Mastery, unconscious competence, effortless genius. These are all ways to describe what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called the state of ‘flow’. What can we learn about ‘flow’ from music that we can transfer to the world of business and personal development?
Let’s begin, not by talking about the state of flow but by experiencing it through looking at masters of their craft operating at a state of effortless genius. Let’s start with jazz master Joe Pass:
What then is flow? Are there any ways to learn how to be in this state and what can we learn from professional musicians? Here’s a great quote to open up the debate from Richard Thompson:
“Focus for performance is extremely important. I start quite early in the day of a performance, just very slowly focusing in on performing later that day with the whole idea that you are going to be as present as possible. You can play music for yourself, and that’s one thing, but to communicate with an audience is really something very special. When it happens, it’s a beautiful thing, an extraordinary thing, a wonderful feeling for the performer – this idea that you play something and people get it.
The way that you’re able to get stuff across to an audience is by getting inside the music as much as possible, reaching that really still place in the center of the music where you are totally present, almost unconscious, and totally engaged in the musical process and the storytelling process. When you get to that point, you’ve really achieved just about everything you can achieve as a musician.”
John Howitt is a professional session musician, who has performed with Celine Dion, Anastasia and Shirley Bassey. He also works with us in our business and music masterclasses. As a session musician, John must be at peak performance with every engagement. I asked him to reveal some of his tips for staying in the flow:
Peter : Can you tell us something about your career and the role of practice as a spur to personal mastery?
John : “Mastery comes out of preparation. In business circles, people talk of the need for 10 000 hours disciplined practice to master an art or discipline. Contrary to what amateur musicians might think, to do what I do, it’s all about practice and preparation. I have probably exceeded the 10 000 hours in my career as a session musician and still spend 5 hours a day playing an instrument if I am not actually engaged in a piece of client work”
Peter : Many so-called ‘creatives’ say that they feel they would lose their creativity / mojo if they overprepared. What do you say to that?
John : “Practice gives you ease AND versatility. Playing routine pieces of music almost goes on auto pilot allowing you to concentrate on what is needed to add that extra piece of sparkle. I feel this is just as applicable to business and personal excellence as it is to performing music”
Peter : As well as your stage and session work, I know you also record soundtrack music for films. In your experience, how do you move from a performance role to one that is perhaps more introverted?
John : In one way, there is no difference. When performing, you still need to keep your focus both internally on the mastery of what you are doing, whilst keeping your antennae open to hear those around you. It’s what the business gurus called ’emotional intelligence’ – living inside your own head AND paying attention to your co-performers. Good musicians and leader do both. Bad musicians and leaders just listen to themselves.
That said, when I’m recording soundtracks, I can focus completely in on the point of detail that I’m working with, PLUS keep in mind the overall piece. The big picture AND the small detail are essential if you are to achieve what Peter Senge calls personal mastery. As a musician or leader, I find it essential to be both gregarious AND solitary.
Peter : On innovation excellence, can you share one important insight for us?
John : I’ll offer two. In music, the innovation challenge lies in breaking away from habits. Practice can force you into habit but it need not. It’s what companies like Toyota, Nokia and First Direct have achieved, rather than just repeating themselves. Furthermore, it’s like Miles Davis says “There are no mistakes”
Please share your thoughts on what gets you in the high performance zone. A recent interview with Tom Peters on the related topic of personal excellence can be found at Innovation Excellence. I found flow is vital when writing perhaps the shortest business book known to man or woman – Punk Rock People Management – get your copy via the link.
If you enjoy this blog, you may also enjoy related blogs at Prince, Deep Purple, Hendrix and Bill Nelson. To finish, let’s see some more masters of music immersed in the art of effortless genius. None other than Jeff Beck giving a tribute to Les Paul, plus a tribute to Les Paul by Bill Nelson:
About the Blogger: Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via firstname.lastname@example.org Check our latest book reviews out: