Week 48: Vol. 48. Novelty, Variety, Disruption & Innovation: Refining Your Flow Strategies

11 Dec

VOL. 48

“All fixed patterns are incapable of adaptability or pliability. The truth is outside of all fixed patterns.”


-- Bruce Lee


“Variety is the spice of life”

flow dimension shaded. psychology

For several months we have explored many human factors/conditions that contribute to higher levels of focus and flow (Flow Assets) and those factors/conditions that inhibit flow (Flow Liabilities).

All of these tools, when put to consistent use—even mastered—have a common theme best described as “routinized” or “habituated.”

Such baked in behaviors help you achieve that wonderful stage of “Unconscious Competence” discussed in Toolkit #1, where you no longer need to think about the task or skill at hand—where you can take your hand off the wheel and let everything happen automatically. Your “titanium habits” have arrived!

But with any highly skilled and focused performer, work, life, and even hobbies can become redundant, stale, even antiquated, unless you do the unthinkable—disrupt your own status quo.

As with most truths, we run into paradox… In this case, as you acquire new insights, gain new skills, and build new flow inducing habits, it can be, from time to time, advantageous to change it up, break the pattern, and challenge your methods in order to see your craft anew. Doing so not only staves off boredom but also sets the stage for innovation and even higher levels of engagement and performance.

Disruptive experiments such as writing with your non-dominant hand, or driving to the store using a new route, quickly reminds us that there are different—even more refined ways of doing things. They also remind us that change it tough.

But disrupting our patterns and methods re-engages our conscious attention. It introduces variety and opens new possibilities for future action. Doing so keeps us connected to our broader environments—environments that offer new challenges that have much to teach us.

My favorite humorist, Mark Twain, tells the story of a wild-west saloon he once visited where the billiard table was severely crooked—making the competition between patrons quite interesting. Billiards on a perfectly flat table, he reasoned, offered nothing more than an ordinary game. But to play on a crooked table—with so many new challenges and strategies required for success—made the game that much more complex and fun. No one wanted to fix the billiard table. The new challenges were compelling. New skills emerged as the players adapted to the disrupted table.

But why wait for a crooked table. It can be to your advantage to disrupt these habit patterns yourself, not just for the inherent blessing of variety, but also for the larger goal of being open to new ideas, methods, and tactics that can take your game to the next level.

In his best selling book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” Marshall Goldsmith reminds us that no matter how much you have achieved in the past, to succeed at higher levels, you have to acquire new skills, explore new challenges, and refine your approach. Knowing this takes a proactive mindset. A few cases in point:

After dominating the men’s golf tour for several years, Tiger Woods decided to do the unthinkable and change his grip. Knowing this would most likely hurt his #1 ranking in the short-term, he did it anyway seeing the long-term payoff. As usual, these changes not only upped his game but also moved the entire Bell Curve—making it that much more challenging for the rest of the tour players to catch up.

World-renowned rock n roll drummer Neal Peart (RUSH) did the same when he hired a classical instructor to help him disrupt his signature drumming style to learn a more organic and classic style—a new toolkit for his already incredible repertoire.

And after 40 years on screen and stage, dramatic/comedic actor Rob Lowe hired an acting coach to help him explore strategies for authentically playing roles of mentally and physically challenged characters—roles he had never tried before.

In each case, exceptional performers recognize that even when they are at the top of their game—fully engaged using hard-wired skills—they can ever rest on their laurels for long. Instead, they, and we, must adapt and innovate or be left behind.

Stated succinctly by former General Electric CEO Jack Welch: “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near."

But don’t get too nervous, you can begin to disrupt and innovate in small ways by:

  • Reading new and different perspectives in your craft—ones that challenge your current thinking. Challenging assumptions can help you see new possibilities.
  • Be passionate about deconstructing current methods and processes. Ask yourself: Is this method/process still relevant? How can I improve this?
  • Study unorthodox people who excel in your craft. Make note of their strategies.
  • Ask trusted colleagues to critique your methods, process, and style. What are their recommendations?
  • Take the above point even further and request they serve as your personal board of directors. Periodically ask them what do they see that you don’t?

While Finding Your Flow is much like William James’s metaphor, comparing human behavior to wagon wheels in the mud (where driving more and more produces deeper and deeper patterns), it is important to recognize the balance that must be struck between harnessing best practices and exploring new methods.

If you can live with this wonderful paradox: mastering flow inducing skills while seeking fresh and new approaches, you will have obtained one of the great keys to sustaining flow over the long-term: innovation!


  • Review the questions above and identify one or more strategies you can employ to initiate novelty and variety for the sake of disruption and innovation.
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