Going with the Co-Flow

Mindcamp Random

by Dr. Marc and Samantha Hurwitz


Think about a time when you were working on something and were so productive, so creative, so ‘into it’, that you lost all track of time.

That perfect state of absorption was named ‘flow’ by the noted psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (also famous for his difficult to pronounce name which sounds like: Me-high-e Chick-sent-me-high-e).

Athletes call this state being ‘in the zone’, musicians might say ‘in the groove’ but, regardless of the words you use, flow is characterized by a total immersion in the task, a heightened awareness of the things that contribute to higher performance, and, most significantly, the achievement of extraordinary results.

Flow comes from the era of the ‘Me generation’ rather than the ‘We generation’. It’s about peak individual performance.


In 1980, 20% of work was structured for teams. It was a time when Gordon Gekko, a fictional corporate raider from the movie Wall Street, said about working with others, “If you want a friend, get a dog.” Celebrated leadership gurus included Lee Iacocca, Jack Welch and Donald Trump, all espousing personal drive and achievement. Individual success was what mattered, and cutthroat competition was king.

“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” – Charles Darwin

By 2010, however, a whopping 80% of work was team-based. You need more than a dog to succeed today; you need to collaborate with other people. Whether in academia, business, or government, the complex problems of the 21st century require multiple minds and contributions.

Flow has given way to co-flow (a Sam & Marc neologism) as the optimal target. Co-flow is when what you achieve together with your partners is more than the sum of each individual’s talent; it is something bigger, better, and altogether different. To understand co-flow, think about a time when you had a fantastic partnership or team experience; the partnership was productive AND created new ideas, insights, inventions and directions. That’s co-flow!

The Beatles had it often. The best jazz musicians, too. The top teams in sports do. In fact, any truly successful collaboration has the elements of co-flow. So what are the elements? How do you get better collaborations?

In the HBR classic article, Evidence-Based Management (Pfeffer, P. & Sutton R., January, 2006), the authors used the U.S. women’s soccer team of the early 2000’s as an example of a maximum performance team. Some of the factors that made the team great included high levels of communication, understanding, and mutual respect. According to psychologist R. Keith Sawyer, there are 10 factors linked to exceptional collaborations including having a compelling mission, listening, building on the positive, personal control over the environment, familiarity, and equal participation. We agree, but this is still only part of the puzzle.

Let’s start with when to collaborate. Research tells us:

Work individually when ALL of these conditions are met

  • The problem is simple or extremely hard
  • It only requires the expertise of one person
  • The solution is straightforward to execute

Collaborate as a team when ANY of these apply

  • The problem is of moderate to hard difficulty
  • It requires the expertise of many people
  • Buy-in from multiple stakeholders is required to execute the solution

Dr Marc and Samantha Hurwitz presented Finding Your G-Spot at Mindcamp 2013. Marc and Sam will continue to explore how to get excellent collaboration and co-flow in their newsletter, available by signing up at www.flipskills.com.