September book review: Flow

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Mihaly defines flow as a state of mind when consciousness is harmoniously ordered and thoughts and actions are congruent with each other. People experiencing flow are fully involved in the activity and continue doing it for its own sake. The experience is genuinely satisfying. Nothing else seems to matter.

The author provides general principles and examples that illustrate how such experiences happen. He points out that the normal state of mind is chaos. Without training and without an external object that demands attention, it is hard to concentrate long enough to achieve "optimal experience". This presents a significant challenge for building an environment conducive to flow.

Mihaly offers a thought model to transform potentially entropic experience into flow. You can use it to make the job more enjoyable for your team members or to create online applications that provide flow to your users. I tried to summarize it in the steps below:

  1. Set clear feasible goals. These goals will recognize challenges present in the system and imply skills necessary for the participants to be successful.
  2. Find ways to measure progress. In order to develop new skills, the participants will need to pay attention to the results of their actions.
  3. Help the participants become immersed in the activity. To maintain their full concentration, match the demands of the system with their skills and limit the number of available options to a select few.
  4. Make finer distinctions in the goals and challenges and help the participants recognize the opportunities for action.
  5. Raise the stakes if the activity becomes boring.

Happy reading!

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