Just Flow: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Says So

Just Flow

While reading Daniel Pink’s Drive, he mentions the works of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (who, by the way, I’ve coined Mika for short in my head), as extremely influential. Well, NYPL saved me, and I found Creativity : Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention as a Kindle download. The book overall has been incredibly interesting, and forgive me for using the google for details in the post but gosh darn NYPL you gotta give me more time with a book! I read through it quickly to meet my deadline and I can’t get it back, so, Google. Thanks. For being you. And now I know actually have to go pick up Capote so I read it with a tad more leisure.

Mika spends most of the book talking about creativity – defined as someone who changed a domain (think Nobel Prize winners, big-deal CEO’s etc, not Betsy upstairs who makes pretty impressive origami), and what their characteristics are. The book discusses their upbringing, personal life and work process to try to find similarities and differences. Most of the book comes from the interviews Mika and his team performed, but the end of the book is really where I had some fun. Mihaly offers some his own thoughts on how we can all achieve flow and creativity.

Flow is when you have struck the balance of challenge and skill, when you’re really working through some interesting topics, and it’s still hard enough to be interesting, but not so hard that it’s discouraging. Think about the last time you worked on a project and then suddenly you realized it’s been hours and you have been jamming. Just straight jamming. He sees flow as being connected to intrinsic motivation because you’ll need to be really into your personal jam-session.

I’d recommend reading the book overall, but it’s a nice smorgasburg of lots of different types of creatives and the ways they work or achieve personal pride and success. And let me tell you, all creatives are pretty different from each other, but here are some takeaways I picked up on:

  • Perspiration + Inspiration – Creativity is a small percentage of coming up with good ideas, and a big percentage of executing those ideas. Especially the sculptors – once they had something gorgeous in their mind, they had to painstakingly create it.
  • Devil’s Advocate – You have to look at things from all different angles, and push yourself to come up with new ideas all the time. Try looking at things from the opposite side all the time.
  • (Good) Idea Generation – Those new ideas? You have to know enough about your domain to pick out which ones aren’t good, and discard them. Chat with others to bounce the ideas around and challenge yourself.
  • Incubation – you need time to step away from your work after diving deep to let your ideas marinate. Take a vacation, a walk, a break, something!

Mihaly tells us to spend each day by opening ourselves to new experiences, and trying to find the excitement in the everyday. By spending each day checking in with yourself while remaining open, you’ll start to hone in on what drives you intrinsically. And, it’s okay if that honing in doesn’t happen until later in life. Some of the interviewees knew from a young age their mission, and others it was late in middle-age (or later). So! It’s never too late to start checking in with yourself.

So, go flow. Go flow on with your bad self.


Credits: Flow designed by Adam Terpening from the Noun Project, @iconmonstr, Creativity : Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention




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