The Davies Report – February 2023 – Flow State February

Flow state February

Welcome to the February edition of the Davies Report, our irregular bulletin for progressive and emerging audit and risk leaders.

In this edition:

  • we talk about the deep dive we did into flow state over the summer break
  • let you know what we’ve been working on lately
  • let you know our plans for the coming year
  • share a little about how we’ve been using ChatGPT and provide details for our next meetup.

January reset

Back in March 2021 I commented on the early signs of widespread burnout that was emerging after the first year of the pandemic. This is now well accepted, showing up in many ways including new work patterns that have arrived at pace, quiet quitting, and people seeking to find balance in the new normal. 

January in Australia is an important part of the calendar. It’s traditionally a quiet month for decompressing and thinking about the year ahead. 

This year all of the public holidays fell perfectly to allow for a decent 10-day break against a backdrop where the news cycle and new threats took a well-deserved break to allow some time to relax and reflect.

I hope you’ve had time to have some quality time to reset for the year ahead and have returned to work energised and with fresh energy and optimism and clear-eyed for the year ahead. 

The big change for this year is that for those of us in high-stakes roles, there is more predictability. Many of the emerging risks that we called out in our daily LinkedIn series during the early stages of the pandemic are becoming more VC than VUCA as uncertainty and ambiguity dial down a bit.

Sure, the big swings and tides haven’t gone away. Many are well and truly with us. But there is now increased clarity around what these things are, how they are manifesting, and opportunities are present and abundant.

For those of us with the right disciplines, we can get on with the job with some degree of confidence, shifting from “fight-and-flight” to flow state and setting aspirational direction and ambition for ourselves and those we lead. 

Extended fight-and-flight has a range of impacts, not least including seeing things through a short-term downside-only lens. It tightens risk appetite and narrows horizons. Unchecked it leads to burnout from being in this mode too long.

While this was appropriate for anyone in emergency management mode at the time, it’s important to recognise when the need for full-blown crisis-response mode is over and to shift back into opportunity and aspiration.

If you haven’t made the shift yet, or want to double down on doing so, this edition is for you.

Flow state February

Most execs read a few books over summer. I spent most of January working with my trusty sidekick ChatGPT (more on that later) doing applied research into how flow state contrasts with burnout and stress –  how to get more of it in your life and then testing a lot of those ideas.

I’ve been researching, experimenting and crunching the common factors in flow, exploring tools and trying Bullet Journal, Atomic Habits, Deep Work, polyrhythmic time blocking, Kottler’s books, the parasympathetic nervous system, burnout recovery, change theory, risk appetite and how regular flow state is important for growth, healthy aging – even with a bit of Ikigai thrown in for good measure. And temporarily dialling down the tech before a major remodel.

The thing that strikes me is flow state and related concepts are a consistent thread in nearly all of the works. Happy impressive lively people seem to spend a lot of time in flow state in their work.

While it’s an important concept at a personal level for your own resilience and thinking as a leader, it also is also highly relevant for leading organisations and teams, and flows into change, resilience and risk appetite. 

At the simplest level flow state is achieved when you are stretching yourself just beyond your current abilities as depicted in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s model below.

This plays out in a few different ways:

  • Very capable people need a big challenge otherwise they end up in boredom or apathy. Role fit, regular challenges and the ability to delegate and bring the next generation through are essential for these profiles. An organisation or role without big enough challenges can be counterproductive for these people and those around them, which we’ve discussed previously in our work on “what kind of CRO do you want anyway?”.
  • Conversely, people with less experience need to develop their abilities to take on bigger challenges. This is where capability build and proper change programs come in, bringing people with you rather than chucking training over the fence and hoping it sticks.
  • When leaders and teams are out of sync people end up moving to undesirable parts of the board, leading to low productivity or potentially leaving the organisation.
  • The top left-hand side of the chart is where perceived risk is high but is where growth and flow potential is highest.  Ironically, the bottom-right (confident and relaxed) can be the riskiest place to be and a recipe for being laid off.

Of course, there are techniques like growth-mindset and time blocking to allow time for flow state.

But the sweet spot lies between pushing yourself and your teams just beyond your comfort zone where there’s just enough novelty and the opportunity to lose yourself in your work to achieve flow state. 

And if you’re continually growing and exceptional at what you do, you will always do well, no matter what the circumstances. 

And constantly learning and testing yourself might even reduce the risk of dementia in old age. It’s a no regrets action.

Where are you on this profile? And where are your teams at?

Have a think about your various leadership and governance layers and whether they’re in sync.  

What happens when the board is outside of their comfort zone, but management is relaxed?  

Or vice versa? 

And for the teams you’re leading.

If you’re a capable leader taking a new team to a new level, is the pace right for them? And how do you get them there quicker?

Great managers and product and service designers create lots of flow state for themselves and everyone they work with and serve.

Great leaders do this at scale, including during a crisis and restoring normality and a growth mindset after the crisis has passed. I’m sure you recognise many of these, most likely they are the ones who are now leading your organisation.

And are you stretching enough to where the organisation needs you to be?

Practical things you can do right now

  • Strategic reset – When’s the last time you checked your strategy to make sure it is stretching you and your team, and keeping pace with what your organisation needs of you?
  • Pace – Are you going at a pace that makes sense for you and your team?
  • Focus – Are you focused on the things that are really useful, or reverting to your comfort zone and greatest hits?
  • Alignment – Are your governance layers and teams in sync to get them both into flow state? Plot where you think you are, where you think your next layer up and down are at. Is it lined up, or is there work to do?
  • Rhythms and rituals – Is your cadence right to allow dedicated time for strategy, creativity and deep work?
  • Cognitive flow – Are your outputs allowing your stakeholders to get into their flow state? Or are your board packs causing gridlock on the board strategic freeway?

If you need help refreshing your strategy, decluttering your processes or nailing your board and executive reporting we can help. And we’ll bring just enough stretch to help you achieve stretch for you and your team.

Let us know what you’d like to achieve and let’s see how we can help.

What we’ve been up to lately


GREAT feedback from the team so far: “Light years ahead of where we were” “night and day” “much more efficient” etc. Thank you.  Unsolicited comment from a Fortune 300 client.

We’ve been busy working with clients since the last bulletin, with lots of internal audit strategy & optimisation and meaningful risk management.  A few highlights:

  • A first-90-days battle plan for a new chief auditor leading a team of 70+ people.
  • Reviewing and streamlining an internal audit planning methodology for a global Fortune 300 company to reduce effort, increase confidence and achieve better practice.  
  • Helping take risk management reporting from lots of words in a report to pithy focused actionable strategic discussions.
  • Best practice reviews and pre-EQA fitness checks for the internal audit functions for two global fortune 500 companies.

Our flow state is high challenge that draws on 25 years in risk and assurance innovation. We love big stretch projects and helping people to reach new levels of clarity and success. If this sounds like you, let us know what you’d like to achieve and let’s see how we can help.

Project Emu – Covering more ground without flying

The pandemic and widespread work-from-home has permanently changed the playing field for advisory work, allowing for lower friction ways of getting access to your preferred experts. 

Large national and global organisations shouldn’t settle for the best experts in their city or state or those within a short commute. The reality is you can now get access to anyone where there’s a time zone that overlaps.

Rather than just get the best person from your town/city or nationally why not get the best people in the world, or just some different thinking to help take you into new places? 

We’ve had a number of people take us up on this and our portfolio now has a distinctive Northern Hemisphere flavour to it. If you like what we do and are interested in working with us, we have well-tested methods of doing so. Let us know what you’re working on and how you think we might help.

And if you’re in Australia and want to explore a project or idea, you can book Todd for a virtual coffee via our Calendly service.

Chat GPT AI meetup

“AI won’t take your job, but someone using it might.”

Some discussions we’ve been having with ChatGPT AI. Yes, we might have led the witness a bit…

It’s hard to open LinkedIn without someone talking about the implications of ChatGPT. 

Long-time collaborator Tom McLeod and I have been putting it through its paces since day 6 of the public beta. We’ve had a chance to explore some of the useful parts and some of the limitations.

In the next few weeks, we’ll be holding an open meetup where we’ll go through examples of how we’ve been experimenting with it and share some of the use cases from us and others in risk and assurance. This will be a very informal session and will not be available for replay.  

If you’d like to come along, click fill in this form we’ll send you an invite.

The Davies Report

The Davies Report is not the usual blah blah blah that you’ll get elsewhere. 

We aim to think deeply and provide novel approaches in a field that’s dominated by templates and doubling down on old solutions to today’s challenges. 

Our happy place is on the edges of best practice – drawing on 25 years of product development and innovation in risk and assurance, experimenting with and integrating ideas that drive clarity and impact. We like big challenges without a clear pathway or precedent, finding the paths, sharing those with others and seeing where they take them. We also love helping people realise their full potential through projects and one-on-one mentoring and coaching.

The Davies Report is for thinkers, pioneers and people who want fresh ideas and to push themselves to new places in governance, risk and assurance – the left-hand side of the innovation diffusion curve which our logo is based on. 

If this sounds like you or someone you know please pass this on and sign up to our infrequent mailer. And if you have a challenge like this, please get in touch.

Thanks for everything you do.​​