Flow, the psychological state of high-performance where one loses one’s self in the work one is doing, is something that we think people crave. Bioss International posits that when we have a job that challenges us just enough but not overwhelms — a job that “fits” — we experience flow.
But do we? Or more specifically, do the activities required of Executive Management prevent the experience of flow in executives at work?
The literature has a lot of the examples of people experiencing Flow. Writers get into the zone, artistic painters lose themselves, programmers forget to eat… the list is pretty long.
It’s also pretty solitary.
Which is exactly what Executive Management isn’t.
Most of what you do at the Strategic level of work (where the results of your decisions are 3+ years out) is done with other people. There is always solitary work to be done but there’s a reason why the Japanese refer to executives as “tea drinkers”. Most of the important work is being done in meetings with others, whether one-on-one or more commonly groups.
It may be that there is a Flow that can be achieved in meetings but the literature doesn’t seem to cite it.
Certainly meetings that are run well and which have the Right People In Them Room can be much more productive (read: productive at all) versus the meetings we normally experience. People who need to do meetings know how to get them humming.
So maybe that’s a flow state common to everyone?
I’ve developed some training on meetings for software developers, who often find them frustrating for predictable reasons, so perhaps there is something to a Flow state in a meeting. But I’m not sure about it.
But if it’s true that meetings are not Flow-inducing, and Executive Management requires lots of meetings, then you expect that Executives will eschew executive management work for operations work. The latter has immediate feedback, is less uncertain, is predictable: everything Executive Management isn’t.
Image Credit: “Bessemer converter (iron into steel) Allegheny Ludlum Steel e Corp Brackenridge, Pa (LOC)” [crop]. Ca. 1940. Alfred T. Palmer via Library of Congress
Using a capability lens, meetings can be seen as a battle to move the discussion onto where each person naturally finds flow.
So perhaps a pre-condition for meeting flow is either those in the room having capability about the same, or having the wisdom to sense when they are being overwhelmed or underutilised and not try to drag it.