I.2 What is Groupflow?
Listening to a live performance of a top-level orchestra is a magical experience. With closed eyes, their bodies swinging in synch, the musicians are in flow with the music and with each other, while their hands fly over their instruments, expressing the emotions flowing through their brains, producing heaven for their audience. Without having to look at each other, simply by listening to each other’s playing, they know what comes next, and how to respond to new cues. Through decades of training, but also through shared passion, values, empathy, and compassion, they have become one. Such an orchestra is an exemplar of an entangled group in flow.
Groupflow is not restricted to musicians playing together in a symphony orchestra or a jazz band. The construction workers building two temporary hospitals with 2500 beds for Covid19 patients in Wuhan in just ten days, or the researchers at the 49 pharmaceutical companies working on a vaccine for Covid19 at a frenetic pace are similarly in groupflow. Any team delivering top performance without knowing if it will succeed is in flow.
Members of high-performing organizations are entangled and play together like musicians in an orchestra. Whether it is programmers in the Linux opensource project, construction workers building the replacement for the collapsed highway bridge in Genoa in less than two years or building a Covid-19 hospital in Wuhan, or pharmaceutical researchers working around the clock to find a vaccine for Covid-19, they are all in flow as a group under huge stress to deliver as quickly as possible, highly uncertain if they will succeed in reaching their extremely ambitious goal, but at the same time energized as members of a unique team of creative and creating individuals, giving their best, more than their best, to deliver as a team what they never could achieve as individuals.
In one of his last interviews, Steve Jobs said: “Making great products is hard. But what’s really hard is making a great team that will continue to make great products”. Ten years after the death of Steve Jobs, Apple is still humming along, cranking out one blockbuster product after another as the World’s most valuable company. How can one build such an organization that supports high-performing teams lasting for decades? While a world-class orchestra or Apple are examples of organizations operating in groupflow over decades, the same state can also be reached spontaneously, as in the examples of building a hospital in ten days, or a bridge in two years. Groupflow is analogous to the concept of Wu Wei (无为), which originates in ancient Chinese philosophy. Wu Wei means “effortless action”, “non-action”, and “going with the flow” and is a key concept of Chinese Taoist philosophy. It describes a state of unconflicting personal harmony, free-flowing spontaneity, and passive mindfulness.
Groupflow leverages the “wisdom of swarms”, distinguishing it from the “madness of crowds” by combining the creative output of intrinsically motivated people into a final product that is far more than the sum of its parts. As we will see later in the book, this is very different from the negative entanglement that gets groups of people together in mobs such as the mafia or engaging in a pyramid scheme.
In two decades of research at MIT and elsewhere, our team has developed AI-based algorithms and software to empower individuals to measure their own emotions, their networking structure, and their interaction dynamics as individuals, and when working together in teams. The goal is to automatically redirect and channel emotional energy, to enhance communication within organizations to create high-performing, happy, resilient, entangled teams collaborating in groupflow. Happy employees are better employees, leading to more loyal and satisfied customers, rapid growth, and more profits. Happiness does not mean hedonistic, sex and drug-fueled parties and exorbitant salaries, but employees working together intrinsically motivated in a job that gives them meaning and fulfillment, in a culture of mutual respect, humility, and openness.
Groupflow can be greatly boosted by AI and machine learning. Small patterns invisible to the naked eye of the individual can be recognized by the computer and be combined into global insights helping individuals to become entangled with their team members. For instance, the way how leaves of a plant – we experimented with mimosa pudica and the dancing plant codariocalyx motorius – move in response to somebody passing by, will indicate in what emotional state the person is in. This leaf movement would not be visible to the naked eye, and not recognizable to the computer camera through a single measurement. Only by combining a large number of measurements of plant leaf movements triggered by many different people walking by the plant, and then analyzing the plant reaction through electrical sensors and image recognition with machine learning and AI, are computers capable of recognizing this pattern.
In another example, by combining the hidden e-mail communication patterns of all members of a department we are able to measure the satisfaction of the members of the department, and tell them how they can change their communication behavior to become happier and more productive, while at the same time increasing the satisfaction of their customers. The goal is to create an AI-enabled environment for groupflow, which has as its prerequisite the state of mutual entanglement, a shared context where participants are aligned in thinking and acting, capable of communicating with few words, just by reading non-verbal and verbal communication signals. This reading of non-verbal communication is augmented by AI, with the computer analyzing the way how people interact, and calculating a forecast of how successful, happy, and ethical the product of the teamwork will be, thus offering participants the opportunity for corrective action, leading to a better end product. For instance, showing the employees of a company how much they are entangled, and what communication pattern has increased the satisfaction of their customers in the past, will significantly increase customer satisfaction in the future. We call this process “virtual mirroring”, it has been employed and tested successfully in many projects. For instance, we have been measuring the happiness of employees with smartwatches through the way how they move their bodies, which through virtual mirroring has increased their happiness. We also have been improving ethical behavior, the performance of star employees, and reduced dissatisfaction of employees by tracking the hidden signals in their e-mail communication. All of these examples will be discussed in detail later in the book.