State of flow in a Portland coffee shop

Erica and I drove down from Victoria to Portland with her dad two days ago and we found ourselves sitting at a quintessential Portland pizza place called Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty. It was Portland in that it was low key, but the food was a bit full of itself. For example, Salami was called Saluni. Still delicious though.

Joining us was Erica’s twin sister Chloe, and her boyfriend Kevin. Kevin is a potential Trekdek co-founder that I’ve been bouncing ideas off. We only recently began talking about his role in Trekdek during my last few weeks in Egypt. It was difficult to stay in touch in the midst of an internet outage in Egypt and my beach hopping in Thailand, but we finally got the chance to sit down and chat in person

There were 5 people at the table. For my purpose, it might as well been just Kevin and I. We immediately begin to talk about the potential for Trekdek and how it could become the next billion dollar business (I never said we were realistic). Though it was bad table manners, I pretty much ended up ignoring everybody else. I only ended up saying a few words to them, “Could you pass the saluni?”

The next day I met with the founder of Supportland a Portland based startup that is replacing the punch card with a common swipe card that could be used at multiple businesses. It is pretty cool stuff. Why was I meeting with him? Well, Kevin is also working at Supportland and Michael was initially worried about a conflict of interest. However, that was about 5% of the conversation. The other 95% was talking about start-ups, Trekdek, Supportland, investment strategies, travel, and how work sucks. It was pretty awesome. Again, I didn’t notice anyone else hanging out at Albina Street Cafe.

The most trusted source on the Internet, Wikipedia, defines flow as
“completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task.”

I achieved this state of flow twice within 48 hours of arriving in Portland. I rarely achieved that state of flow while teaching or working in a government office. The state of flow is the exact opposite of the mind-numbing work performed a la Office Space. Richard Florida, an economist who wrote The Rise of the Creative Class, believes the new economy is divided between the creative class (engineers, artists, entrepreneurs, musicians, small business owners, etc) and the non-creative class (service and factory workers, office admin people, etc). The creative class tends to be happier, live in nice places, and generally earn more money. The non-creative class are engaged in lower paying menial work. It is this transition to the creative economy that is exacerbating the huge income inequality that is currently prevailing in the US. Florida believes the solution is to turn these non-creative class jobs into creative ones.

I fully believe this to be true and many companies, at least in theory, are trying to empower their employees and letting them exercise their creative faculties to the benefit of the company and the employees. The employees create additional value for the company, and in general, the employees are happier for it and in theory, are better compensated. Even Subway has acknowledged this idea by calling their employees “Sandwich Artists.” Whether or not Subway employees are actually encouraged to employ their creative faculties is another story, but at least they are on the right track.

Sometimes I wonder if its possible to trace back all happiness to the state of flow. Maybe eating dinner with family encourages a state of flow. Maybe religion is a means of channeling spiritual flow. Maybe political rallies, concerts, and football games foster a collective flow. It is Avatar’s “aiwa” and Buddhism’s Nirvana. It is Einstein’s eureka and and Thoureau’s Walden. It is perhaps the Portland coffee shop.

-Dale

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Shenny on March 2, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    Welcome back to the states! Great post, Dale. It looks like TrekDek is moving along smoothly and quickly!

    Reply

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