Flow versus Mastery, the challenge of our era
By Tino Mantella, President & CEO Turknett Leadership Group
I admit that I am a “baby boomer” so my thoughts, below, won’t be in sync with some other generations. Yet, at TLG we strive to understand each generation and our purpose is to “unleash potential”. Embracing and understanding changing environments is of utmost importance when it comes to providing the best results for our clients.
I suspect that most of us understand the meaning of mastery, but having the drive, desire, time, and purpose to work toward mastery is another story.
The word “flow” may be a newer term to many of us, so I will start there.
The “Flow Model” was first introduced by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (say that three times fast or once slow and you win a prize). I haven’t read the gentleman’s book “Flow, the Psychology of the Optimal Experience” but the title gives you a good indication of what the book is about (I see it’s only $2.70 in paperback today). In my own words, I would translate as the perfect environment to optimize one’s work with ultimate satisfaction. Author Daniel Pink calls this the Goldilocks effect (my translation – not to boring and not to hard….just right).
I would describe “mastery” as coming closer and closer to perfection based on decades of focus and thousands of hours of concentration on the intricate details of a trade where an individual is motivated to excel. I subscribe to the thought that there is no such thing as 100% mastery. I suspect that Meryl Streep would say she never had the perfect performance, Leonardo Davinci the perfect artwork, or Tiger Woods the perfect 18 holes. The Masters always see windows to enhance their life’s work.
The above is a bit of bookish philosophy, so allow me to make a point here that is set in my reality. Flow and mastery are often in conflict. If flow is putting yourself in a perfect place and mastery is doing the hard and the tedious things thousands of times, it’s difficult to see how mastery won’t decline and is declining, if flow is dominant. Perhaps, in the USA, it’s even more pronounced than in emerging parts of the world. Mind you, I have no scientific/analytical evidence to my statement. Maybe I am spinning fake news, but I don’t think I am.
Since this newsletter is about the “employee experience” I am now going to tie this article back to the theme. We employers need to create an environment where people are self-motivated to achieve a level of mastery in their work. We want “flow” for them because we understand that’s what today’s generations expect and we know that if we are not thinking of them, then we and they won’t get to where we both want to end up. How does “flow” reconcile with the words of the late President John Kennedy in his “Choose to go to the Moon” speech – “we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard”. He then perceptively wove in purpose “because the goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies….”. Do we choose to do things that are hard today or perfect for us?
At the end of the day I suggest that leaders need to do their best to figure out how to keep their employees happy, and motivated. We need to understand that every person is motivated by different things. We need to remember that work/life balance is a motivator and a purpose onto itself. And, maybe, we need to except that success is helping our employees achieve their personal goals over company goals. Ideally, they will align. As I type this I hope that I am wrong about flow versus mastery. I want to see people working on the hard while having time to enjoy other things.
Yet, I am a romantic at heart so I will not end with my words but those of President Teddy Roosevelt. I think it speaks to mastery (even though he talks about the “man” let’s apply it to women as well:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”