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Book Review

Good Business: Leadership, Flow and the Making of Meaning

by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Disillusionment is running rampant in a workplace drowned in the wake of grossly fraudulent business practices from industry giants like Enron, Worldcom, and Xerox, a struggling stock market and the highest unemployment rates in decades. But leading the way on a new crusade to focus on ethics instead of revenues and nurturing work environments instead of layoffs, is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of several books, and most recently, Good Business.

Csikszentmihalyi synopsizes his approach neatly: "While the book draws primarily on the experience of leaders of major corporations, it is really about how to improve one's work life at any level—be it janitor or manager. It tries to provide a context for a meaningful life in which work and the pursuit of financial rewards can find their proper places…this book will discuss what it means to be a good leader, a good manager and a good worker."

What Is Flow?

Basically, a state of optimal performance in which the challenges presented to a worker and the skills possessed by the worker are matched. But there’s more.

How Does It Feel to Be In It?
  1. Goals are clear.
  2. Feedback is immediate.
  3. A balance between opportunity and capacity.
  4. Concentration deepens.
  5. The present is what matters.
  6. Control is no problem.
  7. The sense of time is altered.
  8. The loss of ego.

Good Business is a good book. But it’s not a "how-to"with neatly compartmentalized bullet points and acronyms for success. There aren’t simple strategies and steps that can be applied after you’re through reading. There aren't quizzes or assessments to rank your or your organization’s degree of Flow.

There are, however, many interesting, somewhat stunning revelations contained within, that might just change how you think about work and your life. We recommend reading a chapter or two at a time and ruminating on the contents. You’ll be amazed at how many new ideas occur to you and the correlations you are able to draw to your own situation.

One such light-bulb moment will probably occur when you review his Map of Everyday Experience. This deceptively simple diagram shows the relationship between Challenges and Skills and how control, relaxation, boredom, apathy, worry, anxiety, arousal and Flow pertain to them.

While some companies are trying to embrace a "soft touch" with their employees by injecting "fun"in the workplace, they're really missing the boat. Csikszentmihalyi understands that what people are really seeking is meaningful work that is challenging, which in turn is enjoyable.

On the flip side, chasing the dollar won't work either. Increased revenues are a result of the combination of an environment that challenges and nurtures people and workers with the appropriate skill sets to meet those challenges.