Imagine having the perfect questions to ask your interviewer for your next potential job. Or imagine being an employer whose employees all liked their jobs and did brilliant work. Assaf Shahar, who works as a Junior Talent Management Consultant out of Chemistry’s New York office, thinks it all comes down to flow – and that it begins with a dance…
I’ve forgotten the routine.
The thought crosses my mind halfway through the Advanced Mambo final round at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2016 Ballroom Competition. As my partner begins the next segment of moves, I tense up and rack my brain for the choreography. The final round lasts 90 seconds with 8 couples on the floor at once, so judges can only look at each couple for a maximum of 11 seconds. I am not about to let these 11 seconds determine how well my partner and I are judged at the biggest collegiate competition of the year.
Without a second’s doubt, I move. I dance with all the motions that come naturally to me at that moment, with the thumping of the music in my ears, with the sweat trickling down my neck. The rest of the round is a blur in my mind. I cannot fully remember what happened.
I was in a state of flow.
In psychology, ‘flow’ is described as “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”  Coined by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the concept of flow also involves the distortion of temporal experience, or an altered subjective experience of time, as well as a loss of reflective self-consciousness.
What happened at the competition? I lost myself in the dance, and I could not tell you how long that moment lasted. More importantly, people came up to me and told me that my mambo dancing took on a whole new level, as if I had unleashed a secret power within me. My partner and I ended up placing so well that we moved up to the next skill level based on the merit of our dancing.
The thing about flow is that it’s all about personalized context. If the circumstances had not been right for me at the competition – the pressures not being as high as they were, for example – I would not have been enabled to achieve flow. That said, had I not practiced as much as I did, I would not have had the arsenal of mambo-styled moves to introduce during my momentary mind lapse. The things I brought to the table had to mesh with the environment. This marriage allowed me to perform at a level I did not know I could otherwise achieve.
I stress again: flow is about personalized context.
Think back to a moment where you lost track of time doing something you love. Imagine if you could reach the same level of flow in your every-day work. All it takes is the right marriage of personal and environmental circumstance. So now I’m going to tell you how my dance experience taught me to find flow in my work, and how you can too…
For me, I find that immersion helps me achieve flow most easily. I wrote my senior undergraduate thesis in a day – not because I had procrastinated beforehand, but rather because I blocked out an entire day precisely so I could get lost in the work. I won my university’s MBA statistics competition because I spent 16 hour days in my room fiddling with my regression models, enjoying it so much that I regularly forgot to eat lunch. I immersed myself in practicing competitive ballroom dance, watching endless videos, teaching others technique and styling, attending dance classes, and so forth. I know that my personal skillset flourishes when I can delve deeply into a task.
I now have the pleasure of working at a company that recognizes that in me and gives me the opportunity to immerse myself so I can achieve my fullest working potential. I have had weeks fly by without my noticing because I absorbed myself in analyzing data for days, or crafted the perfect presentation for a client meeting, or researched a market issue to inform our consultation practice. My personal skills mesh with the environment I am given, and that allows me to excel at my work and to enjoy it the whole time.
Recall that moment where you lost track of time doing something you love. What was it about the task that allowed you to achieve flow? Write down a list of personalized contextual clues that may have factored into achieving flow. I challenge you to derive three main themes from the list you just created, such as a competitive environment, or that it involves interaction with others, or focuses on problem-solving.
What you’ve just done is create the most relevant interview questions of your life.
When you go to your next interview, you can ask the interviewer questions that revolve around your “enablers of flow.” Listen to how they describe the environmental context of the job, the culture of the workplace, and that will give you more insight into whether you will enjoy the work than any other question you could ask. These questions helped me find my current job, doing work that I love in a way that I love.
Now, imagine if that process was easier going the other way too – for businesses that want to find candidates for whom they can enable flow. Chemistry’s data-driven assessment platform helps businesses make better hiring decisions by profiling candidates applying for their jobs. We can map out a person’s inherent tendencies and preferences to our psychologist-designed frameworks, and compare them to a benchmark profile we create of the client business itself. The scientifically-rigorous tool equips a business with the information they need to understand the candidate’s fit far past their resume.
What we provide businesses is a roadmap to a person’s flow. Imagine if your business only hired people whose flow matches your personalized context – the skills they bring and the preferences they have align with what your company can offer. What a remarkable workforce it would be.
There is not enough time in the day to compete at more ballroom competitions, or to interview for hundreds of jobs, or to delve deeply into every candidate that applies for your company. Much like the judges at the MIT Ballroom Competition, they’re simply yearning to find people in flow.
All that remains to be said is: make your 11 seconds count.
 Mihaly Csikszentmihályi (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper & Row. ISBN 978-0-06-016253-5.