I.5.3 Beeflow, Antflow and Leechflow
The flow experience per se can be reached in many areas, from sports, art, and music, to professional teamwork. Csikszentmihalyi even describes criminals enjoying their burglaries, and the extreme example of the Marquis de Sade enjoying his sadistic behavior. On the flip side, perfectly legal flow activities might cause pain to some of the involved parties, for instance the dog and cock fights in some parts of the World, the bull fighting in Spain, or the boxing matches in the US and elsewhere. It is therefore worthwhile dividing flow experiences in three different categories sorted by positivity for the involved parties: first, the enjoyable experience of creating something radically new that has never been there before, second the gratification derived from competing against others or oneself in sports ranging from mountain climbing to computer games, and third the pleasure one gets from ripping off others, leading to pain for the losers and delight for the winners.
table 2. Beeflow, antflow, leechflow
Bee hives are entangled organizations with the bees being masters of entanglement. Bees communicate through the waggle dance, by touching each other’s bodies rhythmically, similarly to jazz musicians swinging their bodies to the tune of their music. Bees are also good for everyone. Not only are they producing honey which is widely loved and was the main sweetener for millennia, honey also has valuable medical properties. But most importantly, bees are absolutely essential as pollinators, pollinating up to 80% of all cultivated crop plants. Without bees there would be no apples, no cherries, no peaches, no nuts, and no herbs. Without bees, life as we know it would be impossible.
Ant hives are similarly entangled organizations capable of amazing feats, self-organizing to solve complex tasks, for instance creating pheromone trails to food sources and herding larvae of other insects to drink the fluid that these larvae secrete. However, if two ants from two different ant hives meet, a fight to death will arise. This means that ants are immensely competitive. While they collaborate inside their hive, they conduct epic battles between different hives. For instance, the invasive Argentine ant forms super colonies with up to one trillion individuals in Southern Europe and the US. At the border between the super colonies there is constant warfare, for example at the border between two super colonies in Southern California researchers estimate that up to thirty million ants per year die in monumental battles.
Leeches are unentangled, each fighting for their blood meal on their own. Leeches are parasites, that attach their suckers to their prey animal, and feed on the blood of their host. In the front of their mouth, they have three teeth, which they slice through the skin of the host. Once attached, they use a combination of mucus and suction to stay attached to the skin of their host, while consuming their blood meal. While leeches have been used for medical bloodletting at least for 2500 years, they carry parasites in their digestive system, and bacteria, viruses and other parasites from previous blood meals can survive within a leech for months and infect the next host. Although leeches have limited medical use, life without leeches, without having to worry about a leech bite in leech infested water would be a better life. If bloodletting really is necessary – most of the time it is not, more people have been killed through excessive bloodletting than have been saved – this can also easily be done by the doctor in other ways.
There are also human bees, ants, and leeches that offer valuable lessons about flow and entanglement. Human bees are people who derive their joy and meaning in life from creating new things. It seems there is a subgroup of the overall population that draws particular pleasure from creating new things and gaining new insights. Researchers have found that for some people, creative insights, the “eureka moment” triggers the same neural reward as when we eat food we like, have an orgasm, or consume addictive substances . In other words, some people experience creative insights as intrinsically rewarding. This explains the puzzle solvers, starving artists, underpaid researchers, and innovators tinkering with new ideas in their garages. Human bees are creators. Creating new things creates joy for the creator. While the creation process might include painful moments along the way, the joy at the end of the process, when the final product is there, more than pays for it. One of the main reasons for experiencing the joy of creation is the flow experience. For instance flow is prominent when making music. This starts with little children who experience flow in music learning and making . Flow is experienced when composing music, and the flow experience is the main motivation for musicians playing together in bands and orchestras. Other typical human bees might be inventors, authors, painters, sculptors, researchers, and engineers. They pollinate society with new ideas, ensuring innovation and progress. Bees create positive entanglement among themselves by creating human creative swarms.
However not everybody draws intrinsic satisfaction from gaining creative insights. There is a large(r) part of the population that does not like change, but likes to follow the example of others, and would like to keep everything as safe and solid as it “has always been in the good old times”. Those are the ants. Ants are (most of the time) not hurting anybody, but they are not creating anything new. Ants are followers. Their happiness comes from being in company with others like them. Human ants like to aggregate in large crowds and occasionally demonstrate the madness of crowds. A prominent example of human ants following each other were the nearly 500,000 participants of the Sturgis Harvey Davidson motorcycle festival in August 2020, flouting Covid19 distancing rules, and leading according to one study to an additional 260,000 Covid19 infections, 19 percent of the US total of that month, and resulting in 12,2 billion dollars of additional public health costs. People investing in bitcoin and other pyramid schemes for speculative purposes are today’s successors of the Dutch investors creating the black tulip craze in the 17th century in Holland, where prizes of black tulip bulbs spiked to astronomical heights before crashing and losing any value. When buying a highly prized unique black tulip bulb, the Dutch investor probably reached the flow state. Ants can also reach the flow state just being on their own. For instance, playing computer games provide a pleasurable flow experience. Researchers investigating flow of computer gamers found that indeed the feeling of flow was a key reason for online gaming addiction.
Human leeches are different from bees and ants by being obsessed about getting as much money and power as possible, and do whatever it takes to grab it. Leeches are bloodsuckers. Their happiness comes from winning the competition, and getting everything for themselves. Human leeches are the people that are trying to profit from others, by bending the rules to their own advantage. Their goal in life is to amass as much wealth and money as they possibly can. They consume the honey of the bees and profit from their pollination and also milk the ants. Hedge fund managers, M&A bankers, and “activist investors” would be archetypical professions preferred by human leeches, for instance the investors of drug price gouging companies Valeant and Turing Pharmaceuticals . While a leech might get into flow, leeches destroy the entanglement of others. Leeches might reach groupflow for example by becoming the head of a mafia family.
Obviously, the world is neither black nor white, and we all possess attributes of all categories, and are sometimes bees, frequently ants, and if we get the opportunity, we might even behave like leeches. In every society there are taking leeches and giving bees. An entangled organization would like its members to be givers, not takers. A single selfish leech has the potential to destroy the entanglement of the swarm of bees. The goal is to make sure that in the end there are only bees in the group, and prospective leeches are turned into bees by making their parasitic behavior obvious to them. While it is up to each individual to decide their behavior, choosing to be a bee, an ant or a leech, their honest signals and virtual tribe memberships will give them away.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi does not distinguish if flow is reached as an individual, for instance as a lonely rock climber, or as a group, for instance being a member in a Jazz band. This book focuses on groupflow and what organizations and individuals can do to reach it. More precisely we will focus on beeflow, and what we can do to create groupflow in organizations to operate as creative swarms of bees. For instance, a great exemplar of group beeflow has been described by Dietmar Sachser in his book on theater flow . A theater ensemble reaches groupflow through many rehearsals, developing collective awareness and feeling as one unified whole. As German actor Fritzi Haberlandt says “It’s a form of intoxication that makes you happy.”