THE experience of ‘flow’ is familiar to anyone who is passionate about what they do. It refers to that almost-transcendental state when the ordinary world around us disappears and we are fully involved in the moment.
Recent research suggests that the flow experience is what human beings seek at a deep level, and that providing this experience is a major pillar of good business.
Flow is a special kind of enjoyment that is a common experience for a wide range of people – creative artists, mountain climbers, mothers, workers in all types of jobs, and visionary leaders. A flow activity is intrinsically rewarding, worth doing for its own sake, even if it involves monetary or other rewards. Experiencing flow contributes to our happiness and improves the quality of the work we do.
When you are in ‘the flow’ you experience:
• deep, focused attention, sometimes to the point of joy;
• being fully in the present moment;
• an altered sense of time; time usually stands still or passes slowly;
• very clear goals, you know what has to be done;
• immediate ‘online’, real-time feedback, you know what you are doing is right;
• a fascinating challenge to which you have the skills to respond;
• harmony with the situation, you are not being controlled by circumstances; and
• the loss of ego, you lose yourself in the moment and the activity.
Today’s world centres around business; it controls vast resources and has a significant influence on the direction of nations. The growing frustration with free-market businesses – excessive greed, unethical practices, exploitation of workers and financial crises – is encouraging leaders to look for a new approach whereby short-term financial achievement is not the major indicator of success.
In his book, Good Business: Leadership, Flow and the Making of Meaning, Stanford professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes an extensive university project involving interviews with 39 ‘visionary business leaders’. Interviewees included St John Templeton, Anita Roddick (The Body Shop) and Leon Gorman (chairman of L.L.Bean). Broadly they agreed that: “To be successful you have to enjoy doing your best while at the same time contributing to something beyond yourself.”
These leaders suggest when individuals find their own unique talent and do work that contributes to a greater good, they experience flow, which in turn leads to human wellbeing and business success.
Creating flow at work
Flow experiences are not coincidental and can be increased by redesigning the work environment. Given that 80 per cent of adults do not experience flow on a regular basis, the potential for increasing flow in the working population is immense.
Leaders can design jobs to make workplaces more conducive to flow by creating an environment where employees enjoy their work, gain skills and are given challenges that help them grow. There are a number of things that can increase the experience of flow in the workplace.
• The organisation has an overriding worthwhile purpose and vision.
• Continuous communication of the purpose, vision and values to everyone.
• Clear performance goals at the individual, team, and organisational levels.
• Provide honest and constructive feedback.
• Match the challenges given to people to the skills they have.
• Top management commit to building a workplace that fosters flow.
By the individual
• Consider occasions when you have experienced flow and enjoyment. What you were doing? Use this as a springboard for increasing flow in the future.
• Consider how you can contribute to the prosperity of your organisation beyond the financial bottom line. Act on your ideas.
• Find work that matches challenges to your skills.
• Ask for clarification of your goals and for regular constructive feedback.
Flow provides the potential to bring a new purpose to work beyond profit. Going with the flow leads to fulfilment and wellbeing for work and good business for businesses.
Ron Cacioppe is managing director of Integral Development, one of Perth’s most unique and experienced leadership and management consultancies. He is also adjunct professor at Curtin’s Australian Sustainable Development Institute.
Contact Ron on 9242 8122 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.integral.org.au