In his book FLOW, Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” It is the same as the highest point on the inverted U on the over arousal curve. It’s the point that which your skills are challenged at their highest and the dopamine rush is at its highest too. Any more challenge will cause the individual to crash and burn.
In a class discussion someone brought up the example of the advertising industry and how creative people are often subjected to very tight deadlines and work days and nights at a stretch to make the client pitch. They are also known to thrive it such an environment, saying they are at their creative best under such pressure. In any other industry this may be unheard of, or not happen at such frequency. The issue here is that different people have different set points on the over arousal curve, and its possible that the advertising industry attracts people with a higher set point. Its akin to people who enjoy bungee jumping – they have a different set point of feeling thrilled than many others. These set points may differ within an industry, with an organization as well as within a function.
As talent professionals, it is important for us to understand this to be able to fine-tune a methodology to figure out where an individual’s set point lies in terms of professional challenge and skill. It would be a great way to segment employees in terms of career development and the sets of experiences they need to feel engaged and passionate about the work they do. If this is tailored to individual employees the organisation will see positive results in employee feedback relating to employee retention.
Kalpana Sinha is a Leadership and Organisation Professional. Her blog has reflections from her work experiences of over 20 years.