by Kathleen Caldwell
Masaru Ibuka started Sony in 1945, as the first item under
his Purposes of Incorporation he wrote: "To establish a
place of work where engineers can feel the joy of technological
innovation, be aware of their mission to society, and work
to their hearts' content."
spirit captures Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's concept of "flow"
in the workplace. Having introduced his now well-recognized
theory in 1990 (
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
Harper & Row, 1990) and then expanded upon the concept
in a series of publications over the past decade, Csikszentmihalyi
now brings flow to the corporate world. In concert with
his colleagues from the Good Work Project, William Damon
and Howard Gardner and their staffs, he identified and interviewed
39 visionary business leaders who "combine high achievement
with strong moral commitment," to find out what factors
create "good business" (
Good Work: When Excellence and
, Basic Books, 2001). In this follow- up
work Csikszentmihalyi synthesizes their comments within
his "flow" framework. Flow, he writes, will breed "good
result is a surprisingly simple set of conclusions about
how business leaders could create happier workplaces and
enhance our well-being: Make workplaces aesthetically attractive.
Give workers jobs with meaning and value. Promote and reward
individuals who find satisfaction in their work. Clarify
and communicate goals; make goals the workers' own. Provide
immediate and specific feedback. Match workers' skills and
interests to their job duties. Challenge workers, enough
so that they're not bored but also not in too far over their
heads. Allow flexible schedules. Value workers' contributions.
If your employees need transportation, provide busing. Allow
people to move and act with freedom, to have control over
their tasks, to have input in decisions affecting their
work. When you communicate with people, you show respect
for them. "It's a community; we're speaking of community."
Allow people to learn by doing. "Cheerleading isn't big
stuff, it's just a lot of little stuff every day." Provide
an atmosphere free of interruptions, giving employees the
opportunity to concentrate. "People want to work for a cause,
not just for a living." Trust and respect your employees,
bosses, and co-workers. Provide opportunities for lifelong
acknowledges that most of his interviewees view these principles
as "obvious and natural." That they deserve study and reiteration
by a highly respected scholar-and promotion by a major publisher-could
be a discouraging sign. Can the mainstream of our business
sector be unaware of this all-Ireally- need-to-know-I-learned-in-kindergarten
list of "good business" essentials?
book itself does not make for an inspiring, "flowfilled"
reading experience, but if you can hang in there, Csikszentmihalyi
delivers some more compelling messages in the closing chapters.
He comes full circle to conclude that only businesses with
"soul"-a creative vision, a cosmic purpose -will realize
a state of flow and happiness, the true measure of success.
And, in closing, he finally addresses the destructive nature
of profit as king and the escalating greed of many top executives.
He also discusses, briefly, the increasingly likely prospect
of adding into the cost of making a product its negative
side-effects. (Should we factor in the costs of disposing
of nuclear waste and, if so, will we conclude that the cost
of producing nuclear power is too high?) Finally, he notes
the choices we all have, as workers, as consumers, as investors,
as parents, to contribute to-or impede- our evolution toward
better business and, in turn, a happier society.
the best advice Csikszentmihalyi uncovers from the many
hundreds of interview hours is from Patagonia's founder
Yvon Chouinard, whose company headquarters in Ventura, California,
sports an entrance hall lined with surfboards. They stand
as a visual reminder of the company's policy "Let My People
Go Surfing." When the surf 's up, you're free to go. Or
Anita Roddick's address to her Body Shop financial investors:
"Well, I think we're not going to grow next year. We just
want to have more fun." Among the 39 interviewed, these
two leaders (see
magazine 37, May/June 2003,
38, July/August 2003), along with Christine
Comaford Lynch (Artemis Ventures), stand out. Their approach
is not frivolous. Quite the contrary; they understand that
to create flow, you've got to achieve balance, and constantly
ask yourself the question: When I die someday, or today
or tomorrow, what decisions will have mattered the most?
According to Csikszentmihalyi, the business leaders who
cultivate this daily habit will outpace the field.
Caldwell is an attorney who lives in Brooksville, Maine.
Reprinted with permission from Kathleen Caldwell and
magazine. Originally published in
, Number 39,
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