Kimmy Schmidt on the Ten Ways to Foster a Culture of Flow

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Do you have any of those annoying colleagues who dare to be consistent beacons of optimism? Whether it is a pre-coffee Monday morning or a post-lunch Friday afternoon, these individuals persistently seek new challenges and strive for self-development. I call them annoying because they push me to be better, even when I’m content with my current state of mediocrity. They are, what comedy fans may consider to be, a Kimmy Schmidt.

Kimmy Schmidt is the lead character in the Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The premise of the show is that Kimmy is saved from an underground bunker where she’d been held for 15 years by a cult leader who convinced her that the world had come to a nuclear end. We follow Kimmy as she re-acclimates to society with Pollyannaish positivity and a fierce determination to succeed.

Life beats you up, Titus. It doesn’t matter if you got tooken by a cult or you’ve been rejected over and over again at auditions. You can either curl up in a ball and die, or you can stand up and say we’re different. We’re the strong ones, and you can’t break us.—Kimmy Schmidt

People with Kimmy’s personality are internally driven by their sense of purpose and curiosity. They focus on tasks (versus rewards), finding the opportunity to build skills as the ultimate goal. In psychological terms, the “Kimmys” are considered to have autotelic traits; in the workplace, a team full of Kimmys is considered to be the perfect culture.

An advantage of autotelics/Kimmys is their ability to get into a state of flow, that feeling of being completely involved in what you are doing. As described in a TEDTalk by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, when you are fully captivated in an activity you don’t have enough attention left over to be distracted by gratuitous chatter. It is as if you are entering a state of euphoria where nothing else exists. There is a feeling of inner clarity, confidence that the task is attainable, and a loss of worries and concerns.

Not surprisingly, Csikszentmihalyi’s research has found that those who frequently experience flow are happier, more innovative, participate in more employee development, and have higher productivity. So for leaders, the question becomes how to generate workplace conditions where autotelics can flow. Here are ten things you can do:

  • Set well-defined goals
  • Provide clear and immediate feedback
  • Minimize distractions and overscheduling
  • Group teams according to shared interests, rather than ability
  • Introduce creative spatial arrangements—chairs, but no tables—to encourage standing and moving
  • Discourage competition
  • Emphasis the goal, while deemphasizing external rewards
  • Encourage the development of individual interests
  • Diligently battle against apathy and boredom
  • Institute a playground design: Charts for flow graphs, project summaries, brainstorming, results, open topics, etc.

If you are looking for a competitive advantage, it would be beneficial to find ways to increase the number of flow experiences within your organization. More flow will increase the effectiveness of your workplace, enhance team dynamics, and result in a better work product. It is also more constructive than isolating yourself in an underground bunker.

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