*This post has been co-authored with Dr. Gio Valiante, Rollins University high-performance psychologist, author, ”mental game” consultant to the Golf Channel and Golf Digest, and a consultant to many of the world’s greatest golfers, including Justin Rose, Camilo Villegas, and Bryce Molder.
As of late, much ink has been spilled on the relationship between golf and business as research has shown time and again that a significant percentage of business is done on or around golf courses.
Fans of the Economist, for example, now know that the combination of golf’s semi-egalitarian ways (i.e. old and young can play together and the handicapping system keeps play fair among uneven participants) and that the game’s four to five hour time window is the perfect platform for building business relationships.
And Forbes blogger, Cheryl Conner agrees: “Show up at the course by yourself and you’ll end up in a foursome with people you don’t know. When golfing 18 holes, you will have plenty of time to engage in conversations that will allow you to really get to know the other golfers in a way that LinkedIn and email will never provide.” Only long flights and travel adventures can evoke such intimacy with relative strangers.
Perhaps the greatest and most important overlap between business and golf is the peak performance state known as flow. In both golf and business, the state has been consistently linked to winning play.
In golf, my co-author, Dr. Gio Valiante, conducted a lengthy study of PGA Tour players and found that the worlds best players consistently play their best when in flow.
In his book, Golf Flow, Gio quotes a bevy of big names describing how the state raises the level of their game. When Adam Scott shot 62 at the 2014 Arnold Palmer Invitational, he said, “Today was just one of those days where the hole was a bit like a bucket.” Golfer Ben Herron said, “When not in flow, I see the lake beside the green; in flow I see the green beside the lake.”
And reflect on Tiger Woods’ two signature wins: the record-setting 15-shot US Open win at Pebble Beach, and his 12-shot victory at the 1997 Masters. Both can be attributed to flow. Of those two wins, Tiger said:
There comes a point in time when you feel tranquil, when you feel calm; you feel at ease with yourself. And those two weeks, I felt that way. I felt very at ease with myself. And for some reason, things just flowed. And no matter what you do, good or bad, it really doesn’t get to you. Even the days when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, for some reason, it doesn’t feel too bad; it’s just all right.
An interesting fact about flow: golfers who get into flow in their regular life have a better chance of getting into flow on the golf course. You think Matt Kuchar’s epic run over the past 4 years – which has seen him rise from 150th to 5th in the world rankings – is fueled by misery? From his ping pong and tennis matches, to actively raising his kids, to his business ventures, Matt’s life is one big autotelic flow state that starts and home and continues on the golf course.
In business, we find more of the same. For example, in a study of more than 300 professionals at three companies—a strategy consulting firm, a petrochemical company and a government agency—University of Virginia business school professor Rob Cross and IBM Institute for Knowledge-Based Organization researcher Andrew Parker found that the highest performers were those folks who had the most flow.
This is also why Greylock Partner venture capitalist James Slavet, recently called ”flow state percentage”—defined as the amount of time employees spend in flow—the most important management metric for building great innovation teams, and why, as X Prize founder and Singularity University co-founder Peter Diamandis recently pointed out, flow is especially crucial for entrepreneurs:
Startups are incredibly high-flow environments. Flow has driven my career — passion and creativity triggered in a project for one business becomes an “inspiration generator” that catalyzes new breakthroughs in another entrepreneurial venture, and so on. Startups that don’t generate large amounts of flow are startups doomed to eventually fail.
Most important, though, is not just that golf and business both work better when flowing—it’s that more flow in golf can directly translate into more flow in business.
At the Flow Genome Project, for example, one of the most common complaints we hear from businessmen is that flow requires long periods of uninterrupted concentration, making the hectic, multi-tasked, over-extended rhythms of the business world about as un-flow-friendly an environment as can be imagined.
But consider golf. Certainly, the pace of an average game is far slower than the pace of an average work day, but consider that in a four-and-half-hour game of golf, participants are actually only spending about six minutes playing golf. That’s it. The rest of the time is spent walking, talking, and such. In other words, the nature of the game makes it a low grade multi-tasked environment.
While flow is a multi sensory, complex, emergent state, one feature holds true that can galvanize flow in golf, business, and life: love. You see, flow states typically occur when people are doing an activity that they love to do. Want to increase flow, then find a way to frame your task so that is has active engagement underpinned by an attitude of gratitude. As Matt Kuchar said,
I love the game. I love playing golf. I love practicing. I love everything about it. I love having chances. And even when the chances don’t go your way, I think it makes you tougher, makes you stronger. If you don’t get beaten up by it, if you keep on stepping forward, all those close calls, they’re going to make you better for opportunities in the future. It’s fun. I have a great time out her. And I feel awfully fortunate.
There are lessons there for everyone, golfers included.