The next time you’re watching something you enjoy (preferably live), sport, theatre, opera, a rock concert, whatever, watch and listen deeply. If you ‘tune-in’ well enough, you’ll pick it up in audio, visual and other sensory cues. Is it a breakthrough or a break down?

Stevie Ray Vaughan was an awesome blues guitarist, one of the finest of his generation. I saw him at a concert in London sometime in the late 1980s, very shortly before he died in a helicopter crash. Stevie had a reputation for partying. He lived life large. He was a little eccentric and a little unpredictable. Nothing unusual in a blues musician of his era. The night I saw him, he was late on stage. He was grumpy, yelling at the guitar tech, constantly complaining that the volume and balance was wrong (I’ll say, I was partially deaf for two days afterwards, with one of his solos playing on a continuous loop in my inner ear). He was endlessly clearing his throat and clearly not well. Was it too much partying or was it, as he claimed, that he was ill, full of cold? Now, Stevie did all his tricks and trademark licks, and he sang well enough, but it felt flat. Don’t get me wrong. By anybody else’s standards it was brilliant, but by his? Nah. Naff. It didn’t flow. The audience were appreciative, but they were not ecstatic. It was off.

Contrast that with a rather different experience. In mid-2015, I took my younger son to see two of his heroes: Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. Both are legendary jazz pianists. They had however, toured Australia previously and, I was told, had not distinguished themselves on past tours. What played out was what John Shand of the Sydney Morning Herald described as “extraordinarily liquid music that sounded like one pianist, that will certainly live in the memory.” That’s flow. That’s how I found it and remember it. It’s how my son found it (judging by his rapt attention and the look on his face) and remembers it still, further confirming the rectitude of his becoming a professional musician. Michael Bublé does this. Diana Krall too.

Other more recent examples? Ash Barty winning the French Open Tennis Championship for the first time in 2019. Tiger Woods winning a major after so many missteps. Like the result or not, Scott Morrison’s valediction after winning the 2019 Australian Federal Election against all odds. Olivia Colman’s speech on winning an Oscar (check it out on YouTube – hilarious and moving too). They’re all an expression of bliss, creativity and engagement:breakthrough.

Good (the best) moments to learn from are when we’re in flow. We have clear direction and structure. We get clear and immediate feedback. Our self-efficacy is ‘on-point.’ Clear direction and structure enable the proper structuring of feedback. Clear and immediate feedback enables us to check and change or reinforce direction and structure. Clear and immediate feedback when positive reinforces our self-efficacy. When feedback is negative, it reinforces our ability to question ourselves. Self-efficacy is about belief and reinforces our ability to listen and accommodate feedback. Self-efficacy enables us to operationalise direction and structure. Clear direction and structure enable and strengthen self-efficacy. If these factors are in place, good things, embraced in the concept of flow, will follow.

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