Avoiding Flow

Note to future self…

I’ve written before about this idea of flow and how people argue that it’s an ideal state that we should aim for. This post is not meant to refute that because I still have to finish Csíkszentmihályi’s book. However, I do want to make an observation about flow and how it relates to this idea of exploitation vs. exploration.

I think that flow as a state is akin to the exploitation state. In this case, exploitation means doubling down a key advantage that can deployed repeatedly. For example, successful companies like Google keep exploiting Google Search and AdWords because that business models works incredibly well. In a way you could say that Google has achieved flow state for this particular piece of their business.

I will agree that it’s weird and maybe even wrong to attribute flow capabilities to non-human objects. So let’s translate this to individuals. If you’re a great engineer you achieve flow state while programming. In this sense, programming is an activity you exploit by going deep and becoming increasingly better at something you do. However, in order to level up you might need to explore adjacent activities product, design, company-building, etc. These activities might be outside of your wheelhouse so it will be hard to achieve flow in the beginning.

My point with this is that achieving flow state shouldn’t be our end goal. Instead a better metric to track might be the percentage of activities/time we experience flow. Now I have no idea what that split between flow/non-flow activity should look like but I assume it will look something similar to the exploitation/exploration split, which in turn depends on how much progress you’ve made towards your goals.

What does this mean? If you’re spending too much time in flow maybe you’re not taking enough risks. If you experience no moments of flow maybe you haven’t found something you’re good at which you can double down and “exploit”. Just food for thought. Will write an update when my thoughts on this evolve(:

Now back to work