Going with the Flow
Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning
By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Viking, 2003, $24.95
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is best known for his 1991 book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. In it he describes what he calls flow, a state of intense concentration that people enter when they lose themselves in an activity. He argues that when people attain flow, they are most effective and productive.
In Good Business, Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “chick-sent-me-high”) applies this concept to the workplace. It is possible for people to attain flow during even the most menial tasks, he says. It therefore behooves corporate leaders to cultivate an environment in which employees can frequently achieve a state of flow. The result, he claims, will be employees who are engaged, committed and loyal.
In the book’s first section, “Flow and Happiness,” Csikszentmihalyi offers insights into flow from some well-known corporate leaders. No company does “good business,” these leaders and the author say, unless it both improves the quality of life of the people it employs and makes a genuine contribution to human happiness.
The second section, “Flow in Organizations,” provides practical advice for managers on cultivating flow among employees. First and foremost, he says people will encounter flow only when they are challenged enough to grow and learn, yet not to a degree that will cause stress and anxiety. Second, to foster commitment, business leaders must clearly define organizational goals and communicate them often. Employees should receive immediate feedback, and executives should create an environment that promotes concentration.
In the book’s final section, “Flow and the Self,” Csikszentmihalyi asks the business leaders of the first section how they find flow. Here, unfortunately, the book loses its workplace focus. The responses are so obvious?know yourself, do what you love and so on?that they don’t add any substance. By relying so heavily on advice from “visionary” business leaders, Csikszentmihalyi loses the opportunity to reinforce his theory with supporting insights from employees at those companies where he has found flow flourishing.
The New BookShelf
“People who are emotionally committed to something behave in ways that defy logic and often produce results that are well beyond expectations. They pursue impossible dreams, work ridiculous hours and resolve unsolvable problems.”
From Why Pride Matters More than Money: The Power of the World’s Greatest Motivational Force, by Jon R. Katzenbach (Crown Publishing Group, April 2003)
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SOURCE: Data from the week of March 10, 2003, compiled by Borders Group, Ann Arbor, Mich.