Today on The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about how to foster a state of flow in startup teams.

Sometimes, we are completely immersed in an activity that we don’t realize how much time flies by. This experience is a mental state that psychologists refer to as flow. 

In today’s episode of the show, Steli and Hiten talk about what it means to be in a state of flow, examples of being in a state of flow, what flow state is all about and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic

00:35 Why this topic was chosen.

01:39 What it means to be in a state of flow.

02:00 Examples of being in a state of flow.

02:30 What flow means to Hiten.

02:50 How you can have influence over people’s states.

03:49 The kinds of people Hiten likes to work with.

04:43 What flow state is all about.

07:17 The stress can affect founders’ flow.

3 Key Points:

  • Flow is when everything you do feels so easy. 
  • You can be watching TV and be in a state of flow.
  • You can have influence over people’s states.


Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.


Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah.


Steli Efti: And today on the Startup Chat, we’re going to talk about flow states. What are they? Why are they valuable to you? But also more importantly, the thing I wanted to talk about is how to set up your team and your company in a way where those people get as much into a state of flow as possible. The reason why I wanted to talk to you about this, I went to the gym with a new found friend, a young entrepreneur from Switzerland who just moved to New York and we were talking about work and all the challenges and this, that and the other, and eventually he was telling me how everything in his life, he’s trying to design around being in a state of flow for as long of a period of time as possible in each day. Then he was like, “Flow is such an important thing to me. It’s such a fundamental thing to my happiness and my mental health. I feel flow needs to be a human right. Like everybody needs to have the rights to be as much in a state of flow as possible.” I had to laugh about that statement, but then it stayed in the back of my mind. I was like, “Yeah there’s real power in being on a state of flow.” So I thought that it might be really useful for us to unpack that. So first let me ask you, Hiten, what is… For those that don’t know, how would you even describe being in, quote unquote, flow, on a state of flow?


Hiten Shah: Things just feels so easy, whatever you’re doing right now. They feel so easy, you feel like you can just keep doing it. Another example is, that people bring up about flow is, you don’t realize how much time has passed. So in a way when you’re watching TV, you are in flow, so you don’t know how much time has past. So I think flow is just the state that you can get into. A lot of people talk about it because there’s a whole book on it and stuff like that about how, it’s like this a place where you’re learning but it’s not too hard and it’s not too easy. I want to call bullshit on that, and say like, you can be watching TV and be in flow, which is something super easy for you to be able to do. Right? For most people. To me, flow is just like, I’m literally happy and satisfied with what I’m doing right now and I feel like I can do it for very long time at this pace. That’s one reason why when you talk about like, “Oh, your team and flow and this kind of stuff,” I don’t control anyone’s flow, Steli. I really don’t. I don’t control anyone’s flow. I really don’t.


Steli Efti: Well, you may or may not. You may or may not control it, but you can have influence over people’s states.


Hiten Shah: I get it. I get it. I mean, as somebody who manages people, I’m like, okay, I get it. But the best I can do is give them freedom to work, and at the same time provide help and assistance when they’re blocked. And so my whole framework on this for other people is simply like, I like to work with people who… And I like to, that doesn’t mean everyone I work with is like this. That’s okay. I like to work with people who can be given a lot of freedom to do whatever they need to do to figure out the how of their job. Right? Like how are they going to do their job? That’s pretty much their problem. If they are blocked, I just want them to talk to me if I am their manager. Or if I’m in the company and even if I’m not their manager and they need help, I’m happy to help them. Right? That’s it for me, because what I believe is that that someone’s flow state is someone else’s flow state. I don’t have much right to come in there and say, “This is flow for you, this is not flow for you.” Or even have a lot of influence on it. Because at the end of the day we have our own habits, we have our own way of working. Like for example, if you want to go walk your dog once an hour because you want to and that breaks you out of flow, is that my problem or your problem? Do I have any control over it or do you? One, it’s not my problem. Two I have no control over. If you need to do that for whatever reason that you think you need to do that, that’s on you. And if that breaks your flow, what am I going to say? I’m going to say the obvious, which is walk your dog every two hours. Not every hour. Right? I know I’m getting pretty prescriptive, but flow state is all about the things that an individual is doing that’s either helping them get stuff done and be happy doing it and satisfied or not. And so if you complain that you’ve got to walk your dog every hour, I mean you’ve got to walk your dog every hour. That’s a complaint, complaining about it. If you’re saying you can’t get in flow or work is suffering, all right, fix it. But what can I do? That’s what I really think about this topic. I like the topic, I do feel influence, but to me influence is pretty straight forward, which is, does the person have enough freedom for their role in order to achieve the results for the business without feeling like so they’re being micromanaged? Without feeling like there are constraints put on them that they don’t want? Such as meeting and lots of meetings or something like that.


Steli Efti: Right. That makes sense. What about the goals that you set? Right? In many companies if the people that they hire, if they give those people… If you hire somebody and you’d give that person a task that’s impossible for them to accomplish, right? Within an hour you have to double our traffic. Just go, you can do whatever you want. You have creative freedom for the next hour.


Hiten Shah: Do I have unlimited amount of capital, to do it? I’m just kidding.


Steli Efti: No.


Hiten Shah: Yeah, go ahead.


Steli Efti: No, no.


Hiten Shah: There’s constraints.


Steli Efti: No. But even if, there are constraints, right? I mean, the constraint is that you’re giving them something that they cannot do either because they don’t have the experience, the resources, the time, whatever. Right? You’re giving them… You’re setting goalposts where it’s not just stretching their ability, it is breaking it, right? Or on the reverse, you set no expectations, right? There are people that work in teams, or with vantages where they go, “It doesn’t really matter. Nobody expects much from me,” right? “Nobody really looks if I’m very productive or not, or if I have impact or… Nobody, as long as I show up at work and I seem busy, everybody’s happy and it doesn’t really matter.” Both these things can be really soul crushing to people. And I think that both of them lead to a not never getting into a state of work flow right? Now, obviously everybody’s responsible for their own life. They could just go and find another job or reject these goals and propositions or challenge them and all that. But I have found that a lot of startups, what they do is they’ll set these super hard goals to accomplish. Everybody will stretch way beyond what they’re capable of. They may reach them or may not reach them, but there’s always kind of a burnout or crash afterwards, and then there’s going to be the next kind of sprint that really stretches every way above their possibilities. It’s rare to see a TIMO structure. It’s very rare that startups will set such low goals that nobody really cares and nobody really feels any stress. But you definitely have this like, not just pushing everybody beyond their boundaries, but pushing them so far away that they’re just going to crash. How do you feel about that? What’s been your experience with that? Or how does that relate to basically empowering people to get into a state where they do their best work and it’s easy to do and it feels like time flies and it feels like they’re accomplishing a lot because they’re in the zone and staying in the zone?


Hiten Shah: I think folks are really a bad at setting goals. That’s really where the start of it is for me around some of the stuff, which is like if you set unrealistic goals, of course, you’re not going to achieve them, and people aren’t going to be happy at work. The way I think goals fit into this is literally setting realistic enough goals or even saying when something’s a stretch goal saying it’s a stretch goal, or setting three different sort of goalposts for that goal and saying this would be acceptable outcome. Here’s a stretch goal and here’s what would be amazing before you get into something and then going after it. That’s one way to think about it. Like doubling traffic in one day, not necessarily possible, but saying that, “Hey, I’d love for us to get 25% more traffic today than we did yesterday.” It’s probably still a stretch goal, but it’s possible. Especially if you just decide that in the morning. I think a lot of things with goals are also how much preparation time you have for them. I think that’s something that’s very underappreciated. How much prep time do I have to reach this goal? Not how much time do I have to reach this goal? How much prep time did I get to reach this goal? I think that, that like when does the clock start? Is another example of this, and that can cause you to start preparing and things like that. So then when you’re actually actively looking to reach the goal, you could be in a flow state, because you’ve had enough prep time and you feel like you’re up to the task.


Steli Efti: Yeah. I feel like the goals’ thing is one where we probably should do an episode on it. Like how to set better goals, what mistakes to avoid, this such a big topic. But I do believe that at least on an individual level, like even switching away from the team level, it is a good question to ask yourself, “Am I in the zone or in the flow? Or, when was the last time that I felt that it was really in the zone? Like that it was really in the flow of things, especially at work?” Let’s just focus on the work side of things. If the answer to that question is, “I don’t remember or not anytime recent,” then there’s a big opportunity to tackle and maybe to ask yourself, when was the most productive time I’ve ever had? What was the time that I had that I felt like I was really productive and happy? I was productive and didn’t feel like I am overloading myself, right? Putting on too much, doing too much. Just feeling like I’m doing just the right amount, just more than I’m comfortable, but at a pace that I could do for very long periods of times with incredible determination and focus and persistency and what did it take for you to have these times and how can you reproduce that today? Because I think that many, many founders, many startup team members, many people that work in a challenging environment, they struggle really getting to long periods of being in the zone and being in the flow, and they’re either out of it because they overstretched or out of it because they’re under stretched, and just finding that right balance for you, whatever that means or the right components that you need and things that you need in your life, and your day, in your work setup to get in there I think is a really good exercise really to make a massive difference in how much you are able to accomplish. All right. There’s a book I know, but I don’t remember what the book is called, but probably if you type in flow state book, you’re going to find it in Amazon or somewhere. There’s a very famous book I think, about this topic, and maybe if you find it tweet it to me and I’ll buy it and read it myself as well to get more knowledge as well about this. But I think this is it for us for this specific episode. Look out for the episode in the future, we will talk about all the mistakes people make when they set goals. Until then, I wish all of you as much states of flows and zones as possible.


Hiten Shah: See you.