WHAT IS WORKING IN-FLOW?
I’m talking about the essence of creativity here. Athletes call it the zone. It’s where everything comes together doing what you love and things seem to flow. In Eastern philosophy, it is Zen, a meditative state that relies on intuition over fixed goals. The Romans called it Genius, also meaning to generate. They believed people had a guiding spirit called a genius. A persons ‘genius’ may be apparent through their unique personality and disposition, which perhaps alludes to it being more of a state of mind than a particular skill. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi the author of ‘Flow’ says it is the ‘optimal experience’.
I feel working in-flow and being creative is about an open feeling of possibility, playfulness, calm, inner joy, time fades away and minutes can turn into hours with no recollection. The rest of your life fades into the background. The next move is determined by the last and you are on your path. Everything you have previously worked on, looked, at and thought has built towards these moments. Creating, Thinking and Making are happening fluidly and easily. No room for your own or others judgement, you don’t have time for that. You are working In-flow. This post is as much about us working in-flow with children as it is about supporting our young people to find their flow.
They could be aiming for something like a short film, animation or digital artwork but working in-flow will determine the end result, how it feels, the colours, composition, nuances of what it really expresses, its power, and it will probably surprise you with lots of Oh that is working, not what I thought would work. It’s noticing what presents itself to you and not pushing for something that isn’t there. Working in-flow is you teaching yourself, autonomy, constant discovery. It’s not something you turn on or off when you want to, you work towards it at all times, look through a creative eye and what worked before may not have the same effect now. Thoughts around ongoing projects or designs come and go when they want to, not just when you designate time to it and this is often when we are calm, not doing much and allowing our mind to flow. Allow ideas and solutions to spring up. It is letting go of fixed ideas and letting them appear from nowhere. It’s intuition which is actually your brain making judgments, synthesising, reflecting, building, producing, developing, integrating, managing, directing, crafting and ultimately creating. You don’t even have to perceive yourself to be artistic or creative but doing something of this nature teaches us more directly about the creative process which is often then applied to other situations and endeavours. Big corporations like IBM recognise that Creative Leadership outperforms any other kind of Leadership characteristics. They are more likely to invite disruptive innovation, are comfortable with ambiguity and experiment, alter the status quo, invent and make business model changes. Creativity is something businesses want. Creativity is a state of mind.
Working in-flow is the place I think we all desire to be, everything just happening and going well, but it can be elusive. It may flicker on and off, be there for one project but gone for the next. Perhaps great artists have reached this ideal state and stay there for a long time. We may want it but not achieve it for years, but are aware of it and strive for it. You could be working in-flow but unaware that you are. If you are working with a child that loves sport then you can spike their interest by talking about this moment of being in the zone, creating chances, thinking on your feet. The moment footballers take that shot, they are totally absorbed. Children have this flow, they play, they naturally learn and are inspired to do things that interest them. We seem to
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF WORKING IN-FLOW?
Working in-flow supports the individual to self-direct and make decisions instantaneously.
Working in-flow has a timely nature to it. We want to flow and continue and not stop. Resourcefulness.
Emotional self-regulating in order to overcome challenges quickly and look within one’s self to use all personal reasoning abilities in that moment.
Resilience and Responsibility through Autonomy and the freedom of thought because no one is going to come in and fix this, it is your own challenge, you are the one with the answers within you at that moment. There may be other ways in the future but in that moment your resourcefulness, skill, knowledge is enough.
Ability to generate ideas instantaneously. Risk Taking. Playfulness and the ability to think What If.
To experience joy in the moment of making. Finding fulfilment in what you do.
To trust in the process and find confidence from the experience of making.
Confidence is very important here and it does not come from a position of skill or how you think others view you. You are confident that these are your decisions and this is the best you can be at this moment in time. You are comparing and analysing, forming judgements, adapting, synthesising information and drawing on experience, holding aims and objectives in sight but ready to shift and change these slightly if it serves the project. You are working flexibly and all of this is going on in the background of your brain allowing the next step to happen automatically. It often takes the conscious brain more time to comprehend what you have done and why. It’s like you very cleverly working on autopilot. Not controlling the work but letting go and seeing how it forms.
WHEN ARE WE NOT WORKING IN-FLOW?
We all have moments of not working in-flow and it is important to recognise when these emotions come. You may have a, I can’t do this moment,
You may have very strong ideas of the outcome and push too hard for something that is not really working. It’s not about excepting everything as being enough when it isn’t, it’s more that if you are working in flow, your autopilot brain will tell you if something isn’t working and come up with another plan that does work. You will be working intuitively. Skilling up may be what is required, I look on this more as a break from working in-flow. The work will tell you what it needs and you will learn a lot of skills quite organically.
HOW CAN YOU CULTIVATE CREATIVITY IN YOUNG PEOPLE?
Working in-flow or being creative comes from the individual but it can be guided. You can’t teach it in a traditional sense, but you can be mindful of it and you can nudge others into thinking more creatively. It’s really just thinking, but it is a freeing of conventions and what has gone before. Creativity and originality often go hand in hand, but it doesn’t need to be never done before by anyone, just never before by you, your original thought that has flowed from the set of circumstances you work in. You can facilitate children to develop their own thought patterns. You don’t need to know the answers yourself or even be a confident creative yourself. You can steer, guide, enable and nurture if you know what you are looking for and I think this holy grail of creativity is Working in-flow. Using technology is a great place to start a creative journey and it’s all accessible to us now. Starting out with just a
SUPPORTING CHILDREN TO WORK IN THEIR FLOW
I am going to go through five main themes that will explain how to get to this creative mindset and I will speak of them with reference to film and video but it can be applied to all media. It takes time to get there. You may recognise that you already have lots in place or feel it is quite different to your experience in working with children, but either way, I hope you can reference the themes like a map and giving direction when needed. I will talk about resistance a bit because this is what will pop up at some point especially with teenagers, and I want to give you some ideas around this. We have to work through emotional stuff and build self-regulation skills with young people and I think this is perhaps where all the value is if you are working one to one with a child. This is where the growth is, in developing a creative mindset with our young.
They can only find their flow if they invest in it. They may feel they have to measure up to your expectations in some way, this can be a hard one to shake and takes time. Try to step out of the arena more than you normally would, hand this project over to them. Stay away from value judgements and overpraise. Positivity is important but
They should feel a stretch of their capabilities to be interested and excited to do an activity. The stretch could be a new medium such as video, or a very different end result to the norm for them. You could set a challenge that is completely different from how you or they would normally work. How can you mix it up a lot? The challenge could be immediate, no time to waste thinking, just do. Think of a challenge as a spur of the moment, quick and experimental. If it turns into something, then great, if it doesn’t, then you have started and hopefully, it was fun. Quality, thoughtfulness and planning are not the priority here. We are handling the materials and experimenting. The drawing equivalent is sketching, enjoying just being there with whatever is in front of you. Great things can happen with working in-flow and not caring. That is the opportunity that you are offering. All about taking risks. A quick challenge is particularly good if your child tends to get trapped in a negative thought or has rigid thought patterns and wants to over plan it, or if they are fairly resistant. They won’t have time to think about it. So a challenge may be pre-thought by you but I would try to make it seem quite spontaneous to them. You could try having
How can we weave challenges into our day? Depends on what you are doing but if on a walk in the woods you could say – hey, lets make a video, or I challenge you to make a 5 minute video starting now or Make a video now about our walk but each shot will be no more than four seconds.
You could see if they want to document what they are already doing and take stills to make into animation (very easily done in Google Photos). If they don’t want to take it on, then you could take the photos and turn it into an animation. This is great if they are building something or doing an artwork. They will think a little animation is cool and may want to do it themselves next time. You could see if they want to document their day.
Start easy, you just want them making digitally, easy but different, this is where the challenge is. It should seem fun and the result unexpected. Actually, don’t worry too much about editing it if it is video footage. I tend not to edit on the same day as I shoot anything. If they take up the challenge and they are diving in, then this is great. Be mindful to let them get on with it without any controlling input from you apart from support initiating something, support their autonomy. You may find a little video just appears or you could ask if they want to edit the footage a few days later.
If you don’t think it’s happening and you have tried a lot of things, don’t worry, approach it from a different angle. Why don’t you give yourself a little challenge like documenting the day and see if they ask you
You can find out a lot more about how your child’s brain works by observing what is and isn’t working for them. What do they get stuck on or frustrated with or shy away
Observe the good stuff. Tell them what skills you see in them. Vocalise what you observe them doing and the skills you see they are using. This is encouraging positive self-talk. They will get a sense of achievement that will carry them through when it gets tricky. This supports emotional regulation. What does focus feel like? How does it feel to learn something new? Keep it observational and not a ‘value’ statement. You could say:
I see you working really hard on that, you seem really focussed, how does it feel?
How’s you doing there? Or Hows it going?
What are you thinking about there? Do you want to share? I can’t work out if you are puzzled or tired or focussing. What do you think?
I think all these phrases are
Everyone is unique and this is best explored working one to one or in small groups. Discovering how you work creatively as a younger person is a real advantage. What is already in flow? What surprises you about them? or have they surprised themselves? It’s nice to find something that works out quite well when you don’t expect it. Do they already have some kind of expertise or strong interest? We may not at first see a trait as positive but in the right setting it could be what raises them up. For instance my son seemed to have all sorts of problems with noise at school, but it turned out he had a very heightened sense of hearing and a strong ear for sound, great if you are doing sound editing. His sense of sound is unique and is an attribute to him. I think the trick is to work positively and flexibly with their traits. If they like order and planning then this is an attribute and their skills should be called on. If there is a tendency for more rigid planning then you could try to make this skill more fluid by suggesting they plan for change, but ease into this sort of re-direction gently. How do you plan for spontaneousness? What are the bare bones of a plan and what can be left to intuition? Whatever their uniqueness, traits, personal skills, go with it and extend and make more fluid. They are more likely to run with an idea if there is some comfort in it for them and thinking about what they bring gives us ideas on how to approach projects. I have thought before I should be working on making some weak areas better with my child, but with us, this has only ever lead to dead ends and frustration. Too much pushing will hinder creativity. Creativity springs from our uniqueness, it doesn’t patch in the weak areas.
Support and Identify emotions. Separate emotions from the creative practise. Guide them to explore what emotions are going on without stating what you think. If frustration is rising you could say something like… You have been really focussed for hours, how are you doing? How does that make you feel? or just ask them if they think they need a break. I strongly recommend coming away from creative work when frustration kicks in. It probably is because of tiredness and
21st CENTURY SKILLS
It’s important to identify what skills are happening and being explored. You’d probably think with working with technology then technical skill and operating things would be a major part of it but I don’t think I have mentioned this at all. If everything else is in place, this will just happen. I find the personal skills, sometimes called soft skills to be the major players here. I am referring to these as 21st Century Skills. Perhaps these skills will override the importance of certificates and qualifications in the future. I’m talking about stuff
I have started this off thinking about what is working In-flow in relation to Creativity and it has become a bit of a working framework. A path to creativity as I see it and have experienced it myself and in working with young people and digital media. I hope it gives you some ideas