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052: Flow State Lessons From Expert Designer Arielle Assouline-Lichten

podcast Jun 21, 2021

Working within a structure, a deadline, and a framework can actually force us to be more creative. I’ve found that it’s harder to be creative amidst chaos and complete freedom. Sometimes rules or traditions can be used to expand your creativity by thinking about expansion within a defined space.  

I am not really one for reality TV or Survivor-type shows, but I came across an article in Surface about a show on HBO Max called Ellen’s Next Great Designer.  

The finale featured designer and architect Arielle Assouline-Lichten, founder of the sustainability-minded Brooklyn furniture studio Slash Objects, and it highlighted how she accessed flow during the show and afterward, where she eventually took second place.  

I think there are some lessons in here we can all learn from this unique designer who brings the flow state into her work.  

“Undeterred by her second-place finish, Assouline-Lichten quickly returned to work with a newly positive outlook. The competition’s weekly challenges quite literally extracted her from her comfort zone as a product designer and problem solver; the tight turnarounds forced her to follow her intuition, even during intense moments of stress and adrenaline as deadlines loomed.” 

So the show gives a number of designers these challenges and parameters to stay in each week and they’re judged on what they produce. It’s the show’s way of leveling the playing field and being able to judge everyone equally. That being said, what’s deemed good, great, or bad, is subjective and determined by the gatekeepers. In the real world though, the market and sales determine the winners.  

The show was also creating an environment to perform, which involves risk, as well as immediate feedback each week. These 2 factors are actually huge flow triggers.  

After the show had ended Arielle was asked her thoughts on the experience: 

“Being able to create this new work was such a gift. It’s rare to have this bubble of time and space to work in. I really tapped into my flow state during the show, so now I’m recreating those conditions to continue exploring, learning, and growing. Also, deadlines are an incredible tool! You have to just go with a decision, which can be so liberating.”  

She put herself in a high-stakes and high-stress environment. Now stress can be a great flow trigger if it isn’t overwhelming and we believe it’s manageable stress.  

This is called eustress: 

which is moderate or normal psychological stress interpreted as being beneficial for the experiencer. 

Another interesting bit was about her strategy outside of her own adrenaline and intuition: 

“My strategy was to push myself and surprise the judges. That sounds banal, but every week I asked myself “What are they not expecting me to do?” That’s why I made a chair—they’re notoriously difficult to create. That also pushed me to create the light. After showing these very precise and clean designs, I wanted to prove that I could work with an element of chaos and that I could let things out of my control and rein them back in.” 

If you want to push yourself to new limits and uncharted territory, ask yourself, “What are they not expecting me to do?”  

Self-imposed deadlines where you learn to let go and trust your intuition, getting immediate feedback, and creating a bubble of time and space are all key aspects to building your own flow-prone environment.  

How can you create your bubble of flow triggers? What is your strategy for using your adrenaline, intuition, and standing out from the crowd? 


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Designer and architect Arielle Assouline-Lichten, founder of Slash Objects, which was included in the American Design Hotlist in 2016, the Best of NYCxDESIGN in 2018, and received the American Design Honors in 2019. 

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