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How to Get Remote Teams into Flow with Diane Allen

Luke Szyrmer January 31, 2022 481

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About Diane Allen

Diane Allen, The ‘Own Your Potential’ Speaker and Violinist, is an Award-Winning International Speaker, Peak Performance and Flow State Expert. She is known for her Experiential Keynotes that have helped thousands of people around the world to break through their performance gaps and unleash their potential. Her proprietary process helps to increase the bottom line by empowering people to be at their best anytime, anyplace, no matter how high the pressure. She was the Concertmaster (lead violinist) of the Central Oregon Symphony for 15 years, a well sought-after Violin Teacher of 28 years, and the author of Sixteen Music Workbooks sold worldwide. She has been the keynote speaker for Women’s Conferences, Talent Development Professionals, Human Resources Associations, along with many others. Her flow state work has been published on IDEAS.TED.COM, and her TEDxNaperville talk has been elevated to the main TED platform. For more information please visit https://dianeallenspeaker.com




[00:00:00] Welcome. Welcome. Welcome back to the managing remote teams podcast. And today we have Diane Allen who is a speaker, a performance and flow state expert. And she’s led the as the lead violinist, the central Oregon symphony for 15 years, and also taught violin for almost 30 years. And Is basically a flow expert.

[00:00:29] And I’ve invited her today to talk about how flow operates amongst groups of people and individually, and how we can apply that in our remote teaming contexts. So Dan, how. How did you get into music originally? Let’s start there. Maybe.

[00:00:51] I am very fortunate to have been raised in Cleveland, Ohio, which is a hotbed of world class cultural organizations, including the Cleveland orchestra.

[00:01:03] Now I know that people who are aware of the classical music scene have their favorite orchestras? I know that the Cleveland orchestra is in at least the top five worldwide. You could pick yours. Of course I’m pretty biased. And and so my mom was the one who would fill up our family calendar with cultural events.

[00:01:23] We went to Shakespeare plays. We went to the Cleveland museum of art and of course we went to the York. And there was a particular concert. I was so little Luke that I was sitting in this seat and I couldn’t like th the chair would fold up on me. Like I was so little, I couldn’t, my legs couldn’t hold the chair down.

[00:01:45] Those bounty where the bottom of the sheet bounces back up. Yeah. And I was that little we’re sitting in the Cleveland orchestra and they played Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet at the time, all I knew was that as soon as the conductor gave the downbeat, the force of the music literally felt like it pinned me to the back of the chair. I had goosebumps all over. It felt like my hair was sticking straight out. It was so intense. And when you’re, this is the classic idea of group flow, you get a core group of people in flow, and then it just exponentially influences everybody in the audience. You’ve got everyone United through this music and I experienced that.

[00:02:34] In in that very young age. And when my parents said, so what do you want to play? I had already found fallen in love with the violins, watching their bows go up and down. And so that’s how it all started. It was literally a flow experience, a giant group flow experience with just a tremendous impact.

[00:02:57] That’s amazing. Yeah. Yeah, no, I think those early years are critical in terms of getting getting people interested in music, for sure. In terms of flow how do you. Define it for practical purposes, I guess when you’re going into work with someone or work with a group.

[00:03:15] I’m so glad that you asked that question because people hear the word flow state and they go running. They’re like, okay yeah, that’s pie in the sky, thinking kind of thing.

[00:03:25] And it’s woo or whatever. But the practical application is what I am. About the flow state is a state of mind. The neuroscience is such that there’s a release of hormones into our brain and they’re all the peak performance hormones. The ones that help have us rise to the occasion, the ones that, that set us up to, to go beyond what we’ve ever gone before.

[00:03:54] And they are. Followed by the neocortex AMSA, which dramatically increases learning speed and the prefrontal cortex temporarily shuts down. And this explains why. Talk about flow is losing all sense of time and losing like a sense of yourself. And that’s because the prefrontal cortex, when that temporarily shuts down, your internal critic is silent.

[00:04:18] And so you’re free to follow all of these other thoughts that without shutting them down. So it’s literally a thought pattern. It’s something that physically happens within us now. How people describe it I’d like to call them the key indicators of being in flow state, because this is helps people to become aware is losing all sense of time, losing all sense of self ideas and insights coming in from out of the blue things, coming together with a sense of ease.

[00:04:46] Let’s say you’ve been practicing this one tennis stroke over and over again. And you’re struggling one day. It just happens with these. So it’s like maybe you’re in the middle of you’re grappling with something at work and it’s clunky and it’s awkward.

[00:04:58] And then one day you lose all sense of time. You’re highly productive and it just comes together with these. So that’s why you use these key indicators to say, oh, I remember when I was in flow states. There’s also a positive feedback loop, this, which we’re going to go in depth with, because this is key for.

[00:05:18] Individual flow and group flow. So on an individual basis, the more you get into your flow state, the more you get out of it because you’re operating at such a high standard, and then you get excited. So then you get more into it. So that’s this positive feedback loop and musicians talk. It’s like the more I get into the music, the more I get out of it, the more I get out of it, the more I get into it.

[00:05:43] And then the last. Which hits on the mental health spectrum is that you people do feel happiness. This is why flow is positive psychology. This is taking the look at what are we like when we’re at our best and when we’re at our happiest state and how can we reverse engineer that. That’s basically what positive psychology is.

[00:06:08] So we do feel elation. We do feel exuberating we do feel joy and purpose when we are in flow.

[00:06:17] The positive feedback loop you were mentioning, is this kind of the details of how you slip into that state or what do you mean by that?

[00:06:28] It’s just a key indicator that you are in it. Okay. That’s how I would best describe it right now, but That positive feedback loop occurs on an individual basis, which is where we have to start. And then we could build onto group flow for. Yeah. Okay. Okay.

[00:06:48] When I’ve came across this concept originally, I think it was actually also in a music context. Cause it was an an, a biography of Eric Clapton’s where he was talking about being in flow. But I think there, and then also looking at six-month all these work, like I think at least at the time it was very It was clear what the characteristics of flow were, but in terms of a not quite prescriptive, but like a how to, of getting into it. It was a little bit hard to pin down back then.

[00:07:17] Yes. Let’s talk about that.

[00:07:20] Okay.

[00:07:21] So a flow was triggered at the intersection of skill and challenge, so let’s see You’re a manager and you have an employee that is underperforming and and you’re scratching your head. Why? You could actually have a dialogue with them and ask them, are you feeling challenged by your work?

[00:07:41] Because if they’re not, that’s not going to ignite that flow state, that’s not going to interest them right now. It could also be that the challenge is so high, that it shuts them. If you think about dialing things up and dialing things down, there’s a sweet spot. So for example, if the challenge is not enough, then you need to up to the challenge, give them a greater challenge in a way that they respond.

[00:08:09] So for example, for one person, a timeline is a challenge. Okay. You have to have this done by noon today. And some people that’s going to knock them down. It’s going to get in their way. But some people, they really rise to that occasion. So you have these conversations with people, ask them what, what challenges you, what are the things that you like to be challenged by then?

[00:08:33] If the challenge is way too over the top, then it’s a matter of having a conversation and breaking it down into small. Challenges so that they can, step their way up.

[00:08:43] For example, I can practice here in my room, but there’s something about being on stage that brings on that challenge piece. So typically when I’m on stage, I know that I’m going to play better than I do in the practice room. It just it, it ignites the flow. And so when you mentioned Eric Clapton, the thing is that musicians and artists, we regularly practice getting into flow. This is something that everyone’s wired for, but it’s just so happens that in the arts we’re more versed in getting into it.

[00:09:21] So it’s a matter of okay. If you get into your flow state and you’re cooking in your kitchen, you love making bread. Let’s say it’s sourdough bread, right? Let’s get really specific here. And you’ve got lots of different challenges with sour dough bread. I don’t remember what they are, but I know that they are, as the people who are really into sourdough bread, we’ll go on about all of the different channels and you can get lost in all sense of time.

[00:09:46] And so now we get to your second question, which. Mihai cheek sent me a high was very like how do we get into it? And this is where my Ted talk comes in because I had to figure out how to get into it on a daily basis as the lead violinists of an orchestra, because it, my, it, I had to always be at my peak. So I reverse engineered it.

[00:10:13] So let’s say you’re in your kitchen. You’re making your sour dough bread . Okay. Where you are as in your kitchen, that’s where you get into your flow state. The most, what you’re doing is you’re making sourdough bread. That’s what you’re doing on the outside. The real question is what are you doing on the inside?

[00:10:36] So one, person’s going to say I’m being strategic. Someone else, with regards to sourdough bread, right? Somebody else might say, I’m being creative. Somebody else might say, oh, this is all about problem solving for me. I love the problem solving somebody else might say, oh, this is nurturing. I’m nurturing my family. I’m pouring my love into the bread that I’m cooking for them. And so everybody gets into their flow state in their own unique way.

[00:10:58] What you do on the inside is your project to figure out because this is your most compelling internal self motivator. And if you’re a manager and you’re working with somebody, this is the conversation you have with them.

[00:11:14] The first question is where are you when you get into the first state, the most, what are you doing is the second part. Outside. Okay. I’m working on a spreadsheet on the outside. What are you doing on the inside? That’s that coaching piece. And then why is the last question? Why is it so meaningful?

[00:11:35] Because purpose pulls out the best in all of us. So where, what, why I have that? I have a handout for this. We’ll talk about that later. So it’s a worksheet that, that people could use to for themselves and to coach other people through. I call this a flow strategy, what you do on your, on the inside is your most compelling internal self-motivator and knowing what you do on the inside.

[00:12:00] Information that you can use to get into your flow state on purpose and make it less elusive. Why it’s so meaningful as your most compelling as external self motivator and knowing your, knowing what purpose is really pull at your heartstrings. That helps you to tap into your flow state with purpose.

[00:12:27] And so I call this a flow strategy, what you do on the inside and why it’s so meaningful is your first strategy.

[00:12:36] You identify your internal strategy to be able to then transfer it to other contexts? Is that,

[00:12:42] so it was first of all, to repeat it, I’m having a bad day. Okay. Let me remember. I sour go.

[00:12:50] It’s just not going well today. Okay. Maybe I just need to throw out the batch. All right. Now I’m to remember, oh, it’s nurturing. I’m not feeling like I’m nurturing right now. Let me get into my nurturing spirit. And I’m being silly, but you get it.

[00:13:03] if you’re working on an Excel spreadsheet and you’re grappling with it the, Another really important thing is that interruptions are the biggest killer of the flow state.

[00:13:12] And 90 minutes is a really good arc of time for people to turn off all distractions. If you’re working from home, put the sign on your door, shut off your cell phones, and just. Even if you’re feeling like you’re grappling with 90 minutes, something’s going to happen midway through and you’ll tap into flow.

[00:13:33] If you just dedicate 90 minutes to whatever topic you’re working on, whatever you have to do. That’s another way to set yourself up. On an individual basis, you want to figure out what your flow strategy is, so that you can repeat it. Yeah. And get into it more regularly. So you can have those peak moments of high productivity out of the box, thinking things, coming together with these and enjoy your work. But what you said was, okay, now, do you take it to other areas in your life?

[00:14:08] And yes. So I’ll give you my example. My first strategy for playing music is on the inside. What I’m doing is I feel like I’m sharing the message of the music. Why that’s so meaningful is for me music is a universal language. So that experience I had when I was so young at the Cleveland orchestra, where everyone is United through the music was just a really profound experience.

[00:14:33] And so I have been on stage with audience sing-alongs where everybody’s together through the music. And I’m up there crying in the middle of a concert because it just moves me. So bringing people together through unity is a purpose for me. What I’m doing on the inside is I’m sharing the music. So I was Transitioning away from the orchestral career inches speaking and you know what that means when you’re changing career, you have to go networking and I hadn’t gone networking in years.

[00:15:02] Super fish out of water and I’m at this event. And if we’re looking at skill and challenge, right? So obviously talking is this. And connecting with people is a skill. You could talk about all these skills and it was just really awkward trying to break into these conversations. And I found myself, actually, I left the room came back and I was like, you know what?

[00:15:28] Isn’t talking to people away from me to share. And aren’t these new connections uniform. And it occurred to me that I could use my flow strategy with my music in a conversation. And that’s all it took. I started talking with people. I started telling stories. I started having fun. I was sharing experiences, asking them questions and I was able to really enjoy myself.

[00:15:54] Using your first strategy to get you to thrive when you’re outside of your comfort zone is a big piece.

[00:16:00] I can imagine how that could be used in different ways. What about with groups? So you mentioned initially that it spreads. Let’s say you have one person in a group, like on a remote team. That’s in a flow state. Yes. What happens then, or yeah. What happens then? Or what can you do if anything, to help the group get into flow?

[00:16:25] it does start on the individual level. I noticed that the more I got into the music. The more my students would get into the music. The more I got into the music, the more the orchestra would get into the music.

[00:16:40] And the more I got into the music, the more the audience got into the music. And so Stanford researchers on the topic of influence have specifically identified that passion is persuasive and confidence is contagious. Going back to the positive feedback loop. Okay. So that is where on an individual basis, the more you get into it, the more you get out of it, more you get out of it, the more you get into it.

[00:17:12] So in order to understand how this works in a group situation, let’s take a look at biology. How do positive feedback loops function in biology. So you can tell I’m like getting all excited to share this I’m smiling. So apple trees let’s take a look when an apple is exposed to the gas, ethylene it ripens, but when apple ripens, it releases the gas ethylene.

[00:17:43] So now all of the apples around it are exposed to that guy. And so then they will ripen. And so because of this apple trees are known to ripen all at the same time. So instead of a chain reaction, it’s exponential. So when you get one person in their flows, Yeah, this is how I led the orchestra. I knew I had to be in it.

[00:18:11] Okay. And I knew that it would be infectious. And which is a terrible thing to say during COVID, but. Contagious. We’re talking about being contagious in a good way. So good contagiousness. So if we take a look at the heart math Institute, their findings are that the electromagnetic field of the heart reaches out 15 feet all around you and the brain only. So when we are tapped into our flow state, both on purpose and with purpose, not only are we engaging all 40,000 neurons in our heart, but we are exuding our energy, 15 feet all around us. And so you could tell, even though we’re remote right now, I am filling this room right with my energy.

[00:19:06] So that becomes that contagiousness. And so like ethylene to apples, the energy, we exude 15 feet around us gets all of the people around you into their 15 foot circumference, just like the ethylene to the apples. This is why we have group flow experiences in music all the time.

[00:19:30] And is it also quite exponential slash instantaneous or it is.

[00:19:37] Okay. Let me give you an example. Chief operating officer of a medical center. She came to me because she was having communication issues with her team and they she’s a quiet person. And she said that people would interrupt during the meetings. She couldn’t figure out why they would be so rude and then they would point a finger at her for lack of leadership.

[00:19:58] We figured out how does she personally get into her flow state? We have to start with the person. So the first question is where are you wedding? You get into your flow state the most for her it’s at work. What are you doing on the outside? She’s having one-on-one conversations with people.

[00:20:19] What are you doing on the inside is the second question for the what part? And she said, I put aside my thoughts and I deeply listen. Deep listening is known to get people into their flow state. Why is deep listening? So meaningful for you? And she said it was because the deeper she listens, the deeper she connects and connection is what touches her to the.

[00:20:50] So at our next team meeting, she opened by stating the main objective of the meeting and that she wanted to take the time to listen to each person’s point of view. So she set herself up to listen to get into her super power. as she’s listening to each person, she was astounded because. Everyone else was listening.

[00:21:19] Yeah. And then as soon as the last person finished speaking, there was like one of those pauses. And because she had just created this space where everybody was listening to each other, they had this spontaneous brainstorming session, all of a sudden they’re solving problems with all kinds of innovative solutions.

[00:21:37] So she initially got into her. By herself. The last thing she was expecting was that it was going to trigger that synergistic state of group flow. That’s what happened. I’m going to share one more story with you.

[00:21:52] Yeah, sure.

[00:21:53] Linda, she she’s a high school math teacher. She’s a friend of mine and she received a grant to to develop. It was high school math to develop a high school math program that teenage students can relate to. And so she assembled a cohort of teachers and they began the brainstorming session and the closer they got to the deadline, the less creative they were. So this was a case where the deadline was a challenge,

[00:22:21] it was like somehow getting closer to the deadline was overwhelming them. So she, she asked me, what can I do? How can I lead my team through their creative slump? So what we did was we started with Linda’s flow strategy. Where are you when you get into the flow state, the most I’m in the kitchen.

[00:22:38] What do you do? Painting and she likes doing abstract painting. And if you don’t know what abstract painting is, it means that it’s there’s it’s made up there’s no, it’s not like you’re painting an apple or an object or anything okay. So she’s doing abstract painting. What are you doing on the inside?

[00:22:55] And I kid you not, she says I’m looking for patterns out of chaos. Everyone gets into their flow state and such a unique way. And for her to have that self insight. Why is finding patterns out of chaos, meaningful for you? That’s the last question why? And she said, because those patterns become knowledge and knowledge becomes power and freedom.

[00:23:20] And this is exactly the kind of thinking you need to create new math curriculum.

[00:23:29] She was well-suited for this right now. Now you can’t make this stuff up, but I love this example because it really hones it. And exactly what makes Linda tick and when you know your first strategy and it’s different for every one of us, how you get into this optimal state of thinking is what makes you tick, it’s as unique as your thumbprint.

[00:23:56] Okay. She goes back to the team. She brings me in, we talk about the three questions to where the what and the why we did peer to peer coaching. They all coach each other through finding their flow strategies. Then we took the question of why is it so meaningful? And we applied it to the project of designing curriculum that meant high school math students can relate.

[00:24:21] Obviously it’s meaningful for these teachers, right? So we unified them through one purpose. Cause everyone’s flows strategies. They have their own purposes. So we unify them through one purpose for the math curriculum. Last step is remember skill and challenge. So we took a look at the challenges and we walked through and clearly identified all of the challenges that they were facing.

[00:24:49] And we mark them down. They talk them through and after, like there was really very little to do after that because they just spring to life with that information. And Linda said that they stayed creative through to the end of the project and they far exceeded her expectations.

[00:25:06] So those are a couple examples of really how all of these pieces fit together.

[00:25:11] The order in which it works is quite interesting. in a more technical context, there’s this word orchestration, which is how all of this comes together. Like in an orchestra, which, you know, a lot more about, than I do . There is a certain pattern and a certain order, which

[00:25:26] and music being, being a universal language, you’re not dealing it’s operating on a different level than speaking language, right?

[00:25:33] Yeah. Different part of the brain and all that category. Yeah, no, these are great.

[00:25:37] Are there any resources or things that you’ve found over the last year and a half since all of this craziness started that that really changed things for you in terms of, in terms of the topic of flow or professionally any interesting resource or something like that you might want to possibly.

[00:25:56] If you’re familiar with Adam Grant, who’s a very well known organizational psychologist. We had a New York times article in April and it was coining at that time, the the predominant emotion of 2021 in April of 2021 was. The topic of languishing and and we do languish when we’re, I’ve had to struggle with it too with the isolation and not having, the social contact and stuff.

[00:26:33] And so I’ve had to be proactive about making sure that I do call my friends regularly and I do, do social zooms and things like that. But languishing on the mental health spectrum is exactly halfway. So you have depression at the bottom flourishing at the top languishing in the. And guess what the solution was.

[00:26:55] Luke and I, Adam Brandt in the New York times, it was to get into your flow state.

[00:27:02] There’s a second article that came out in Lee. This is the best one to leave. In October, I was October 13th, 20, 21 Harvard business review. I don’t remember exactly what the title of it was, but you can find it easily.

[00:27:20] And it’s what people can do to engage employees now. What can you do now? And there, what they did was say comb through all the research and they came with the top three tips. That, that people can implement right now. Number one was connecting what people do to what they care about. And if you just check out the flow strategy system exactly on what people care about.

[00:27:51] So if you want to really help somebody as a manager, who’s struggling, who’s feeling disconnected and at least help them to connect. What their work is to something that they really care about. So that’s in the Harvard business review. Look that one up too. Yeah. Yeah. I think I recall that also, but yeah, no, that’s great.

[00:28:15] They’re both great. They’re both great articles. Absolutely.

[00:28:17] In terms of, next steps or things you would want people to look at?

[00:28:20] I have A URL for people to go to and I will send it to you in case I recited incorrectly right now, but I’m pretty sure it’s HTTP colon slash tiny url.com/white paper, 2021. If you go to that, you’re going to get three resources. You’re going to get. A link to the Ted talk, which is a synopsis of everything I talked about.

[00:28:49] However, there wasn’t time in the talk to go through the group flow, it does go in depth with the individual. I have a flow strategy worksheet that you can use for yourself and to use to coach others. And then I do have the white paper there for people to see how to apply this. What are the steps to apply a culture of at the workplace.

[00:29:15] It’s interesting stuff. I took a look at it recently yeah highly recommend it.

[00:29:18] You can email me directly if you have any questions. If you want to talk more about this Diane @ Diane Allen speaker dot com. Okay, great.

[00:29:28] Great. Thank you. Thank you very much.

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