Going With The Flow


Deep Thought, OB, organisational effectiveness, theories / Monday, November 3rd, 2008

If you are familiar with the flow concept – you might also have been through a flow experience yourself, then you will recognise the symptoms of being in the flow – when time doesn’t matter, distractions are absent and everything happens automatically – when excellence is within your grasp and things happen as they should. Everything just flows. Answers pop into your head fully formed, and even before you try the hat on, you know – it’s going to fit. Or when the cricket or tennis ball is the size of a football, and your feet are dancing into position without any conscious effort on your part.

Things just flow.

And the flow experience, as the speaker says, comes after a certain threshold of effort or practise or time spent chasing a creation or a problem. And what comes from a flow experience is superior output, high quality stuff.

And it might also explain why organisations would love for their employees to be in a state of flow. Now they, that is the organisation, cannot look into your head, and see if you are in a state of flow or not. But they do know the ‘symptoms’ of being in flow. Time flies by and you have no idea of other stuff going on around you. So they reward the behaviour – spending time at work even after closing hours, means you must be working hard and solving big problems in a state of flow. It also shows your commitment to your organisation and work place, and it doesn’t matter if you are not spending time with your family or recharging your batteries to be more productive.

Another reason why the behaviour is rewarded is because the costs of spending a lot of time at work is a evident over a longer term, the bill for which will be paid later – over a couple of years maybe. Whereas the benefit, potentially, is here and now – meeting the numbers for the quarter. Over a few years, you might be with a different organisation or a different boss – therefore very little incentive for your current manager to really think about it – the only time they will think about it is if the organisational culture tilts all the way towards actively encouraging a healthy work-life balance. If it only pays lip service to the concepts, but rewards potentially inefficient behaviour (spending 14 hours at work every day has to be inefficient) then it’s a cost which the organisation bears over a long term.

And the costs are in terms of the kind of talent the organisation attracts, the lost productivity due to health issues and multiple negative effects of burn out, lower retention rates, higher wages etc.

To be fair, I am not arguing that you shouldn’t be spending any time at work – many times certain projects get me so involved that I do end up working late – but only because I am in ‘the flow’, doing something. Not because I know that’s the behaviour my organisation/boss rewards.

Behaviour tends to follow incentives, and if the reward is for the process because the output is hard to measure/can’t be measured – then it’s likely to cause bigger issues in the long term.

We are better off measuring output accurately and rewarding results.

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