David Zinger connects the strength of one with the power of many as an engagement speaker, coach, and consultant. He founded and hosts the global Employee Engagement Network, with more than 6,400 members and counting. He fuses a down-to-earth prairie upbringing with a global reach. He has worked on engagement in Canada, United States, Poland, Wales, Germany, England, India, Spain, and South Africa. He is a prolific author. He wrote Assorted Zingers: Poems and Cartoons to Take a Bite Out of Work and Engage: How to Get More Into Your Work to Get More Out of Your Work. He has written more than 2500 blog posts on work, engagement, management, and leadership. He has also co-created 10 exceptional free employee engagement e-Books in conjunction with the Employee Engagement Network.
He is also an educator. He taught Educational Psychology and Counseling Psychology at the University of Manitoba for 25 years. David’s specialties were work, humor, career development, well-being, engagement, management and leadership. He created the popular “Ten Building Blocks” pyramid of employee engagement to help clients focus on practical and tactical engagement. David believes that small is the new significant and that small, simple, strong, significant, scalable, and sustainable actions within the context of good work will make the biggest difference in engagement for the benefit of all.
Finally, David is innovative and experimental. He worked for three summers making connections between engagement, honeybees, work, and community. David believes honeybees provide an insightful and living model of the social elements of work and the importance of thinking differently inside our hives (organizations). To receive a free copy and learn more about his finding click on the title of David’s eBook, Waggle: 39 Ways to Improve Human Organizations, Work, and Engagement.
Here is an excerpt from my second interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here
To read the first interview, please click here.
* * *
Morris: A great deal has happened since our last conversation in January, 2012. It’s good to get caught up. Of all the changes that have occurred in employer-employee relations since then, which do you consider to be most significant? Please explain.
Zinger: I think mobile work combined with new technologies is significant but will grow immensely in the next 24 months. I see so many people using Fitbits and other ways to get metrics on their fitness and sleep and with the new Apple watch I see a lot more workplace applications coming out very quickly. Employee engagement needs to reside more in mobile.
Morris: At which point in your life did you become passionately interested in employee engagement? Please explain.
Zinger: Hearing my Dad, an executive, complain about his job when I was young made me wonder about work and relationships. Having a job early in the railway where people did their best to avoid working. But primarily working as an employee assistance counsellor for 15 years with Seagram let me know the workplace from the inside out. I want work, to work, for everyone.
Morris: To what extent (if any) are the dynamics of employer-employee relations in Canada significantly different from those in the U.S.? Please explain.
Zinger: I travel the globe and I don’t study the macro elements. I am interested in the day-to-day. I redefined employee engagement a few months ago as good work, done well, with others, every day. I don’t care if you are in platinum mine in South Africa, the government in Singapore, or an office worker in Vancouver — we can all achieve good work. For too many people work is hell when I believe work can make us well!
Morris: Recent research by highly reputable firms such as Gallup and Towers Watson indicates that in a U.S. workplace today, on average, less than 30% of the employees are actively and productively engaged; as for the others, they are either passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively disengaged, undermining the given company’s success. Why are so many employees either indifferent or hostile?
Zinger: Still not sure I believe the numbers. It often is just the classic bell curve and so given the bell you would expect about 20% disengagement. I think there is a lot of iatrogenic disengagement, meaning what we do around engagement may cause disengagement. I think it is tragic, on a small scale, when we don’t have open, honest, trusting, and respectful dialogues at work with everyone at work and that we need to rely on anonymity and outside consultancies to learn about our own workplaces.
Morris: Here’s a follow-up question. How to increase the percentage of those employees who are actively and productively engaged?
Zinger: That’s a book or two. I think it is small, strategic, significant, and sustainable behaviors done daily. I think culture and strategy and climate are way too large to handle. I want three or four key engaging behaviors done every day. This can range from meaningful conversations to beautiful questions, to ongoing conversations about performance, progress, and setbacks, etc.
* * *
To read the complete interview, please click here.
David cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
Todd Henry is the founder and CEO of Accidental Creative, a company that helps creative people and teams generate brilliant ideas. He regularly speaks and consults with companies, both large and small, about how to develop practices and systems that lead to everyday brilliance. Todd’s work has been featured by Fast Company, Fortune, Forbes, HBR.org, US News & World Report, and many other major media outlets. His book, The Accidental Creative: How To Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice, offers strategies for how to thrive in the creative marketplace and has been called “one of the best books to date on how to structure your ideas, and manage the creative process and work that comes out of it” by Jack Covert, author of The 100 Best Business Books of All Time and founder of 800-CEO-READ. You can connect with Todd here, or learn more about how to hire him to speak at your event or train your team.
Here is my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.
* * *
Morris: Before discussing The Accidental Creative, a few general questions. First, Who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth?
Henry: I have a counter-intuitive answer to this. Probably the biggest influence on my personal growth was a 20th-century mystic and monk named Thomas Merton. It seems strange that a man who lived the biggest part of the late years of his life in isolation and contemplation would have much to say to a 21st-century, tech-immersed creative, but I found his writings to be deeply reflective on the nature of humanity, and also an illumination on the mechanics of doing important work.
If I were talking only about contemporary influences, I would have to say that I’ve been incredibly blessed to be around a group of mentors who, over a period of several years, really made it a project to develop me and help me understand both my capacity and my limitations. It was in this virtual incubator for leadership that I first discovered my voice and began reflecting deeply on the creative process.
Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course that you continue to follow?
Henry: I was a leader in an organization trying to scale a team while helping them handle the pressures and demands we were facing, and in my effort to do so I reached out to several other creative directors who I knew would be dealing with the same issues. My biggest question for them was, “How do you serve your team, and help them do their best work without burning them out?” They stared at me like I was from another planet. “What you mean?” they almost unanimously asked. In other words, it had never occurred to them that it might be possible to exist in any create on-demand environment and be simultaneously healthy in the way you approach your work. This began a long journey for me of exploring whether or not it was possible to be prolific, brilliant, and healthy simultaneously in life and work. This research eventually led to my company, which now shares these insights with teams around the world, and then eventually to the book, The Accidental Creative.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education proven invaluable to what you have accomplished in your life thus far?
Henry: It may be cliché but I believe that the biggest contribution formal education made to my career accomplishments is that I learned how to structure my uncertainty and questions into a format that could be pursued and digested effectively. I learned to deal with ambiguity and suffer through process. When I was in school, information wasn’t so readily available, and there was more risk involved in pursuing a specific avenue of research. It was much more difficult (and costly!) to pivot mid-course, so it forced me to stay focused while going about my work. This allowed me to develop the capacity of deep, intermittent focus that has served me in my work as a professional creative.
Morris: In your opinion, what are the most significant differences between creativity and innovation?
Henry: The definition of innovation I use is “progressive and useful change” which typically involves (or at least begins with) a creative act. Creativity, at the heart of it, is problem solving. A designer might solve a problem visually, while a manager might do so by thinking up a new system. But that creative act is only innovation once it’s applied and creates useful change.
Morris: What do you say in response to someone who says, “I’m just not creative”?
Henry: I would say they are wrong. We are all creative, because we all have the ability to solve problems and create value with our mind. I think the biggest reason people say “I’m not creative” is because they confuse creativity with art. The very act of holding a conversation – which most of us can do – is a creative act, because it’s based on improvisation! Once we re-frame creativity as problem-solving, it helps people see their own creative capacity in new ways.
Morris: Isaac Asimov once observed, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not Eureka! (I found it!) but rather, ‘hmm… that’s funny…'” Do you agree with him?
Henry: Yes! Steven Johnson has called this the “slow hunch” and I agree. Brilliant work is most frequently the result of focused, laborious effort punctuated by moments of insight, all of which is driven by curiosity sourced in the slow hunch. It’s only when we stay with the problem long enough to recognize those anomalies that we are positioned for breakthroughs. To do this we must develop the ability to ask incisive questions. The questions are – in my opinion – far more important than the answers. Every answer must lead to a new question.
Morris: Here is another quotation, this time from Oliver Wendell Holmes: “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” By what process can one get to “the other side of complexity”?
Henry: The trouble is that we get to the other side of complexity for a moment, only to find that there’s far more complexity to be conquered. The creative process is the perpetual assault on the beachhead of apathy, which means that we must fight a daily battle against our natural desire to stay in our comfort zone. Steven Pressfield calls this battling “Resistance” and I’m in 100% agreement. To get to those flashes of clarity – simplicity – requires persistent daily, and sometimes seemingly fruitless effort. At the same time, I don’t know that the illusion of simplicity lasts for long. Most creatives I know experience a brief, shining moment of satisfaction before they begin to see holes in their work. That’s what propels us to keep striving – the promise of greater clarity and simplicity.
Morris: Many major breakthroughs in creativity and innovation are the result of counter-intuitive thinking. For example, combining a wine press with separable type (Gutenberg and the printing press), removal of burrs from a pet’s hair with an attachment (George de Mestral and VELCRO), and leather softener with skin care (Mark Kay Cosmetics).
Here is my two-part question: What are the major differences between intuition and counter-intuition? What (if anything) do intuition and counter-intuition share in common?
Henry: I think intuition and counter-intuition are all about framing. A problem framed in a certain way leads to an intuitive solution. When framed in a different way, the same solution appears counter-intuitive. I believe that so much of this is determined by the focus of the individual solving the problem, and the stimuli that prompt their search for a solution. That’s why I believe it’s critical to maintain a proper level of focus on the true problems you’re trying to solve. If you don’t regularly define your work, you’re likely to drift and you’re less likely to notice those moments of intuitive or counter-intuitive serendipity.
Morris: Of all the books you have read, from which one have you learned the most about creativity and innovation? Please explain.
Henry: From an innovation standpoint, it’s really hard to top The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. He thoroughly nailed the dynamics of living and working in a marketplace that requires perpetual reinvention, and I believe also unintentionally defined the single biggest factors that cause creative professionals to feel frustrated, under-utilized, and disengaged in their daily work. Purely from a “mechanics of creativity” standpoint, I’d say that I learned the most from Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono. I also greatly enjoyed Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which is a synthesis of his research into creativity across multiple domains.
Morris: Within the last few years, there have been several excellent books published in which thought leaders such as Roger Martin, Chris Brown, and Roberto Verganti discuss the design of business. In your opinion, why has this subject attracted so much attention?
Henry: Over the past many years it’s become obvious that design can’t be an after-thought, because it’s actually good business as well. We are in an age where ideas flow freely and with less friction, and many of the traditional means of creating and distributing goods were based on creating friction rather than eliminating it. Great design is about eliminating friction so that consumers can identify, connect with, and consume what they want when they want it. Good design, from operations all the way through the final point-of-sale communication, is critical in eliminating that friction, especially now that consumers have so many choices.
Morris: What are the defining characteristics of a workplace environment within which creativity and innovation are most stimulated, nourished, and when necessary, protected?
Henry: There is no one-size-fits-all solution, though many still try to find it. In my experience, the most innovative and productive workplace environments have less to do with physical space than psychological space. Is there clarity of purpose? Are we rewarded for the things that move the needle, such as taking measured risks, asking good questions, and spending ourselves on behalf of the work? Do we foster an environment of conversation, or of secrecy? No one goes to work in the morning hoping to crank out a mediocre pile of misery, yet over time our work environments either reward continual growth, or encourage systemic mediocrity. You’re either growing or dying, there is no stagnancy. But growth is difficult and messy, and requires persistent effort. Many give up when it’s “good enough.” (One of the best examinations I’ve read of teams who accomplished great, innovative things is Organizing Genius by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman.)
* * *
To read the complete interview, please click here.
Todd cordially invites you to check out the resources at The Accidental Creative website by clicking here.
Principles and practices to ensure that organizations move faster as well as be more productive and more profitable
As with any other strategy, speed needs to be used selectively rather than impulsively. In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (pronounced “chick-sent-me-high-ee”) acknowledges the importance of speed but as a strategic option, not an imperative, when striving to achieve peak performance. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, companies should move as fast as appropriate…but no faster. The speed to which John Bernard refers in his book’s title enables an organization to stay ahead of its competitors’ threats as well as its customers’ expectations.
Many (most?) business leaders embrace what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes in one of his books, Leading Change, as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” In a word, “then”: whatever was done until now that has been successful. Marshall Goldsmith observes, “What got you here won’t get you there” to which Bernard responds, “What got you here won’t even keep you here.” At best, “then” is a fond memory and for many (most?) executives, “now” is merely a continuation of it.
Bernard offers 12 admonitions. He assigns a separate chapter to each, explaining how to formulate and then implement a plan to achieve high-impact results with sharply-focused initiatives:
1. Prepare for Yes (e.g. empower front-line people with authority)
2. Put an End to Then (i.e. simplify the flow of work)
3. Drive Growth with Yes (i.e. create a culture of contagious affirmation)
4. Gain the Speed You Need (e.g. “travel light” in terms of “baggage”)
5. Create the Context for Speed (e.g. base decisions on verifiable facts)
6. Achieve Critical Breakthroughs (with a seven phase process)
7. Close the Execution Gap (with seven-step transparency initiative)
8. Equip Everyone with the Core Skill (with seven-step problem-solving process)
9. Banish Fear, Build Trust (e.g. be sensitive to individual needs to earn trust)
10. Stop Bossing, Start Teaching (e.g. remove “no” and “yes” from your vocabulary)
11. Accelerate the Shift [from Then to Now] with five initiatives (Pages 195-196)
Bernard makes skillful use of several reader-friendly devices such as the “Speedometer” self-audit at the end of each chapter than enables the reader to identify areas in greatest need of immediate attention in her or his organization. areas relative to the subject of the given chapter. Then on Pages 215-216, the reader can calculate the NOW score based on net scores from Chapters 1-11. Bernard also explains what each total score means. I also commend Bernard for including a framework for a “Then-to-Now Breakthrough Plan” that each reader completes. There are also dozens of Figures inserted throughout the narrative that either demonstrate transition processes (e.g. Figure 1.2, “Mass Production versus Mass Customization,” Page 8) or summarize key points (e.g. Figure 8.2, “Rules for Total Transparency,” Page 142).
I agree with John Bernard’s concluding thoughts: “The journey from managing in the then to managing in the now does not differ from the hero’s journey [portrayed by Joseph Campbell in his classic, The Hero with a Thousand Faces], and it always includes predictable experiences and struggles. It’s no coincidence that the hero’s seven steps on the path to success parallel the 11 chapters of this book when viewed as 11 steps.” Most change initiatives either fail, or fall far short of original expectations. Business leaders who read and then (preferably) re-read John Bernard’s book will be well-prepared to fire up their people, thrill their customers, and crush their competitors. If that is their vision, and it is certainly an admirable one, I presume to remind them of Thomas Edison’s observation: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”
How to generate “ingenious ideas…through a rigorous experimental discovery process”
Having read and reviewed True North, a book Peter Sims co-authored with Bill George, I was curious to know what he has to say about “how breakthrough ideas emerge from small discoveries.” I was pleased but hardly surprised that Sims has a great deal of value to share, much of it (as he duly acknowledges) gained from conversations with or rigorous study of various thought leaders and they include a few surprises. Chris Rock, for example. His routines are the result of an exhausting process of continuous (mostly failed) experiments, constant modification, and subtle refinement. Other experimental innovators and thought leaders include Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Larry Page and Sergey Brin (co-founders of Google), Saras Sarasvathy, Pixar’s Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, Chet Pipkin, Frank Gehry, Bing Gordon, U.S. Army Brigadier General H.R. McMaster, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Steve Jobs, Jeffrey Dyer and Hal Gregersen, Richard Wiseman, and Eric von Hippel.
As Sims explains, his book’s proposition is based on an experimental approach that involves a lot of little bets and certain creative methods to identify possibilities and build up to great outcomes eventually, after frequent failures. (Actually, experimental innovation has no failures; rather, there are initiatives that have not as yet succeeded, each of which is a precious learning opportunity.) “At the core of this experimental approach, little bets are concrete actions taken to discover, test, and develop ideas that are achievable and affordable. They begin as creative possibilities that get iterated and refined over time, and they are particularly valuable when trying to navigate amid uncertainty, create something new, or attend to open-ended problems.”
Constant experimentation (“learn by doing”) is fundamental to this approach, as indicated, as are a playful, improvisational, and humorous environment; immersion in unfamiliar situations, localities, circumstances, etc.; definition of specific questions to answer, specific problems to solve, specific objectives to achieve, etc.; flexibility amidst ambiguity and uncertainty in combination with a willingness to accept reorientation; and, as indicated, constant iteration (reiteration?) to test, evaluate, refine, test again, etc. Those who are curious wish to understand what works. Experimental innovators have an insatiable curiosity to know what works (or doesn’t), why it works (or doesn’t), and how it can be improved.
It is important to understand that, as Sims explains, “we can’t plot a series of small wins in advance, we must use experiments in order for them to emerge.” That is, conduct lots (I mean LOTS) of small experiments (betting small amounts of hours and dollars) and then, as small (modest) “wins” occur, increase the “bet” and see what happens…or doesn’t. This process is iterative and never ends. The fundamental advantages are obvious. It allows people to discover new whatevers through an emergent, organic process of frugal but sufficient investments, and, it allows for all manner of adjustments (course corrections, additions/deletions, increases/reductions, etc.) at any point throughout the process.
If your organization is in need of breakthrough ideas, why don’t you provide them? Peter Sims provides in this book just about everything you need to know to understand the process and what must be done to initiate and then sustain it. However, the discoveries cannot be made until the experiments occur. If not you, who? If not now, when?
The following history of the Strengths movement is only one of the resources now available at no cost to those who visit Marcus Buckingham’s Strengths Campus. Please click here to check it out.
Although it may seem like a recent phenomenon, the Strengths movement can actually trace its roots back at least as far as 1966. That year, legendary management guru Peter Drucker published a book titled The Effective Executive. Without, perhaps, even intending to, he couldn’t have launched the strengths movement with a clearer statement of principle: “the effective executive builds on strengths—their own strengths, the strengths of superiors, colleagues, subordinates; and on the strengths of the situation.”
A few years later, educational psychology professor Donald O. Clifton founded a company he named Selection Research, Inc. (SRI) to explore a simple idea that helped to revolutionize psychology: focusing on what is right with people, instead of on what is wrong. SRI’s method was to investigate the best performers in any given role and find out what, exactly, made them the best. In studying both managers and teachers, SRI’s researchers found a common pattern emerging: those who performed best were those who, instead of trying to somehow put in what was left out, tried to maximize the unique strengths of each employee or student. This tendency emerged as a dominant factor in separating the best teachers and managers from those who didn’t get the same results.
Armed with this knowledge, SRI built a training program named Varsity Management in 1980. One of the program’s key concepts was to focus on strengths. In 1983, SRI’s training program and techniques caught the eye of Graeme Buckingham, head of Human Resources for Allied Breweries, owner of 7,000 pubs in Britain. Buckingham knew from his own experience that the success of each pub was largely dependent on the quality of its manager, so he brought Don Clifton and SRI to England to build a pub manager selection interview.
Clifton ended up recruiting Buckingham’s son, Marcus, to work for SRI in Lincoln, Nebraska, during his summers off at Cambridge. Marcus went through the Varsity Management program and eventually signed on full-time with SRI in the Selection Testing Division, helping to build selection interviews. Marcus had based his master’s thesis, “The Social and Psychological Issues of Entrepreneurship,” on SRI research.
Meanwhile, at Case Western Reserve University, doctoral candidate David Cooperrider and his advisor Suresh Srivastva were taking their first steps toward creating a new field. Inspired by a case study of an organization that showed decidedly positive levels of cooperation and innovation, Cooperrider completed his dissertation on “Appreciative Inquiry” and the two scholars marked the first appearance of the term in a professional publication with their 1987 article “Appreciative Inquiry in Organizational Life.” The stated mission of the new field, in Cooperrider’s words, was “to build organizations around what works rather than fix what doesn’t.” Later that same year, the first public workshop on Appreciative Inquiry was held in San Francisco.
Another key contribution to the development of the strengths movement came with the publication of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s seminal book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Csikszentmihalyi had dedicated himself for over two decades to studying a central insight: that happiness did not happen by chance, but instead had to be cultivated, defended and prepared for. His research led him to develop the concept of what he called “optimal experience”: “the best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” From extensive interviews with people about such optimal experiences, Csikszentmihalyi developed the theory of flow: “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” The recognition of that highly desirable state of mind has become a key concept in identifying personal strengths.
In 1988, SRI acquired the Gallup Organization and took on the older company’s name. Although its name was and is synonymous in the public mind with polling services, the joint company maintained SRI’s dedication to exploring what makes people excel. In 1997, Clifton identified the now-legendary “Q12” — the 12 key questions that best measure employee engagement. Charged with developing and designing the Q12 practice for Gallup were Curt Coffman, Dr. James K. Harter, and Marcus Buckingham.
Put in charge of developing content and training programs centered on the Q12, Buckingham wrote a proposal for a book originally titled The Gallup Book of Management. Everyone agreed that the title wasn’t quite right, but Buckingham managed to secure high-profile William Morris agent Joni Evans to represent the book. She requested a redraft of the book proposal. And another. And another. Finally, on the 20th draft, she deemed the proposal ready to send out, and Simon & Schuster acquired the rights. After a brief flirtation with the title Breaking All the Rules, Buckingham hit on a piece of inspiration from Shakespeare’s Henry VI — “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” — and the book finally gained its familiar title: First, Break All the Rules.
Written in New York City throughout 1998, First, Break All the Rules was published in April 1999, becoming an immediate bestseller and instant business classic. Not content to rest on their laurels, Clifton and Buckingham soon began work on the follow-up book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, and its associated assessment test, StrengthsFinder. Clifton developed and tested the 180 items that made up the StrengthsFinder profile, while Buckingham wrote the 34 “Talent Theme” definitions and all of the action items. Each copy of Now featured a code enabling readers to take the StrengthsFinder test, giving it a claim, in a sense, as the first interactive book. At the last minute, Gallup decided to remove the individual action items, concerned that including them would hurt their consulting business. Later Gallup realized that those action items needed to be shared, and they became the basis for StrengthsFinder 2.0.
“The most important thing I learned was that psychology was half-baked, literally half-baked. We had baked the part about mental illness; we had baked the part about repair of damage. But… that’s only half of it. The other side’s unbaked, the side of strength, the side of what we’re good at.”
—Dr. Martin Seligman, 1999
“I want to talk to the kids at home watching. I was a kid and I watched this show and it seemed so far away from me…. With the world being so fast, I want to remind you to focus on what you love, because it is the greatest passport, it is the greatest road map to an extraordinarily blissful life.”
Tony Winner Katie Finneran, June 14, 2010
Let’s talk about creativity, innovation, and “flow.” And throw a little “self-actualization” in the mix. This may be a little “rambling,” but I think it is important.
I was “surfing,” and caught Katie Finneran’s acceptance speech at the Tony’s last night. I could not get it out of my mind.
It may seem a little like a luxury to even discuss this right now. One of the most viewed posts I have written on this blog is A Jobless Recovery and a Slip Down Maslow’s Hierarchy, and in it I suggest that in this economic climate, we have slipped down a notch or two on Maslow’s hierarchy. People need jobs – they need money – they need to survive. Finding a job that is fulfilling, that allows one to reach “flow,” to attain “self-actualization” is almost a luxury too far.
But… on the other hand. If there is any fact that is becoming more apparent, more important, it is this — we need a very talented, very large group of people always asking “what’s next?” What will the next trend be, product be, innovation be. We definitely need a whole lot of our workers to be able to flourish in an environment of creativity and innovation. And to reach this ability, we need people who are experiencing “flow,” and reaching for self-actualization.
A little background:
Flow: (from the Wikipedia summary)
In his seminal work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi outlines his theory that people are most happy when they are in a state of flow— a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. The idea of flow is identical to the feeling of being in the zone or in the groove. The flow state is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing. This is a feeling everyone has at times, characterized by a feeling of great absorption, engagement, fulfillment, and skill—and during which temporal concerns (time, food, ego-self, etc.) are typically ignored.
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.”
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.
The flow state also implies a kind of focused attention, and indeed, it has been noted that mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and martial arts seem to improve a person’s capacity for flow. Among other benefits, all of these activities train and improve attention.
In short, flow could be described as a state where attention, motivation, and the situation meet, resulting in a kind of productive harmony or feedback.
Self-Actualization: (from the Wikipedia summary)
Abraham Maslow defines self-actualization as “the desire for self-fulfillment, namely the tendency for him [the individual] to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”
And, just one quote from Twyla Tharp (The Creative Habit):
Imagine people dancing into the wee hours of the morning at a club. Most of them have spent all day working at demanding jobs. Yet their energy returns like magic at night when the music and dancing start up. Dancing, perhaps more than any other art form, has an energizing effect on people.
In Daniel Pink’s Drive, he affirms the value of “20% time,” the time that some companies (not enough) like Google and 3M give their employees to work on “whatever they want to.” Out of such creative freedom has come Google News, Gmail, and Post-it Notes. The idea is simple, and profound. Creative work, breakthrough work, does not arrive on a schedule. We need to find ways to let the creative juices flow, and they seldom flow on deadline.
So – back to the Tony’s. Katie Finneran may not quite be saying “do what you love, and the money will follow.” But she is definitely encouraging a generation of children out there to discover what they love, and the fulfillment will follow.
And I think that we might be learning this in the world of business – “do what you love, and this will lead to more breakthrough innovations.”
A couple of obvious lessons:
1) If you are a business owner/leader, consider creating a 20% time program for your employees. The research indicates that it will pay off – maybe substantially.
2) And, personally, what is it that you do that when you do it, you lose all sense of time, and your energy just keeps you going in a lost state of discovery, creativity, productivity? Discover that about yourself – and then “focus on what you love.”
Update: I just thought of this quote from George Orwell, from his essay Why I Write, about “outraging his true nature” before he returned to it:
From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four I tried to abandon this idea, but I did so with the consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write books.
Amabile is one of my intellectual heroes (heroines?). She and her associates have conducted extensive research on the impact of job conditions on the quality of work produced.
They discovered that this is what the best work requires:
1. That people be given a great deal of freedom in figuring out how to complete the work – that is, the opportunity to make day-to-day decisions during the project. In a word, autonomy.
2. That team members felt both challenged and excited in a positive fashion by the work they were asked to do. In a word, inspiration.
3. That those involved had sufficient organizational support such as resources, a supportive work group, a supportive supervisor who communicates well, and an organizational environment in which creativity is strong encouraged and generously rewarded. In a word, appreciation.Another of my intellectual heroes is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (1997) and Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (2008). He and his associates have also conducted rigorous and extensive research to determine when people are happiest in the workplace. Here is a brief excerpt from Flow:
“Hours pass by in minutes, and minutes can stretch out to seem like hours.” When researchers interviewed highly-accomplished specialists (e.g. musicians engaged in a performance, athletes engaged in competition), they spoke of feeling as though they were being carried along by water. They were almost floating. In a word, flow.
Therein lies both the challenge and opportunity that every organization faces: To establish and then sustain a work environment in which people do what they love and love what they do.
* * *
Teresa Amabile is the Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School. She is also a Director of Research at the School and is the author of Creativity in Context and Growing Up Creative, as well as over 150 scholarly papers, chapters, case studies, and presentations.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is professor and former chairman of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago. His previous books include the aforementioned Creativity and Flow as well as The Evolving Self.