Posts Tagged ‘flow’

Flexible Focus #55: Make Music Find Flow

by William Reed on May 26, 2011

We are blessed in this age to have access to most of the world’s music, to be able to carry it with us, and swim in its high fidelity flow almost whenever we like. This is a remarkable achievement, something akin to time travel.

To take full advantage of this, and to use the power of music to experience flow, there are several things that we need to consider about music, and the way we currently experience it.

What does music mean to you?

It might help to consider that question in the light of what music has meant to people over time. Leonardo da Vinci considered the painter to be the representer of visible things, and the musician the representer of invisible things. Leo Tolstoy called music the shorthand of emotion. The Chinese philosopher Mencius said, if the King loves music, it is well with the land. Reading quotes on music gives you a multi-faceted perspective on music, and what a powerful force it can be in our lives.

Can be, because for many it has degenerated into a mere distraction, auditory wallpaper. Music playing in the background is no guarantee that people will listen to or appreciate it. What’s worse is when the music is invasive, poor quality, or advertising masking as music. Lily Tomlin said, “I worry that the person who thought up Muzak may be thinking up something else.”

Music is not a jealous mistress. It invites you to listen deeply, but releases your attention whenever you need to focus on something else. As long as we control the process, this is itself an interesting way to experience flexible focus.

How do you listen to music?

The superficial answer, for superficial listeners, is with your ears. Of course we hear music with our ears, but we can and should listen to music with all of our senses. Our bodies are designed to conduct everything from vibration to emotion, to be superbly in tune with flow.

This is true not only for listening, but even for playing and performing music. Scottish Percussionist Evelyn Glennie is a world class performer, despite the fact that she lost nearly all of her hearing by the age of 12. As a musician, a motivational speaker, and a music educator, her presentation on TED is a remarkable demonstration of the physicality of music.

A good musician listens and plays with the whole body, while a great musician makes music heard and felt with the whole body. By listening deeply to great musicians, which is easier now than ever in history, you can experience what it is like to feel music in your bones, to be moved in your heart.

Another way to access the deeper levels of music is what Michael J. Gelb recommends in his classic bestseller, How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Everyday. The practice of what he calls layered listening involves directly your attention to elements of the music that may have escaped your awareness, the types and timbre of the instruments, the interplay of the musicians, performances of the same music by different musicians. Enter into the non-verbal dimensions of the music and find flow in a journey of discovery that will make you feel as if you are hearing even a familiar piece for the first time.

Improvisation in flow

One way to get inside the mind of a musician is to study the process of how professional musicians approach improvisation, the essence of the ability to make music and find flow.

Kenny Werner is a jazz pianist who has explored the process of creativity and expression in music and life, which he explores in depth in his book, Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within. His approach involves guided meditations with a CD, and while the approach to relaxation is close to conventional hypnosis, he approaches it as an experienced musician, well acquainted with the challenges of playing without thinking, mastery of sound, mastery of the body.

Another approach to improvisation which includes music and encompasses creativity in the art of living is Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, by Stephen Nachmanovitch. This book will guide you through the process in a more comprehensive way, but ultimately improvisation is something which you learn by experience.

Rather than simply reading these books, you can gain more personal benefit and draw from them what is relevant to you by taking notes as your read on a Mandala Chart. Rather than simply following the author’s train of thought, you can ride along and get off at each station of your own choice, enjoying the parts which are most meaningful to you. Use the Mandala Chart also to write down new ways in which you can make music and find flow through concerts, dance, performance, whatever fits you best. Reading about flow is fun, but certainly secondary to experiencing it. Music is emotion in motion. Take in the scenery and enjoy the ride!

Project Leadership #4: Trust is bidirectional

by Himanshu Jhamb on January 10, 2011

There have been many a books written about TRUST. It is, without doubt, one of the most important assessments that we, as humans, make, usually internally and act on the basis of that. In the project management world, there are a number of levels at which the PM needs to establish trust, before s/he can make anything happen. A few key ones that are encountered day to day:

  • Trust with the Client
  • Trust with your Management
  • Trust with the Team

Now, trust is a funny thing. It has a way of following the age old adage – “What goes around, usually, comes around”. In other words, it is bidirectional. The tricky part about trust is that you cannot control when and how you’ll get it, no matter how hard you try. In fact, it is one of those unique things that you get, only by giving first!

Coming back to my three categories above:

TRUST with your CLIENT

Establishing trust with the CLIENT is to provide them with stellar service that sends a clear message that you CARE for them. It is not about appeasing them, but guiding them. Amateur Project Managers might shy away from guiding the client thinking “The client is always right”, Project leaders know that clients are humans, too, and that humans have this strange knack of “Not always being right”. In this knowing, Project Leaders are compassionate to their clients’ needs and also, their ignorance (Yes, clients can be ignorant – not a bad thing, if you are compassionate to their needs). Once the clients learn to observe and value this CARE, the ground is fertile for trust to bloom. Trust can be a beautiful thing. It lowers the cost of transacting with the client(s) manifolds. Project leaders who have experienced this know what I am talking about.

TRUST with your Management

Assuming that you work for someone, there is a set of folks who are as important to your career well-being as the client. Your Management team, that is, the people that you report to. Your Management team is your primary client – You could do a fabulous job for your company’s clients but not take care of the concerns of your own company; that’s when this distinction shows up in not so pleasant ways. You need to establish trust with your management so that you keep the cost of transacting with them low, as well. Here are a few ways of doing that:

  • Reporting status to them before asked for.
  • Making sure there are no to very little escalations in your project(s).
  • Running your project on time and within budget.
  • Being a hawk with scope on your projects.

These are all ways of taking care of the concerns of your management – and hence, the building blocks of trust with them. By now, I am sure you are getting the gist of this post: These actions are all about giving first… and in turn, you are rewarded with their TRUST.

TRUST with your Team

One of the most important and commonly overlooked aspects by project managers is establishing trust within your team. Again, it all starts with a declaration of CARE for your team. Project Leaders show this in a number of ways. My favorite is to make sure that when you make commitments to the client and put a plan together to deliver those commitments, you DO NOT plan on having your team work more than the regular workday. I have seen many a project plans where the team is slated to work 12-14 hours in a day for over 2 months at a stretch. Heck! I saw one in which the PM had the team working for 36 hours in a day! It is not surprising that morale is low in an overworked and underappreciated team. Another way is to be result-focused and not overly rules-focused. Unless you are working with a bunch of monkeys (highly unlikely – though, I have heard some folks call their teams that!), you need to take care of the human concerns of people. As long as you keep your head wrapped around results, and be flexible with everything else – you will be rewarded with TRUST. I have personally been bailed out of sticky situations by my team many a times, and have even had the team putting in extra hours to get stuff done on their personal time – WITHOUT being ASKED! It’s a wonderful thing when you see this on your projects… when things follow the path of least resistance and simply flow… bidirectional, like TRUST!

Have any stories that made your life really easy as a Project Manager, once you established TRUST? Do share!

Flexible Focus #33: The Wonderful World of Flow

by William Reed on December 23, 2010

If you have ever been mesmerized by the sight and sound of flowing water, then you can appreciate something of the energized mental state of focus know as Flow. It is the process of full engagement in the task at hand, living in the moment, being in the zone.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi drew the world’s attention to an ancient phenomenon which is at that core of what makes life worth living, the state of being in Flow. The state of being in Flow is associated with intense enjoyment, deep concentration, and optimal performance. He describes it as a state of ecstasy, as if standing outside of oneself and watching things unfold effortlessly. The video of his TED Talk provides a good introduction to his findings.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written a number of books on Flow, Creativity, and the psychology of engagement in work and daily life, which you can explore on his Amazon Author’s Page.

His research has found resonance with people in a remarkable range of domains: education, music, sports, spirituality, martial arts, professions, and work itself. The state of Flow is consistently associated with feeling good and performing optimally. Something about this trance state works for race car drivers as well as orchestra conductors.

He identifies ten characteristics which accompany the Flow state:

  1. Clear goals or purpose
  2. Concentration on a limited field of attention
  3. Loss of self-consciously through immersion in action
  4. Distorted sense of time
  5. Direct and immediate feedback
  6. Balance between ability and challenge
  7. Sense of personal control
  8. Intrinsic reward and effortlessness
  9. Total absorption without distraction by bodily needs
  10. Merging of action and awareness

Finding Flow in the Mandala

Although Flow Psychology has a global following today, it has long been a part of Asian spirituality. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism all have developed disciplines for overcoming the duality of self and other. Zen Arts apply the concept to mastery of art forms as well as development of consciousness.

Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning Circle, and the concentric diagrams of the Mandala have been used in Hindu and Buddhist ritual and meditation for centuries. Swiss Psychologist Carl Jung described the Mandala as a symbol of the unconscious self, which he believed could contribute to wholeness in the human personality.

We have already seen how the Mandala Chart can actually free your mind by thinking Inside the Lines, and how much creativity there can be in Folding the Square.

The Flow state is associated with immersion of awareness in action. In a discipline such as music or the martial arts, this is called deep practice. The Mandala Chart can assist you in selecting and deepening your engagement in the art or discipline which best helps you find the Flow state. Self-discipline in the pursuit of such an art, or discipline under the guidance of an experienced teacher can facilitate your ability to stay in the Flow state.

Here are eight benefits of deep practice, eight reasons to engage in discipline:

  • Polish your skills. Whether you are learning to cook, speaking a foreign language, or mastering a musical instrument, you cannot improve without practice. It is the proverbial way to get to Carnegie Hall. In sports, music, and many other professional disciplines, it is estimated that to achieve significant mastery, you need 10,000 hours of deep practice.
  • Gain unconscious competence. Before you attempt something new, you may have no idea how difficult it is (unconscious incompetence). When you try your hand at it, for a while you may be painfully aware of how poor your performance is (conscious incompetence). With practice, eventually you become able to perform well if you concentrate (conscious competence). But you can only achieve mastery through extensive time in deep practice (unconscious competence).
  • Discover new territory. Though it seems counter-intuitive, the best way to discover something new is to revisit something familiar. We filter out far more than we take in, so there is always room for discovery if you approach it with a beginner’s mind.
  • Develop skillful means. In the process of trying to solve a difficult problem you find lots of ways that don’t work. If you keep at it, sooner or later you discover what does work. This is known as skillful means (kufū in Japanese, or kung fu in Chinese), the art of solving problems with finesse.
  • Cultivate perseverance. A Japanese proverb says that persistence brings power. In any endeavor worth pursuit, perseverance is a prerequisite to success. This is the mind set which drives deep practice. It also builds character by preparing you for other challenges.
  • Gain perspective. The more times you practice, the better you will understand. The more ways you look at something, the more flexible focus you bring to bear, the better your perspective will be. Perspective is also one of the benefits of expert advice or training.
  • Guide or teach others. Having developed all of these qualities through deep practice, you become qualified to teach them to others. Deep practice becomes a part of you, and gives you the authority of experience.
  • Get into Flow state. Deep practice is a traveling companion to the Flow state. It takes you there, and makes the most of your experience.

You can download a PDF Mandala on the BENEFITS OF DEEP PRACTICE, and use it as a reminder of how to enter the Flow state through the art or discipline you practice. Study the Flow state through the books of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and you will soon put together the what, the why, and the how.