NCI Charrette Blog Day 3: It’s All About Flow

This is the final installment in our blog series about the National Charrette Institute (NCI) certificate program. Click here for our Day 1 blog, about getting ready to engage, and here for our Day 2 blog, about the power of the charrette technique.

When was the last time you allowed yourself to be completely immersed and absorbed in an activity or task – ideally, something you tend to enjoy?

I know for me, personally, it has been a while. Lately, I’ve been in that common, modern place of competing tasks, constantly-running to-do lists in my mind, and incessantly pinging technology. Can you relate?

However, on the third and final day of the NCI charrette training course, I was reminded of the concept of “flow” – the psychological phenomenon of complete focus and immersion in an activity. As psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes it, achieving this state of flow is where we “feel our best and perform our best.” Your sense of time disappears, you forget yourself, you feel part of something larger, you experience great clarity, and what you’re doing becomes worth doing – for its own sake.

And as Bill Lennertz, co-founder of NCI and our trainer, described, the experience of a multiple-day charrette is often one of flow. There is a creative energy that flows through the design studio, as designers, engineers and other technical experts receive stakeholder input, craft preliminary models and then refine the preferred concept over several days, and through several feedback loops of input-design-input-design.

The compressed timeline means there are some late nights, but when you’re in that flow state, time falls away and you have energy to keep going. Bill talked about one charrette participant who said it was the “most fun I’ve had since college.”

Bill described a certain “magic” to the charrette flow. It’s creative, engaging, and meaningful.

Csíkszentmihályi says one of the ways to achieve flow is to immerse your skills in tackling a challenge that is just manageable – stretching your abilities and being pushed to learn new things. This also connects to the charrette design, where a “moderately uncomfortable,” compressed timeline is ideal.

I’m impressed by the NCI charrette model, and how much can be achieved in the flow state of those intense days of input and design. I hope to have an opportunity to experience the charrette flow sometime soon.