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Flow

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A lighthearted presentation on the psychological phenomenon that makes programming fun: Flow.

A lighthearted presentation on the psychological phenomenon that makes programming fun: Flow.


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  • 1. FLOW The Psychology of Programming Erik Ralston BIS BoF February 18th, 2010 1
  • 2. What is Flow? 2
  • 3. What is Flow? A psychological state of high performance concentration Often experienced during applied creativity (art, music, programming) Generally a “happy” or “ecstatic” state for the participant Identified by Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi (me-HIGH chick-sent-me-HIGH-ee) Characterized by absentmindedness Merging of action and awareness Narrowing of external perception Loss of time perception 3
  • 4. Who uses flow? Athletes – Sports psychology is about combining mental and physical technique to achieve flow. 4
  • 5. Who uses flow? Musicians – Sight-reading and improvisational performance rely on merged thought and action. 5
  • 6. Who uses flow? Game Designers – Flow provides the positive emotions associated with game experiences. 6
  • 7. Who uses flow? Martial Artists – Mushin – “No Mind” – Chinese word for zen- like mental state in combat and practice 7
  • 8. What is like FLOW (but not)? Fascination – The total perception of only a single stimulus 8
  • 9. What is like FLOW (but not)? Highway Hypnosis – The mental state achieved during driving (or other tasks) releasing the conscious mind from repetition 9
  • 10. What is like FLOW (but not)? Mania – A psychotic state of racing thought Stems from dysfunction in the brain Bi-Polar patients “enjoy” mania Manic individuals often stop taking drugs in order to return to “the high” 10
  • 11. How do I “Use The FLOW”? To a certain extent, flow is about overwhelming the mind Immersive – Activity must be intense and multi-faceted Automaticity – Details of actions are sub-conscious Instant Gratification – Feedback is immediate Incremental progress is immediately perceptible Familiarity – Do it using a language & technology you know Comfort – Good ergonomics, personalized surroundings, and full stomach Listen to music 11
  • 12. The Flow Channel 12
  • 13. Experience & Flow 13
  • 14. Flow Channel & Learning 14
  • 15. What stops FLOW? Confusion (No Control) - I don’t know why or what I am doing Coercion (No Control) – I don’t WANT to do what I’m doing Frustration (No Rewards) – What I do doesn’t help! Boredom (No Challenge) – One tunes out during menial tasks, they don’t flow! 15
  • 16. How does FLOW help programming? Connects coding to happiness; making it exciting not boring Integrates thinking and coding into one mental process Allows intuitive parts of brain to manage complexity 16
  • 17. Addicted to Flow Flow causes “workaholics” and video game addiction Drugs seek to replicate what Flow does naturally Do not choose Flow instead of life 17
  • 18. How does PNNL promote FLOW? Policies for employee engagement Control - “At work, do your opinions seem to count” Challenge - “In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?” Reward (Extrinsic) – “In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?” Reward (Intrinsic) - “At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?” 18
  • 19. Questions? 19
  • 20. THANK YOU! And May The Flow Be With You 20