I’m currently reading Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The book is about that state of consciousness where everything just flows. Where the gears mesh smoothly, there are no distractions, you loose track of time, and it feels really good.
You can achieve flow at work or in your free time. Concert violinists and mountain climbers can find flow, but so can school teachers and assembly line workers.
In one of the early chapters, he lists the requirements for flow, one of which is “clear goals and feedback”. It’s easier to enjoy what you do when you immediately know if you’re doing it right. Which is bad news for many people in the workplace, because quite often, the actions we take in the workplace does not have clear goals or fast feedback. Often we won’t know for days or month whether what we’re doing works.
But there’s a way around that, and I think it revolves around values.
If you have a set of strong, clearly defined values by which you work, then that constitutes clear goals in and off itself. And there’s immediate feedback, since you know whether you’ve done your job according to the values.
In other words, you can get immediate and clear enjoyment simply from doing the “right” thing according to the values, even if you don’t yet know the results.
The actual values could be many things. It could be high quality, good customer service, a commitment to specific methods or approaches or it could be internal values such as respect for co-workers or a focus on information sharing.
The specific values are not really crucial, but there are a few requirements for it to work:
The values must be clear to everyone. If you don’t know the values, you can’t work by them. Also, everyone must understand the values in the same way.
Values must be internalized
People must internalize the values, so that they mean something to each person. If they’re just a bunch of meaningless rules communicated by upper management, you can derieve no enjoyment from working by the values.
Values above results
The organization must to some degree put the values above concrete results. If results matter more than values, it will be difficult to get enjoyment until the results are known.
An organization that uses values in this manner, would give it’s people a much better shot at achieving flow, and would thus gain much higher productivity. Studies show, that the greatest motivation in the workplace is not higher pay, advancement or status. It is the availability of flow experiences. The more flow a workplace can offer its people, the higher the employee satisfaction.
If you’re wondering, Csikszentmihalyi is pronounced chick-sent-me-high-ee according to himself.