Imagine being at your most productive and creative, but also at your happiest. This is achieved in a state called FLOW. In Positive Psychology, flow is a state when you are fully immersed in an activity, feeling energized, and completely absorbed in the moment.
All of us can achieve flow, but we wanted to find out how experts and high achievers get into flow, then use the data to benefit everyone. This year we asked a panel of 11 experts and high achievers what flow means to them and how their mindset and equipment play a part in bringing flow into their lives. We’ve been studying flow states to help design more meaningful experiences for people. As designers, the deeper we understand people, the better we can create experiences that empower and inspire them.
Join us on 11th March 2021 where we present the findings of our FLOW X DESIGN study. In the meantime, enjoy our interview with the ineffable Denys Baptiste.
Denys Baptiste is a Mercury Music Prize, and MOBA winning Jazz musician, composer, arranger, and educator.
“There are times when everything just comes into a moment, like a black hole collapsing and everybody is in the same spot.” Denys describes the moments when he’s performing where everyone seems to merge into a single entity. He expands; “When I’m on stage with my band, there is only us, we’re all part of one another. It’s a weird feeling, where you play and everything just falls into place, almost like telepathy. It all comes together in this moment, and it’s beautiful.”
Denys’ description of losing his sense of self is flow. The feeling of being in flow is often associated with this phenomenon – in a group environment, this can be accompanied by a feeling of merging with a team (M.Csikzantmihalyi, 2008). These moments, according to Denys, are what most musicians seek throughout their career, the esoteric instances of being lost in group flow.
Denys describes flow as the times when he steps out of himself – he allows himself to play rather than playing. He says, “the most creative experience comes out of this detachment”. This happens when things become automatic, your actions happen without even thinking about them (M.Csikzantmihalyi, 2008). Denys tells us when he’s in flow he becomes almost a spectator, but those creative moments only happen when he clears his mind.
“As creative people, we get in our own way. We need to actively detach from conscious thought. I don’t put any value on what I’m doing. I’m not judging it if it’s good or bad, and it’s that particular moment when I have the most creative experiences.”
It's a weird feeling, where you play and everything just falls into place, almost like telepathy. It all comes together in this moment, and it's beautiful
Denys has many instruments, including several saxophones, but a particular one from the 60s he describes as his other limb. He says, “I couldn’t do what I do without it. This is the centre of everything I do. If I lost it, or something happened to it, it would be like losing a child.”
He has been playing this particular sax for 20 years and knows it inside-out. After trying lots of other instruments, Denys realised that the little imperfections in this saxophone are incredibly valuable in him expressing his unique voice.
“There are instabilities that happen in all instruments because they’re made by people. They are not made by computers.”
It is also the only instrument that makes him truly happy when playing. “I have a favourite note on my instrument, and it’s E flat. If I play that note it makes me happy. Because when you play it, it’s like my bone structure resonates in a certain way.”
We also asked Denys what he does to help him reach flow states. He starts by eliminating any distractions that might take him out of the flow – his hands and instrument must be very clean and his area on the stage must be free of wires.
“I need some space where I’m by myself for at least half an hour before a gig. I just have to focus and allow myself to calm down.”
Denys says he doesn’t drink any alcohol before the performance and if time allows, he likes to have a nap to quieten his mind and help him be much more alert onstage. If he is in a rush or arrives late to a gig, he often performs mindfulness techniques to calm his thoughts – readying his mind for flow.
...when you get familiar, you’re almost a spectator - it's like magic and alchemy
Denys has soared in his development as a soloist and bandleader, earning enormous respect from his peers. His debut album on Dune Records earned him a Mercury Music Prize for Album Of The Year and a MOBO award for Best Jazz Act. With three decades as a professional musician – playing, arranging, and composing – Denys is also an educator. His approach to teaching focuses on helping others get into the state of mind to perform at the highest levels.
He proclaims, “Creative people get in their own way. To get [to flow], you need to practice – the techniques need to be engrained. At first, you think too much, but when you get familiar, you’re almost a spectator – it’s like magic and alchemy.”
Join Design Partners’ FLOW X DESIGN Master Class on 11th March. An opportunity to hear the insights of our 11 amazing experts and high achievers. We’ll reveal what flow really means to them, and the role that mindset and equipment plays. Plus, we’ll be exploring the implications of design in helping to achieve the highest levels of flow and happiness.