Recently, a friend of mine came to me with frustration. Alex was doing his best to build a successful consulting practice, but he wasn’t closing enough new customers. In his mind, he was doing all the “right” things — networking, cold calling, following up with people he’d not spoken to in a while. He even went as far as to ask directly “what’s it going to take?” to try to close a deal.
Sometimes Alex’s outreach was too early, and people weren’t ready for his services. Other times Alex was late, and they had already hired another firm. Nothing was clicking, and the harder Alex pushed, the more forced his whole sales process felt, both to him and to his prospects. In short, Alex needed to get into the “flow” with his pipeline.
The concept of flow can take on many forms. Most commonly it’s referred to as being “in the zone” in terms of sports or other highly-focused activities. In this instance, the outside world seems to disappear, and the only thing that matters is the activity at hand. Other times, people talk about “going with the flow” — floating along the current of life, and giving up control of the present moment, where you are headed or when you might get there.
The challenge with these common concepts of flow is that they are passive. Those “lucky” enough to get in the “zone” just dive into the experience and ride it as long as they can. Truly “going” with the flow also means going along for the ride, letting go of expectations and embracing whatever shows up. There’s a magic and mystique about these experiences that puts us at the mercy of the moment and requires we give up our role in manifesting our own destiny.
The fact is, flow is not something that magically appears and calls us to adventure, just to disappear as mysteriously as it arrived. Instead, it’s around us all the time and can serve as a guide for optimizing our life experience.
Consider the activity of driving a car: you are the driver, and you have a destination you want to reach within a specific timeframe. Flow is all the information we use to get there quickly and safely. When we are ignorant of life’s flow (such as Alex was with his sales activities) it’s as if we are in traffic with a general understanding of what direction to head in, but without a map or any other tools to guide us. As a result, we turn down the wrong streets, hit dead ends, get stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, and generally find frustration and wasted time along the way.
However, if we are watching for the signals of how our life most naturally flows (and are open to following those signs), it can feel as if we have a real-time GPS system. Just as a Google Maps or Waze app monitors and adjusts to traffic conditions on the road, following the flow of our lives helps us to take the most optimized routes, find shortcuts, avoid congestion and obstacles, and take actions at the appropriate times.
When you are following the flow, things feel easier — not because you’ve surrendered control, but because you’ve found the path of least friction to accomplish your goal. Instead of ignoring or avoiding signs in an attempt to force a certain reality into being, you can recognize when the people and circumstances surrounding you are pointing you in a particular direction. Sometimes this reveals itself in new opportunities that allow you to turn a dream into reality. Other times, the flow shows up as passion or excitement about taking on a new project, learning a new skill, or making a significant life change.
Following the flow doesn’t mean you give up on your goals; instead, you pay attention to where the current is going and work with that flow for optimal effect. When you are in the flow, your goals don’t have to change, but your expectations regarding methods or time frames related to reaching those goals become more open — and therefore more responsive. If and when we do use force, it’s a conscious choice, for a specific purpose.
As we dug into Alex’s dilemma further on a rainy Silicon Valley afternoon, it was clear Alex was not in the flow with his sales pipeline, instead he was trying to force it. He was constantly changing lanes, gunning the engine and then breaking, with plenty of stress but no real sense of progress. Both flow and force are tools we can use to achieve our goals. While force is about exerting pressure on a situation to enact change, flow is about finding balance and ease.
With that in mind, all Alex needed to do to get into the flow of his sales was to build a process and model the milestones of his target customers. With this new system, he could identify where the flow was in terms of closing new clients by understanding with confidence when they were ready to be closed, and when they needed to achieve more before they would be ready.
Together, Alex and I identified the key elements of his customer journey and developed a list of five questions that, if answered with a yes, meant the client was ready to be closed. With these tools in hand, Alex was equipped with his own GPS and quickly discovered several prospects in his pipeline which fit those requirements. After a few phone calls, Alex was literally “in the money.”
This week, pay particular attention to where the flow is in your life and where it is lacking. Where are you attempting to force things into being? What are signals of flow you could be paying better attention to? What changes to your attitude and behavior can you make to redirect yourself into the flow?
“One of my teachers once said that the way you know you’re on the right path is that it works. Now, that doesn’t mean you don’t run into blocks and brick walls, but it does mean that you can find a way around them or find a way to change yourself or your project in order to find the flow again and have it work.” — James Redfield