Being “in the zone”

by Don Christie

At Catalyst we are really interested in 'being in the zone'.

That's when the work we do with and for clients seems to be effortless, hugely rewarding for all parties, a pleasure to be part of.

This is something we often manage to achieve, but sometimes we don't. As a learning organisation we're interested in how others reach this state and the tools they employ to get there, so that we can achieve it more readily ourselves.

You'll sometimes see sports people in the zone, being in a different league to their opponents, doing the right thing at the right time; making the whole game dance to their tune. It doesn't happen by accident, and hours of practice and refinement of skills go into such peak performances.

As an amateur sailor racing on Wellington Harbour in the weekends, it is something I sometimes achieve. Most of the time I'll set the sail wrong, tack into a big wave, capsize, basically do a dozen things that stop me in the water, dead.

But very occasionally, I get it right. I'll ride the waves, sail, boat and body surfing with every wave, exactly right – I'm almost daydreaming as I do it.

It's a wonderfully joyful experience, and one of the reasons for my continued love of sailing. In the video below my friend, Bruce, demonstrates in a strong wind:


As a developer, I found it relatively easy to be in the zone; lost in the flow of code logic and thinking. It's a very addictive part of the job.

But what happens when you become removed from coding, consult, maybe to lead a team or heaven forbid, run a business? Then you need probably to look at how a whole team or teams get in the zone.

You know when projects aren't operating as well as they should (like being a bad sailor!), and you know  when teams are struggling to click, get going and find a rhythm. This can and should change over time. As a project progresses we should be under constant review and finding better ways of understanding and operating. Becoming more like those sports teams that are in a state of flow.

At Catalyst, we sometimes wonder why we mightn't be achieving this flow, this “being in the zone”; and it is something we're constantly analysing about ourselves.

We're adopting open source and Agile techniques, questioning how we relate to clients' needs, how we align the our activities with those needs. We work on how we communicate those alignment and outcome challenges, trying to ensure there is no misunderstanding, no roadblocks. It's hard and it requires constant practice.

We don't always get it right; we do our level best to do so and are always trying to improve.

But when we're in the Wellington on a good day, we are unbeatable!