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Embracing Flow – when Capability meets Aspiration

Being ‘in the zone’ has been talked about a lot. And it’s a great place to be. But how do we get there? What is it, and what is the value being in it for event participants? And for event providers?

Well it turns out the flow zone is the ideal place to be, not just for an audience, but also for the organisers.

In our study of the worlds iconic events, we found they all had a few features in common. And one of these 7 elements is ‘FLOW’.

Whether it be participating in an Ironman, Running with the Bulls, watching the final holes at the Masters, or witnessing a TED Talk. Many people experience flow in these events.

These events capture our hearts and minds and create that special feeling, for in a moment in time.

A place where a flow state embraces us, creating powerful, influential events.

What is Flow?

‘Flow is the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. The experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great costs, for the sheer sake of doing it…’⁠ – Mihaly Csiksentmihalyi

Mr. Csiksentmihalyi (CHEEK-sent-me-HIGH-ee) is a brilliant researcher who has dedicated his life to exploring the psychology of optimal experiences. The findings of his breakthrough study called ‘Boredom and Anxiety’ should be included in a roadmap for any experience design. He found that by engaging in challenging experiences, with a clear purpose, participants could achieve deep, effortless involvement. Csiksentmihalyi found that people who are ‘in the flow’ are fully immersed in the activity, and they feel a profound sense of satisfaction.

As event promoters we all sell ‘engagement’, so enabling your participants to get into a state of ‘flow’ is the ultimate place to be.

I believe understanding flow is critical for any of us who are providing experiences. It is critical for…

  1. when we are recruiting participants,

  2. in their actual experience, and,

  3. in their reflection on the event.

The more we can understand our events ‘flow experiences’, the greater the influence we will have.


A Platform for Aspiration

As event promoters we must provide some aspiration, otherwise the motivation to register or attend will not be sufficient. That motivation in our audience may take many forms, but is often related to functional needs (access, coordination, organisation), fulfilling an emotional or social need (enjoyment, pleasure, togetherness, or social status). Or it may be a a higher level, a need for self fulfilment, of achievement. For example finishing an endurance event, raising the funds for a charity, or the sense of purpose a community or personal development (or even trade) event provides.

So as event designers we must provide the platform for this aspiration.

As Csiksentmihalyi found flow occurs when a challenge has a clear objective, which focuses us intently, that is neither over or under our aspirations, in which we are capable of achieving. Think about this for your event.

Flow is where our capability meets our aspiration. 

Flow occurs when we are:

  1. Intensely focused on an activity

  2. Of our own choosing, that is

  3. Neither under-challenging nor over-challenging, that has

  4. A clear objective, and that provides

  5. Immediate feedback.

Flow and the challenge / ability paradox

We must provide a platform for aspiration, and at the same time, as event promoters we must provide the means to achieve this challenge.

This is critical.

A Channel of Aspiration

We need to make sure someones percieved capability is just enough to meet their aspiration. Your event can’t be too much of a challenge that your particpants don’t feel capable. But we need a challenge. The norm is no good. After all, it is an ‘event’ we are offering. Keep pushing the challenges, and then provide the capability. To find what I call a ‘channel of aspiration’.

Flow is where our capability meets our aspiration. Just. 

Studies on motivation show we are motivated when a challenge is just a bit more than where we are currently at

(but not too much more).

Decision Points – Moments of Impact

It is highly likely the decision to 1. Participate in your event., and 2. Participate again, will be based on a persons perception of their capability to meet their aspiration/challenge.

We seek challenge, we are driven by purpose. But, we are also held back by the fear of failure.

1. Recruitment

When we design our experience we should be aware of our audiences ability to experience it. Their physical, psychological, social readiness and ability. As many studies have proven, our perceived self efficacy is most often the primary determinant of whether we do something.

Self efficacy (or confidence) is defined by famous psychologist Albert Bandura as one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task. Evidence tells us it is a critical determinant of whether someone will participate in your event.

2. Reflection

And, when experiencing the event, people need to feel some positive gains. People who don’t feel some measure of success are not likely to come back, or reflect upon it positively. If you can provide even just a few moments of flow, your work is done. It doesn’t have to occur across a whole experience (see ‘What Are You Famous For’ and the ‘Peak End Rule’) – just create ‘Moments of Impact’.  This success may be defined in numerous ways, but make sure you are aware of this calculation in play.

So we need to provide a channel of aspiration. The necessary support on our participants journey. This may be in functional support, emotional or social value, or support toward self fulfilment.

‘Elements of Value’ help us to do more, feel more, belong more, or be more.

Elements of Value examples

So how do we bring Flow to our event?

We will look for the Flow zone as we invent or reinvent your event.

The Experience Design Playbook designs journeys that provide a channel of aspiration as we MAP the event experience.

We need to offer this Channel of Aspiration, with Moments of Impact. Play with the ‘challenge’ and ‘ability’ dials. Keep pushing the challenges, and then provide the capability. Let’s talk about how you can create Flow Experiences.

I’m still running the popular ½ day Experience Design sprint workshops, creating more influential, successful events. Let’s talk more about your event or customer experience.

Next week we will cover how to create Flow at Scale.

The challenge we have as event designers, is to find that sweet spot, where the challenge we set will be aspirational enough, to motivate enough people, but also be achievable enough for as many as we need. We need to set the bar high enough so that we are offering the opportunity to do more, feel more, to be more. But we can’t set it too high or we may be left with a small group of capable people.

And, we cover how to keep putting the Aspiration out in front of your audience. To keep progressing and staying relevant. / + 61 423 359354

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