As part of my work in presenting the Talent Dynamics Business Development Pathway set of workshops, I have to explain that people achieve peak performance when they are in a state of flow, which is a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand. It is a state in which people are involved in the activity and that nothing else seems to matter. You may have heard of it as the feeling of ‘being in the zone or in the groove’. It’s a feeling that all of us will have experienced at one time or another, when we are fully engaged, fulfilled and our capability and skill is committed fully.
In a state of Flow, we do our best work.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the architect of the notion of flow and is well known for his years of research and writing on the topic. His research in the positive psychology field initially focused on the study of happiness and creativity, and it is through this study that he came to the definition of flow. Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychological Association, described Csikszentmihalyi as the world’s leading researcher on positive psychology.
In his study, Csikszentmihalyi characterized nine component states of achieving flow including “challenge-skill balance, merging of action and awareness, immediate and unambiguous feedback, concentration on the task at hand, paradox of control, transformation of time, loss of self-consciousness, and autotelic experience.” When we consider our experience in business, the holy grail of work is to do something that engages our talents to the utmost, whilst the subject matter is also being of the greatest interest to us. To achieve a flow state, a balance must be struck between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. If the task is too easy or too difficult, flow cannot occur. Both skill level and challenge level must be matched and high; if skill and challenge are low and matched, then apathy results.
In an interview with Wired magazine, Csíkszentmihályi described flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
He created this chart to demonstrate people’s range of experience when engaging in activities:
If flow occurs, peak performance occurs and the results that accrue from the interaction of challenge and skill means greater productivity for the organisation.
One of the personality characteristics that Csikszentmihalyi researched in detail was that of intrinsic motivation. He found that intrinsically motivated people were more likely to be goal-directed and enjoy challenges that would lead to an increase in overall happiness. And this is important for leaders and organisations to recognise, that the easiest and fastest way to engage individuals’ motivation is to engage their talents and strengths.
2 December 2014