EVENT | Entrepreneurship and Flow - Masterclass & Speaker Series



"A person is in a state of flow when they are totally immersed in a task. When a person is “in flow,” they may not notice time passing, think about why they are doing the task, or judge their efforts. Instead, they remain completely focused."

-source

Everything we do at Acorn Interactive Inc is team based. We use words like cadence or efficiency to describe us being in a a flow state as a team. Our team is, of course, staffed by individuals who need to be working at their peak for this to be able to happen.

Since there are a lot of moving parts to the operation - everything from client acquisition, to working with clients subject matter experts, to designing systems for our clients, to building those systems in software - this requires us to interoperate as a diverse team. Being able to do so harmoniously is a vision we pride ourselves on. Diversity in thought, character, and background is how we can adapt to the unique needs of our customers.

Event Poster

On Friday July 15th I went to Entrepreneurship and Flow - Masterclass and Speaker Series. The event featured a panel of speakers talking about the role of flow in everyday work, and experiences around activating it in a professional context. This dialogue brought in subject matter expertise from neuroscience, a working corporate executive, a content marketer in the product, web3/NFT space, and an operator of a coworking space focused on professional wellness. 

The event was moderated by Dr Brent Hogarth who interviewed the panelists and facilitated audience involvement in a series of collaborative exercises. 

A whiteboard defining flow

Something that caught my attention was the timeliness of the dialgoue. From the outset of the event, Dr Brent posed this question:

Are a lot of us, in our personal and professional lives, feeling:

  1. Drained mental health 
  2. Lost Productivity 
  3. Burnout
  4.  Turnover

Brent had the audience take 20 seconds each and explain how they work around this in their personal lives, and how they individually could achieve a “flow state”. 

Some of the answers included:

  1. Routine based activity 
  2. Creative pursuit 
  3. Meditation 
  4. Stress management techniques 
  5. Leisure activities
a second whiteboard defining flow states for groups

As a self proclaimed extrovert, my answer was human interaction and team building. I am fascinated by others, what they have to offer, and what makes them tick. Perhaps it’s time to reiterate the question:

What in your daily life allows you to get into a flow state?

Take a moment to think about it.

Now, before we continue with the details of the talk, below are some brief biographies and backgrounds of the event panelists for context.

Brent Hogarth speaking to a crowd. Image sourced from www.brenthogarth.com

Dr. Brent Hogarth (website)

Dr. Brent Hogarth is a Clinical and Sport Psychologist, and leader in the field of Positive Psychology.

Brent is the head Peak Performance Coach at the Flow Research Collective where he has trained thousands of sport & 'corporate athletes' to find greater flow-state, mindfulness, & self-control in their lives.

Elizabeth Fisher. From @tribecalledflow on instagram

Elizabeth Fisher (website)

Elizabeth has always had a passion for creating positive social impact. She graduated from New York University with a Masters in Public Administration, focusing in management and finance for social enterprises. She returned to Vancouver and founded Good Food for All, a nonprofit organization that in 5 years served 10,000 healthy snacks to at-risk youth in East Vancouver, and provided over 500 hours of nutrition education.

Ali Adab. From @tribecalledflow on instagram

Ali Adab (website)

Ali Adab has built, led and grown ventures at the intersection of entertainment and technology for nearly two decades, helping both startups and enterprises find success in the explosive creator economy.

Ali was recently appointed Chief Content Officer at SoleSavy, where he leads content initiatives, drives Web3 and NFT strategy and secures partnerships with brands, creators, and media companies.

Tommy Humphreys. From @tribecalledflow on instagram

Tommy Humphries (website)

Tommy founded Visual-Edge Marketing Systems, the predecessor of PacWebCo in 2006 and began selling web sites on his lunch breaks and after work. Internet consulting work took off and by 2007 Tommy was a full-time entrepreneur with a small team building custom brand packages and web sites.

A 2010 cash-flow crunch caused Tommy to refocus his business on the venture investment industry, where he'd heard of a lot of success stories. He consulted with Cambridge House, a leading investment conference company, saving up to start his own site, combining passions for the stock market and the internet.
Dr Chris Bertram. From @tribecalledflow on instagram

Dr Chris Bertram (linkedin)

Dr. Chris Bertram is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada.  Dr. Bertram specializes in how human beings learn, and specifically how to create more optimal learning environments by tapping into flow states that lead to the ultimate goal of stress-resistant skill acquisition. Dr. Bertram has published numerous scholarly articles in wide range of human performance areas and has been featured in the Vancouver Sun, the Globe and Mail, and the New York Times.

The entire talk was focused around how these individuals understand flow states, how they are able to activate flow states themselves, how flow states can be encouraged for others, the definition of flow states from medical science, and ways of dealing with adversity to achieve them. What was interesting was that the event focused on audience participation as much as they focused on the individual speakers themselves. This artcile is a compilation of takeaways I had from the event, and my recollection of the key themes.

Key Themes

For me, the most important themes of the night were discussed in how we can activate flows states using

  1. Proactive approaches 
  2. Reactive approaches

brought up by Ali Adab.

Ali went on to describe the ways in his career where he played around with each approach, along with some of his professional track record. A lot of the personal lessons he learned came from his own experience and incremental learning/micro adjustments.

Dr Chris Bertram explained some of the neurobiological tools for flow states to happen and the behaviours we can engage in to support them. He mentioned that flow is experienced in a lot of ways but it conforms to similar patterns

  1. effortlessness
  2.  timelessness 

When I researched the topic further I found this link very helpful.

Dr. Chris also mentioned there are things inside us that contribute to these lived experiences of flow. A lot of it has to do with behaviour, practice, and discipline. Essentially with the right combination of elements the frontal lobes go offline and promote a state of effortlessness and ease in action. He mentions that it’s the act of learning, or problem solving, that activates the frontal lobes, and the act of training and repetition that helps them to go offline. Fascinating stuff. He also goes onto describe the killer of performance and flow; performance anxiety and dwelling. One way to mediate this, he recommends, is exercise. Sustained cardiovascular exercise of over 20 minutes is responsible for frontal lobe deactivation. I’m sure there are other supporting metrics to look into on the topic.

Elizabeth Fischer talked about perceptions of work, work life balance, and toxic attributes that affect performance, such as the expectations we put onto ourselves or are administered by our superiors. Her mission, from what I could gather, is to assist in helping others remove mental blockers to acheive flow in their respective fields. She operates a comfortable workspace that lives this mission, while supporting tenants through a mixture of coaching, counselling, training, cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness, and self care.

Tommy Humphries, owner of CEO.ca, told a candid story about his own upbringing, personality quirks, and career evolution. It was interesting to hear someone in his position being completely honest about the good, bad, mediocre, self-destructive, and ambitious attributes that got him to where he is. I think it’s important for professionals, especially executives, to create a norm of vulnerability. Knowing full well that organizations are staffed and lead exclusively by humans reinforces the idea that we do need to interoperate as a team. While it’s not my story to tell, everything from family dynamics to substance use informed his journey. What I liked about Tommy’s story was that it was friendship and peer support that helped to uplift him from a difficult rut in his life and reframe his professional objectives, landing him where he is now. He had one quote that stuck out to me which is:

“Just because I had a thought doesn’t mean it was a good one.”

Impulsivity, arousal, curiosity, and discipline are hard for everyone to navigate and our brains, while powerful, are also somewhat error prone. He left with a rhetorical question that will bring us into our next section, but it’s worth taking a moment to think about:

What do you do to overcome your own insecurities?

Throughout the evening the floor was opened up to the audience to expand on some of the core themes in groups. Below is a summary of the takeaways. This is a mixture of notes from the audience and personal reflection.

Takeaways

Trained Instinct

 It’s very hard to acknowledge or manage emotional responses when we come up against challenging events or stimuli. They tend to sucker punch us when we least expect it. Learning to anticipate this, and develop an ability to proactively tolerate stress or discomfort is often just a learned behaviour or trained instinct. While we may not know where or when these impulses will sneak up on us, we can prepare ourselves for the fact this may happen.

Routine

On top of training ourselves to handle unpredictable adversity, we can prepare our bodies to buffer elements like the autonomic nervous system flaring up through sleep, nutrition, exercise, and mindfulness practices. Furthermore, we can practice our social skills to better understand the people around us in order to build empathetic bridges for a variety of personality types. The more we can understand the psychology of others around us, while taking care of ourselves as individuals - the less dramatic our responses will be to stress, and presumably will help enable our ability to achieve flow states.

Take a step back 

This is one of those easier said than done things I would imagine. Especially when the moment itself can be overwhelming. I assume this refers to a logical ability to cross reference like stressors with a prior memories of conflict resoltuion from a similar circumstance. Or, being able to admit to others that you may not have all the answers immediately and need more time to perform due diligence. By separating our moods from our stressors or conflict, we increase our ability to nagivate them towards an amicable resolution.

Mindfulness

There are leagues of literature around the cognitive benefits of mindfulness practice, the techniques one can employ, and ways of integrating mindfulness into everyday life. To avoid going into specifics, mindfulness in things like breathing exercises, constructive self talk, meditation all can help us shift our focus from a reactive approach to situations to a proactive approach by slowing down our mind and our nervous system, and training our behaviour to focus more on priorities than events, often occurring at random.

Peer support

We are not in life alone. There are many people, of every variety, with different backgrounds, who have shared similar experiences, been through worse experiences, know how to navigate consequence or complexity, or know how to live a positive life. Peer support is a way to share notes, evaluate our experiences with others, and hear about others lived experiences. In doing this, it humanizes the way we experience reality by being able to understand it from the perspectives of others, and contributing our own inputs in order to broaden our horizons on topics like situation management and preparation.

Resilience

Never the easiest piece of advice to give someone, especially when they are hurting but - you can do it! Grit is real. This is not to say that people don’t become emotionally compromised or can necessarily avoid things like psychiatric complications. It is to say that resilience in the face of adversity is totally possible. Building on the routine step mentioned before, it’s interesting to think about routine as the tool to build resilience. Holding a yoga pose for a long time and focusing on breathing? That’s resilience training. Pushing yourself to go 0.1km further every week to train for a marathon? That’s resilience training. It’s not explicitly physical either, and should be discussed in a lot of different arenas. Avoiding going to the bar to study for a unit test in school? Guess what. It can be developed through routine, repetition, and experience. Let’s acknowledge it for what it is!

Active Listening

The best way that I’ve heard this described is to effectively get out of your own way. As Celeste Headlee puts it,

“A conversation requires a balance between talking and listening and somewhere along the way we lost that balance…”

“...there is no reason to learn how to show you are paying attention if you are, in fact, paying attention”

-Celeste Headlee

As a self proclaimed extrovert i will confess - listening is hard. It is, for me, a learned behaviour much more difficult than many of the introverts I have spoken to who appear to be gifted at this. With that being said, if we can get out of our own way and start listening to others - be it guidance, clarification, or healthy debate - then with those tools we do increase our likelihood of sustained concentration.

Decision making 

We’ve mentioned a bunch of different approaches and steps in the prior headings. At a certain point, however, one does need to take action. Whether or not that is small or monumental, we can’t just internalize everything we’ve learned. We have to actually do something with knowledge. The way this was described in the group panel was the choice between running or meditation. I enjoy this example because it really does articulate the types of forks in the road requiring active decision making: do i burn off some steam? Or do i learn how to live with it?

Goal Setting

As a skateboarder, snowboarder, and surfer I can say from observation that a lot of people want to participate but severly underestimate the amount of practice it takes to be... average. This is true for a lot of disciplines I’m sure. We can’t just hop in and be an expert, we have to be methodical, practice, and of course, set goals.

When it comes to the topic of passion and execution, my two cents is that passion backbones goal accomplishment. Goal setting, however, is hard. What does it take to be become a programmer? Is it proficiency in programming languages? A general sense of problem solving? An ability to interoperate with a technical team?

Each one of these are attributes of a functional programmer, and each one of these skills has to be learned. Goal setting is really important to develop proficiency, and mentorship is a great technique we can use to be able to set goals realistically. Breaking down objectives into bite size, actionable goals is a way to check off these boxes and pivot when we find ourselves at a fork in the road.

Emotional Regulation

This area is two faceted I suppose. On the one hand there is how we react to a situation and on the other there is how other people behave. The prior can be managed, whereas the latter tends to be quite random. Ali Adab made a very good point on his follow up here which was:

“Don’t hit with low blows.”

If we want to manage stress, build relationships, grow our careers, catch our stride in competence, and develop intellectually we have to learn to get a handle on our these elements make us feel. I can say personally it’s one of the hardest facets of adulthood, and it’s also good to acknowledge the likelihood that nobody on earth has yet to figure it out.

Acceptance

We are all human. On top of the occasional accomplishment, it’s much more likely we have a string of defeats, insecurities, pain points, emotional baggae, and work to do. One of the healthiest things we can say is “that is totally normal”. As well, on the topic of proactive vs reactive approaches to hitting a flow state, acceptance also plays a role in acknowledging there are times when there is little we can do to control a situation. Again, Ali Adab had a good quote to support this which is:

“Mike tyson has a plan until he gets punched in the face.”

Conclusion

I liked this event because it wasn’t highly technical or overtly schmoozy. It really was prefaced on personal development. It asked the question I’m sure a lot of us are thinking in our present circumstances:

“If we’re anxiety riddled, overworked and exhausted - what tools and techniques can we deploy to get over this?” 

Getting through adverse circumstances explicitly defines us, and our character. It’s totally possible to do so. In most cases we have to leverage the familiar - communion with others, peer support, and motivating eachother to do and be better.