Flow

Being “in the flow”. The nicest state of mind known to mankind. You act without thinking, and everyone of your actions is the perfect response to the situation. Riding a motorcycle on a beautiful road without a destination can easily get you into this state. With an empty mind, you see the next 2 corners, feel your bike as your brakes hit the disc, smell the forest, and hear the wind as you start accelerating out of the first corner while naturally placing the bike into position for the next.

Software developers also know “flow”, and mentally it does not differ that much from riding a motorcycle. Coders call this “being in the zone”. It’s you, the code, and the next 2 unittests. You effortlesly write the perfect conditions for your loop, while noticing the log of the buildserver, and thinking about the solution you already have for the next problem.

In order to get into the flow, conditions need to be perfect. You have to be in the right mood. There should be no distractions. There needs to be rythm.

Coding and biking is done by “enjoy the ride” people. They enjoy the thrill of that perfect corner, or that perfect try/catch block, without worrying to much about the destination. Destination is usually the worry of the “a-to-b” people. These are to people that need to get to their destination. Usually car drivers, they will talk about destinations, the bluetooth and stereo in their cars, but rarely enjoy the ride itself. When they get to “B”, a new destination is chosen and the race is on again.

“A-to-b” people often don’t understand “flow” or “being in the zone”. They also don’t understand that it’s hard to get “in the flow” and very easy to get out. Changing the end goal of a long project is not all that troublesome. But changing the next 2 corners will get your “enjoy the ride” team members out of the flow for sure. Do it too often, and your team will not even try to get into the flow, because there is nothing more frustrating than being yanked out of your flow.

Programming seems dull and nerdy. But being “in the zone” or having “flow” can give you quite a rush, with some similarities to riding a bike on a sunny, twisty mountain road.

3 Responses to Flow

  1. Verik says:

    Being in the flow, or being ‘in state’ -as it is called in other scenes- is a beautiful thing. It has a lot to do with being in the ‘now’ as opposed to thinking about the past (the A) or the future (the B). In my opinion it applies to most areas in life. Be it conversation, writing a blog post and walking your dog.

    I like the way you are thinking!

  2. rolfje says:

    Here’s a 20 minute TED talk by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi about “Flow”: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow.html

    He’s not the world’s best speaker, but has some pretty interesting slides and observations. In a graph showing results of his study, “Apathy” is the opposite state of mind from “Flow”. Not Coincidentally, it’s also the state you’re in when watching TV.

    Not on Flow, but on happyiness (not a big leap) is the really funny Dan Gilbert talk on “why are we happy” (also 20 minutes):

  3. rolfje says:

    Related (old) article from the Tired Architect: http://antipattern.wordpress.com/2008/11/08/software-engineering-is-my-profession-programming-is-my-hobby/

    I guess we have something in common. Even more so judging from the inactivity on the blog.:-/

    Marketing people telling Mozart what to write.

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