After his seminal 1990 work, Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote many books describing how flow works in various contexts. Good Business is the first of two forays into Flow and business.
Csikszentmihalyi interviewed 39 business leaders who, he felt, combined high achievement with “moral commitment.” He defined “moral commitment” as “long-term dedication to goals that advance the interests of the community, the people living in it, and humanity in general.”
Leveraging his previous research, he found that “few jobs nowadays have clear goals,” many jobs don’t leverage a worker’s skills, and there is little to no control over the goals of the process, how the worker performs the process or even the time it takes to do the process.
Csikszentmihalyi calls for a clear set of goals and values, along with consistent communication and reinforcement of those values. “Every well run organization has not only a good business plan, but a set of core values that are expressed in the behavior of the leadership(emphasis mine) and are continuously reinforced through written statements and verbal communication.”
What saddens me is that 15 years after the initial publication of this book in 2003, goals are even less clear within many organizations. A focus on “agility”, and the frequent abdication of the responsibility to decide on a direction and stick with it long enough to see results in many organizations, have not helped this issue.
I don’t know about you, but I am still seeing way too many people burned out, frustrated, and exhausted. Maybe even more so now than in 1993.
Csikszentmihalyi also stresses the importance of an alignment between an organization’s values and an employee’s values. Of course, this alignment is next to impossible if the organization isn’t entirely sure what it’s values are, or they have a laundry list of values that were decided by a committee.
There is an assumption, likely a result of his selected research methodology, that having a strong leader with clear values that are consistently demonstrated and communicated provides a partial solution to the misalignment problem. At least employees can see the values and behaviors modeled.
I think that it is also a matter of the employee being more discerning about where to put his or her efforts. The employee needs to come in with his or her own clear and integrated set of values and determining whether there is a match with the organization and with the group; not trying to contort themselves to fit in.
In our current knowledge economy, our education, experience, and energy are the “means of production.” How are we being asked to use our personal resources? What values are we supporting?
Csikszentmihalyi warns, “The organization you work for will shape your entire identity. It will either enable you to grow or stunt you; it will either energize you or drain you; it will strengthen your values or make you cynical.”
I’m grateful that I am hearing more frequent discussions around how to make the workplace more responsive, responsible, humane, and sustainable. I’m grateful for the small pockets of progress I’ve seen in the intervening 15 years.
I’m also sad that this book might be more important now than it was in 2003.
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I hope you can join me on this journey!