improv that’s the idea of rather than when someone suggests something just saying nope we’re not doing that because of this you say yes and you you ensure that all communication is additive even if you don’t agree with them you you try and attempt to at least see where they were going with their thinking and agree and that if you need to disagree afterwards but you’re always additive in your communication you’re always saying yes and this you know so that’s another big one as well.
Brendan Carr: Absolutely, improv is flow.
Rian Doris: Improv is exactly another example of an activity that’s extremely inherently deep and rich with flow triggers because again there’s risk. Yes, all the group flow triggers are on board there as well high consequences so improv is highly flow inducing.
Brendan Carr: What do you hope to achieve with all this work that you’re doing?
Rian Doris: What I’m most passionate about are really tangible results for people. Being able to use this stuff so that they can finish work at 2 pm every day rather than at 8 00 pm and have more time to look after their health and you know do other things they want to do and spend time with their family or someone who can now cut their work week down by two full days because they’ve gotten so much more productive by leveraging these tools so the moment what i’m most passionate about is the simple grounded tangible non-negotiable benefits versus the higher level stuff that is also amazing but what I want us to have happen is just be getting these amazing like concrete results of that now I never have to work fridays again in my entire life because of my ability to get what I need to get done has increased so much or these kinds of results are personally what i’m most passionate about in the long term I want us to keep building and growing the company and keep scaling things up so we can have more and more reach our mission is to build the world’s most effective peak performance training to help more the world spend more time and flow so constantly achieving that is definitely the goal.
Brendan Carr: Is there anything else that you’re like, “Man, the world needs to know this,” that we haven’t covered?
Rian Doris: This was great. Thank you bro.