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80 of 82 people found the following review helpful
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the Hungarian-born writer of the bestseller Flow. This professor of Psychology and Education at the University of Chicago has been studying this concept of Flow for many years and has written several interesting books, among which Flow (1990) and Finding Flow (1997). Now he has written a new book: Good Business. It turns out to be just the book I hoped he would write: a book about Flow and work.

=WORK CAN CONTRIBUTE TO YOUR WELL-BEING!=
Although many people view work primarily negatively, it can actually contribute importantly to your well-being, more so than gaining more and more possessions. And because work is so important, it is vital that managers and employees create conditions in which good work can happen. But what is good work? It is enjoying doing your best while at the same time contributing to something beyond yourself. Csikszentmihalyi explains how this can be achieved through two processes: 1) experiencing flow and 2) growth toward complexity. What precisely do these two things mean?

1. Experiencing Flow
In situations of flow, tasks demand the full involvement of the person. In these situations there is a perfect balance between the challenge of the task and the skills of the person. The so-called 'flow channel' represents optimal experience, where both challenges and skills lie above the average level. More challenge than skill leads to arousal, anxiety, or worry. More skill than challenge leads to control, relaxation, or boredom. Flow depends on eight conditions: 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.

2. Growth Toward Complexity
People flourish when in their activities there is a trajectory of growth that results in the development of increasing emotional, cognitive and social complexity. With complexity two processes happen at once: a) DIFFERENTIATION: realizing that we are unique individuals, responsible for our own survival and well being, b) INTEGRATION: the realization that however unique we are, we are also part of a larger whole.

Conclusion: Regularly experiencing flow plus growing toward complexity are the ingredients of good work. But what about the 'happy' part? How can it be that pleasurable activities, products and relaxation are less important for happiness than the hard work of flow and complexity?

=PLEASURE VERSUS ENJOYMENT =
Csikszentmihalyi contrasts pleasure with enjoyment. He explains pleasure is nice but also conservative and leading to equilibrium while enjoyment is like happiness in action leading to greater skills. Enjoyment leads to a "triumph over the forces of entropy" and is like building psychological capital. Too bad that our materialistic and marketing-dominated culture emphasizes the importance of pleasure over enjoyment, since enjoyment is far more likely to lead to long term happiness!

=WHAT CAN MANAGERS AND EMPLOYEES DO? =
Managers and employees can do quite a lot to advance conditions of flow and complexity. The book does not provide a simple list but the reader will probably get many ideas.
As a manager I could take the eight conditions of flow and the two aspects of complexity and use them to rethink work and the way I interact with my employees. Doing that I would recognize I need to (among other things) create attractive working conditions (with clear goals, feedback, etc), provide a good degree of control to stimulate the development of employees and build an organization with a long term purpose people can relate to. Another I could do is start a one-on-one or group dialogue with employees about these flow and complexity principles in order to improve work.

Employees also can do a lot. As an employee I could do certain things to improve my objective work conditions. I could ask for clearer goals, and more specific and timely feedback. I could negotiate with my manager to get more autonomy and more flexibility in time schedules. Further, I could change the way I look at and what I expect from work. If I indeed believe that the hard work of flow and complexity indeed improves the quality of my life ...... I could resist the temptation to cut corners (doing my work with as little effort as possible) and instead pay attention more closely to the complexity of my tasks. In terms of my career development I could think about what kind of products I really believe in and what kind of company I truly would like to be part of.

=CONCLUSION =
The book contains a great framework, is well written and contains good examples. The one I liked best is the anecdote about the brother of the author, Moricz. It was not until his eighties that Moricz took up the hobby of the collection and study of crystals. Moricz describes a flow experience he had when looking at one of his crystals.
"I was looking at this thing just yesterday," he said, smiling. "It was nine in the morning when I put it under the microscope. Outside it was sunny, just like today. I kept turning the rock around, looking at all the fissures, the intrusions, the dozen or more different crystal formations inside and around...then I looked up, and thought that a storm must be coming, because it had gotten so dark...the I realized that it was not overcast, but the sun had been setting - it was past seven in the evening."

I think this is a wonderful book. I would, however, have liked the book even more if it had been still a bit more practical. Still, I recommend this book highly for anyone searching for ways to improve work and careers. I think Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (who seems to be a great example of his own theory) has something to offer of great value for them.

Coert Visser, m-cc.nl
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 2004
The premise of the book is that our jobs are a primary component in our life and that when we are happy in our work we are the most productive and of the most value to our business.
Mihaly reviews the concept of "flow" from his earlier studies which is a state where we fully utilize our skills and capabilities and how we are able to reach that state and what inhibits us from reaching it. We also learn about our own development stages and how we improve through the combination of
realizing our uniqueness and by valuing human relationships.
This book teaches us about good leadership qualities and how we (being led) can find satisfaction in our work.
Organizational leaders must clarify the goals of a business and ensure it is well communicated.
Three levers are available to managers to enable flow and create a great organization: make the environment attractive and comfortable; imbuing jobs with meaning and value; and by rewarding individuals who find satisfaction in their work.
Flow presents opportunity (such as finding more satisfaction) and challenge (as in the case of changing a job that sucks the life out of people).
Innovation is seen as repeatable through flow - but certain practices must be met such as: stay away from micro managing people; let people know the problems that need to be solved; and how to set and achieve performance goals (prioritizing tasks throughout a company has the effect of ensuring a company
won't meet its goals).
An outline of the conditions for flow:
1) Clear goals - you know your tasks and have the appropriate skill
2) Immediate feedback - you understand the effect of your efforts
3) Balance opportunity with capacity - you always learn to seek opportunity
4) Concentration - don't over think (remember the old 'Inner Tennis' books?)
5) The present is what matters - you exist in the 'now'
6) Control is no problem - you become immersed in the work
7) Time is altered - you 'slip through the cracks in time'
8) Loss of ego - you focus on giving not taking or defending
This book is a quick first read and will inspire thought, take the opportunity to read it.
It is more than a great business book - it is also a book about life.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2003
A brilliant work taking the author's concept of FLOW and applying it specifically to work and business. The approach may have been taken previously ... though never so well or so clearly. There are practical, concrete matters addressed as well as the overall psychology of FLOW. It quickly becomes clear why some employees stagnate in their work, even though they may be highly skilled. There is much that business owners, managers and leaders can take away to enhance their own lives, the lives of their employees and of society on the whole. And the not-so-surprising outcome of these endeavors is greater success for individuals and for the business.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2006
Artists, when describing the act of painting a masterpiece, will often claim that they felt "lost" in their work. Likewise, a basketball player may describe the experience of setting up the winning play as having an altered perception of time, as if twelve seconds actually extended for hours. When we are truly engaged and at the highest states of enjoyment, we experience the freedom of complete absorption in activity. Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, Professor of Psychology at Claremont Graduate University, first coined the term "flow" in 1975 to describe this experience, and has written several books about the concept including the bestseller Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience in 1990. Through a series of interviews with successful business leaders who combine high achievement with strong moral commitment, Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning explores the connection between flow and work.

Csikszentmihalyi claims that our jobs have a significant influence on the quality of our lives. He explains that happiness is not something that happens to us, but rather is something we make happen. As such, work can be one of the most fulfilling aspects of life, provided that employees have an opportunity to do their best and to contribute to something greater than themselves.

He makes a profound distinction between the concepts of pleasure and enjoyment: pleasure is a conservative force that makes us want to satisfy existing needs and does not foster change, whereas enjoyment is not always pleasant, and can be sometimes stressful. Csikszentmihalyi describes enjoyment as the sensation of being fully alive, triumphing over the forces of entropy and decay. A mountain climber, for example, who is utterly exhausted after an dangerous climb but who wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world than at the peak of a mountain, perhaps does not experience pleasure, but does experience enjoyment. Likewise, while relaxing in a hammock at the beach may be pleasurable, it cannot compare to the exhilaration and "flow" felt by the mountain climber. Similarly, an employee who holds a demanding and stressful position may not experience pleasure on the job, but for some, the challenge presented by the work is often enjoyable and can lead to "flow." For others, however, a demanding job may be overwhelming and may be experienced as drudgery, not enjoyment. Csikszentmihalyi explores characteristics that are common to organizations that support flow.

Csikszentmihalyi claims that leaders of organizations can actively create conditions to ensure that every employee has an opportunity to fully develop and express their potentialities and as a result experience flow. He explains that clear goals, good feedback, and incremental challenges are important factors that facilitate employee growth. First, goals must be clear both on an organizational and individual level. An employee must not only embrace the goals for the organization, he/she must trust their leader's commitment to those goals and must see how his/her individual activities align with the larger vision. Likewise, employees must have access to effective and meaningful feedback, not only to improve performance, but to be reassured that the leaders of the organization care deeply about their work. Finally, challenges presented to employees must be matched with their level of skill. Tasks that are too easy make experiences of flow and enjoyment more difficult to create, whereas challenges that are too great are simply overwhelming. Csikszentmihalyi states that actively creating conditions for flow is one of the best strategies for getting employees to give their best.

The assertions in the book are not clearly substantiated by research. Most of Csikszentmihalyi's claims seem to be derived from his earlier works and mapped onto workplace situations, corroborated by anecdotal evidence captured in interviews. A careful review of the book's notes reveal that an overwhelming majority of the thirty-nine business leaders who were interviewed were male and over the age of fifty. It remains to be seen if a more diverse group would have provided different accounts of flow at the workplace. Nevertheless, the book is an uplifting read and reminds us that work can indeed be enjoyable. It contains many inspirational quotes and anecdotes from today's business leaders, and presents a unique perspective on finding happiness.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2007
Work can and should make you happy. If it doesn't something is wrong, according to the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Good Business: Leadership, Flow and the Making of Meaning. We spend much of our lives working, and it is not just a waste of time and energy when we do not enjoy it. Our output suffers, which the author argues is bad for society, not just for ourselves. Hungarian-born Csikszentmihalyi wrote the groundbreaking 1990 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience that brought his research into human behavior to a wider audience. Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychological Association, described Csikszentmihalyi as the world's leading researcher on positive psychology. In 1999, after a long career teaching psychology at the University of Chicago, he began teaching the subject to MBA students at the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University. He is also the director of the Quality of Life Research Center, a nonprofit institute in Claremont, California. The book centers on the topic of flow. Flow means being so absorbed in an activity that we shut out distractions and worries to devote all our energy to the task at hand. It can occur in work or play, but the focus in this book is on how people can find flow when they work, and how leaders can encourage flow in employees. Flow occurs when there is a balance between high challenges and skills. Flow is unlikely in an activity until we become proficient in it. It's also not static. Without continual challenge, boredom creeps in. "The important factor to keep in mind is that personal growth is contingent on the balance of opportunities for action and the capacities to act that a person encounters at work," he writes. He describes seven other components of flow: clear goals, immediate feedback, deepening concentration, focus on the moment, personal control, a sense of altered time and loss of ego. However, flow by itself is not sufficient for a happy, productive and meaningful life. We must be engaged in a worthy, ethical enterprise, working toward aspirations beyond ourselves and, ideally, with effects beyond our lifetime. Good Business contains snippets of interviews with top executives, such as Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, and Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, chosen not only for their success in business, but because of their strong social conscience. Csikszentmihalyi's argument is that business is now our most crucial institution, so it has an obligation to the quality of life not just of its employees, but of society. He also quotes people who find flow in such activities as writing poetry, rock climbing and surgery. Flow is not just for executives, or those with exotic jobs or hobbies. His research shows that flow happens in service workers, such as janitors, or in workers on assembly lines. Finding flow is important, but happiness is the bottom line. Csikszentmihalyi says happiness usually follows fulfilling our potential, which rests on two separate but simultaneous processes. One is differentiation, the recognition of our unique characteristics and our sense of responsibility for survival and well-being. The other is integration: realizing that we are "completely enmeshed in networks of relationships with other human beings, with cultural symbols and artifacts, and with the surrounding natural environment. A person who is fully differentiated and integrated becomes a complex individual -- one who has the best chance at leading a happy, vital, and meaningful life."

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.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
In his seminal work Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi examines that state of mind where the subject is consumed by the challenge put before them, so much so that they lose sense of time and self. The subject is "in the moment" and operating at the peak of their skills. Athletes, artists, students, and countless others have experienced Flow. Csikszentmihalyi studied these experiences scientifically and breaks the experience down.

Good Business, by contrast, is less of a scientific study and more of a general discourse or even an informal talk. Csikszentmihalyi's goal is to help professionals achieve this state of flow at work. The author's goal is worthy, even moral. One criticism of the book, however, is the dependence of flow assigned to the employer. In my experience, an employee dedicated to flow will find ways to achieve it even in less enlightened environments.

Regardless, this is a book with the greatest of goals: to transform businesses in a way that gives more to their employees and the world around them.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2011
The first chapter of this book said that it draws primarily on the experience of major corporations, but was really about how to improve one's work life at any level - be it a janitor or manager. I thought, "that's very ambitious, and very unlikely," but after reading it cover-to-cover, it succeeds in reaching that objective.

In each chapter, renowned psychologist, and creator of the concept of "flow," Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, methdocially talks about the applicability of the flow concept to every aspect of the workplace, as it relates to all workplace personnel. Many lessons are punctuated by anecdotes which are shared by leaders of top corporations.

He emphasizes that it's the responsibility of management to remove all barriers which prevent workers from experiencing flow, and stresses that while some jobs are simply not very enjoyable, it's the responsibility of the employee to take on the challenge of doing such jobs, with creativity and a positive attitude, that will enable them to endure.

This is significant for managers because most jobs are NOT clearly defined, do not have clear goals, and employees rarely receive feedback on them; all of which are crucial to experiencing flow.

Perhaps what's most impressive about this book, is how Mihaly has synthesized so many discplines of psychology (positive, organizational, social), and channels it into his flow theme, in a manner that is both relevant and accessible to CEOs, presidents, vice-presidents, managers, supervisors, and front line workers.

Since the two most common workplace complaints are lack of variety, and conflicts with supervisors, it truly offers opportunities to learn how to get everyone in an organization on the same page to focus on the root of what we are all striving for: meaning in our work that impacts the meaning and joy we experience in our lives.

This is a must-read for business leaders, and a should-read for all professionals. Get it today!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2009
Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi coined the term "Flow" back in 1975 to describe the experience that many of us are familiar with: time is suspended, our focus is completely on the task, and everything around us ceases to exist. In this book, the author attempts to map and apply his research to the world of management and businesses.

I doubt that some of the arguments and propositions the author makes will ever make it into the mainstream management literature, but the overarching argument for optimizing the work experience to match the challenge of the task, skill of the person, and giving them the opportunity to grow is right on target. If there are no mistakes, they are not pushing hard enough. If they are coasting, the motivation and morale is likely lacking as well.

A thought provoking read and one that every entrepreneur and founder should read.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2005
Mihaly is a psychologist and a great author. The present book builds upon his previous book "Flow". Where "Flow" is highly philosophical and little bit difficult to comprehend, the "Good Business" is much easier to go through and understand. The book is about creating meaningful jobs where employees can experience flow and thus happiness. Flow is a situation where one is deeply involved in what ever one is doing. Such experiences not only generate job satisfaction at one hand, but on the other hand they also lead to better financial performance of organizations. But most organizations tend to promote profitability at the expense of employee happiness and well being. This book presents a guideline as to how our jobs should be designed and how the future businesses should be run.
It's a great thought provoking book a must read for any one who is seeking to explore the relationship between work and satisfaction.
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on April 20, 2011
Subtitled Leadership, Flow and the Making of Meaning, this insightful book speaks of the "psychological capital" contained in Flow and its significance for business, work and life. Humans need, per the author, to combine differentiation (understanding how they are unique) with integration (interaction with the world around them). Divided into three sections, the author begins by focusing on the relationship between Flow and Happiness. Flow, per "Mike," has clear goals, immediate feedback and provides a balance between opportunity and capacity. Two diagrams are presented in this section to show the critical balance between challenge and skills to move from boredom (no challenge, too many skills) and anxiety (more challenge than skills) to Flow (challenge and skillls are matched).

The second section, Flow and Organizations, combines quotes from visionary leaders coming from organizations as diverse as Patagonia, Motorola, Amway and Templeton Investments to show how concentrating on the deeper issues beyond shareholder earnings creates extraordinary businesses. Mike speaks of hundred year managers that "have a vision that gives life meaning, offers people hope for their own future and those of their children."

Finally, in Flow and Self, the author speaks of the "soul" of business. As a person of faith, I take a different tack on this topic, although he has much to offer in this area. MIke describes the "stuff of great souls" as including optimism, integrity, ambition, perseverance and integrity, populating this discussion with numerous quotes from leaders who embody these characteristics and seek to "walk the talk."

This exceptional book closes by providing practical guidance on helping the reader to develop strengths and discover opportunities to create flow in life as well as providing a strong challenge for each business to "truly fulfill its potential to help make life happier for all."
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