Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the father of flow. He recently died. He was a climber as I found out recently by scanning an obituary in a climbing Publication. The author of the article credited one of my best friends Virginia Savage Ph.D. (a performance psychologist) with exposing him to Mihaly and the concept of flow, which the author uses with teaching at-risk kids with outdoor programming. I find it fascinating that the “father” of flow came to some of his ideas because of climbing.
Rock climbing is multi-faceted for sure. You are simultaneously figuring out a brain-teasing puzzle, mindfully trying to stay calm all while doing one of the hardest workouts ever. In short FUN!
Let’s discuss fun for a moment. First, from my perspective fun is different from happiness. Happiness has in our culture become the mythical holy grail of what we are supposed to be. I don’t believe that is true or even possible. Bad and unpleasant things happen to everyone from time to time. I think a consistent feeling of peace or equanimity is a far more powerful and possible aspiration.
Fun to me is an in-the-moment feeling. I can be having a bad day and still have fun listening to a favorite song on the radio for a few minutes. Maybe I am splitting semantic hairs yet if feels important to understand these concepts as they relate to our work lives. I am not always happy at work; I frequently have fun. For me being creative and innovative is big fun.
Back to the flow, in my opinion, flow is fun, yet it is elusive.
In reviewing the characteristics below some are internal that we need to bring to the table, others are external, and this is where effective leadership becomes vital.
My experience of flow is meditation/mindfulness etc =wisdom= brain coherence= flow= effective action. Flow is easiest to achieve when our brains are like a good garden that will be tilled and organically fertilized.
As business more and more embraces wellness. In my mind-brain wellness should be very high on that list. It is the foundation of all other wellness including promoting the possibility of flow.
The 8 Characteristics of Flow
Csikszentmihalyi describes eight characteristics of flow:
1. Complete concentration on the task.
2. Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback.
3. Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down).
4. The experience is intrinsically rewarding.
5. Effortlessness and ease.
6. There is a balance between challenge and skills.
7. Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination.
8. There is a feeling of control over the task.
Based on the list above you can see why clarity has become a consistent mantra when working with clients. This is part of the leadership portion of the working toward organizational flow. How much time as a leader do you engage your team in communicating the importance of the work they do? How effective is your feedback? When recruiting do you explore what folks find the most intrinsically rewarding? Have you historically even cared, or do you just want the job done?
On social media I have posted frequently that it is not the “great resignation” it is the “great realignment”. Individuals and society are rethinking the value of spending time doing what they do not find intrinsically rewarding for sub-living wages is worth it. Yes, money is important yet for decades surveys have shown that is not what employees value most. Sadly the business community as a whole was not listening. We are now experiencing decades of pent-up worker dissatisfaction.
There are two reasons an organization might aspire to bring flow to their organization. First are employees with brain coherence and who are in part working in flow perform better. More creativity and innovation are the lifeblood of businesses now and going forward. They are more fun to be around and more resilient during tough times. This is the profit motive.
Second, the world is changing, and business needs to keep pace or risk losing serious ground. This is where social justice and your commitment to the environment come in. Aligning your deeply held values with all your stakeholders including employees, vendors, your community, and society. Humanity is depending on companies doing “the right thing” and will reward those who do.
Flow is both about finding your purpose and deeply held values combined with being the best competitor you can be.
Right now, flow, Team 2.0 are in their infancy in business. They are not easy short-term projects. Leaders must take a long view given the size of the potential payoff. This is something American businesses have all but forgotten. The Wall St fever of chasing short-term quarterly profits has infected most of the business community and much of our society.
It all starts with your intentions. For yourself. For your business.
Many say all change starts on the inside and then it works to our outer world of society and business.
In my opinion, for the purpose of this post, there is no failure only in not trying. In no way do I believe that personal attempts at making progress on the path of brain coherence and eventually flow are ever wasted. Our ego is attached to outcomes that often have nothing to do with progress.
As the world sleeps (have you seen the movie Don’t Look Up?) there are vast opportunities for leaders who aspire to be different.
Almost nothing new ever happens without a few mistakes along the way. No one can expect a new economy to arrive without mistakes and failures in its wake.
Elon Musk is someone I have mixed opinions on. Yet his companies for good or ill are attempting to move the world in the right direction and he takes risks some payoff and he has had his fair share of mistakes and failures. Success is not free, there is always a cost. The point of this entire post is that any costs associated with brain coherence and flow are minimal mostly focused on your ability to invest in yourself with an unknown outcome. The question becomes how willing you are to show up for yourself over time. Through your role as a leader are you willing to share what you are learning?
Yes, my posts tend to ramble and pack a lot of huge concepts in. They are not meant to be a definitive checklist for you. As I write this, I don’t even know who you are. My goal is three-fold, first to make you curious enough to want to learn more on your own, to inspire you to take that first step, and finally to stay with it even if progress is not apparent or obvious.
Some of my friends are experts in academia, some are rich, my plea to you is based on my lived experience as an athlete and businessperson. What is interesting to me is many of my friends who are smart and or rich are now trying to gain lived experiences of the quality I am encouraging you to explore now.
What a great sales pitch its can be hard and sometimes it takes a long time. All I can leave you with is an absolute promise it is worth it.