At one time, I longed to be a writer of novels. I owned about 100 or so books on how to write fiction, and I read every one of them cover to cover. Later on, I discovered that the best way to write is to, you know, write.
Among my favorite books about writing was The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner. It was the first time I learned about profluence.
Is This Going Somewhere?
Think of the most recent time you told someone a story.
I’m not talking here about telling a fairy tale or a novel. Most stories are just a few sentences long, and they are ubiquitous in human conversation. Take a glance back up at the first paragraph of this article. That paragraph consists of three sentences, and I am clearly telling a story.
Not much of a story, but compare that to the next paragraph:
Last night, we had dinner out, and Virginia was chatting with the folks sitting next to us at the bar. The music playing was Thai pop. Thai pop is kinda icky if you ask me.
What is missing is profluence.
Profluence is the sense that we are getting somewhere. It’s one of those aspects of human interaction that usually hides in plain sight. The next time you find yourself justifying some action, listen to yourself creating flow. Each sentence of your explanation takes the story a little further.
Human beings constantly create narratives as they go. The neurologist William Calvin once remarked that we should be called homo seriatim instead of homo sapiens: We do way more stories than we do wisdom.
Why Profluence Matters To A Coach
The Harvard Business Review offers this key finding from a multi-year study of over
Having just completed a multiyear study tracking the day-to-day activities, emotions, and motivation levels of hundreds of knowledge workers in a wide variety of settings, we now know what the top motivator of performance is […] It’s progress.
They go on to explain that when workers have a sense they’re making headway, or when they get support that helps them overcome obstacles, thats when they are most highly motivated.
Using Profluence To Coach
Knowing this tremendous power, we can jump in as coaches and create or heighten the profluence in our teams:
- Identify poorly motivated folk and re-frame their story as progress.
- Use big visible charts with data that changes every other day.
- Find victories for every standup, and make sure they rotate the credit.
- If a whole team is off, help them create the story in which they’re profluent.
Creating profluence for your team is an act of both situating and inviting. Don’t go for a huge outpouring all at once. Instead, look for two or three events per week that you can weave into your ongoing progress.