Good Business - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Good Business - from the author of Flow

A book I found at the library recently.  Comes from the author of flow (post on my discovery of his work).

The goal of Good Business is to discuss business success with a broader commitment to social goals.  At first this reminded me of another book I read called Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks. Which is all about going from a selfish business mind to a selfless model of service.  I will re-read it again soon and post notes, because I feel it is worthy.

There seems to be a trend around this notion of selfless service in business along with building a great culture.  It could be the future of excellent businesses.

Currently two types of people hold the position to give spiritual and material needs to a community.  They are scientists and entrepreneurs.  Science helps us live a longer healthier life and business gives us a meaning beyond ourselves.

Looking at human nature you would think that greed would win.  But, there are increasing numbers of business leaders that care about contributing to the greater good.  Rather than solely focused on profits.

Patagonia is a company I keep reading about and is another case study in this book.  They built an amazing building with exposed beams, etc.  Why? They want to give the feeling that they are going to be around in another hundred years from now.  Not just prepping the company to be sold.

The owner states people need some stability in their lives.  You need to have a vision that is meaningful and offers hope to people for their own future and their families.

What does it require to be a business leader that helps build a better future for everyone involved?

"We have a philosophy of trying to have every single product we make be the best in the world.  Not among the best-but the best. Every single thing, whether it's a pair of pants or a shirt, whatever." - Chouinard, Patagonia owner.

To build a enterprise that will last one has to believe in the value of ones work. It a company does not strive to be the best in the world at what it does it will attract second rate employees.  A company that strives to be the best will attract first class workers who care.

Whats interesting is Chouinard began by building hardware that was destroying the mountains.  He saw that and then created new hardware that could be removed.  After transitioning into clothing he saw that industrial cotton was a  terrible process.. relatable to factory farming.  Then, said he will never use a piece of industrial cotton again and began using organically grown cotton.

His ability to pivot when he does not believe in a product is very impressive and inspirational.

The leaders of Cummins diesel engines stated he could have moved somewhere cheaper labor could be found.  But whats the point if you have to thousands of people who know and trust you?

At this point in the book that main take aways are;

  1. Believe in what you do striving to be the best.
  2. Think long term with enduring values and improving human well being, not profits.



Money, security and comfort are the building blocks, but people also need there talents are fully engaged, growth, low stress, excitement, and deeply enjoyable experiences. This is a process of flow which the book will dive into deeper.

Along with flow a business needs to have a meaningful pattern, and a path of growth that leads to cognitive, emotional, and social complexity.

To thrive a business needs to foster the growth of flow and social complexity.

Money and material only make us happy up to a certain threshold.

Relationships are related to happiness.

Businesses should aim to make products and services that make people happier. Review Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Once all of our other needs are taken care of the highest level of happiness is to express oneself and using 100% of physical and mental powers we were born with to innovate and grow.

A business is successful to the extent that it taps into these forms of happiness.

  • A car sale helps ensure survival, built with green processes give safety and security, gives the owner a sense of belonging (jeep), enhances self esteem, and self actualization by allowing the person to express their taste, driving skills, and lifestyle.

Market value is dependent on the anticipated happiness it is expected to provide.

But it is not all about the product.  A business also needs happy people in a good culture.

As the middle class strives to consume status symbols of a bigger house, better car, and expensive vacations they are giving up growing as an individual,  and developing close relationships.  Most companies take advantage of this fact that people think possessions will lead to happiness.  They contribute to promote materialism as long as there is a demand for it.

The best indicator that someone is happy is they no longer desire anything else.

Because if we feel like we lack something we cannot be happy.  But, very few people have achieved a level of lacking want that are fully happy.  This is why business needs to enhance human well-being.

Two Pillars of Happiness

  1. Differentiation - Seeing that we are unique individuals, and responsible for our own survival and well being, and authentically developing this uniqueness wherever it may lead and enjoying the expression of being in action.
  2. Integration - Even though we are unique, we are all connected in a network of relationships with others, material, symbols, environment.

A person who is is fully differentiated and integrated has the best chance to be happy.

To be successful you have to enjoy doing your best, while also contributing to something meaningful to you beyond yourself.

Humans generally shift back and forth from selfish to selflessness as they age.  One year olds are dependent on their parents, then once they hit two they like to do things on their own and shift occurs.  This happens about ten different times for most people as they grow.

The highest point one may reach is the person who has developed and refined their uniqueness while being in control of their thoughts, feelings, and actions.  While at the same time enjoying human diversity, and feeling at one with the infinite cosmos.  The person is truly happy because they need nothing else.

Business that doesn't contribute to human growth and well-being is not worth doing, no matter how much the profit.

Then comes the question, how broadly is human growth and well-being extended for a CEO?  Most CEOs would say the shareholders are the only humans they have to look after.

But, as most great leaders would agree that is false and one needs to look after;

  • shareholders
  • customers
  • employees
  • owners
  • communities
  • natural environment
  • vendors

What should be optimized is not profit, but the value the company creates and adds to human lives.  The companies goal should be to add quality of life to customers through products and services, and similar add to employees lives through individual development, job security, and dealing with their aspirations.

Does all this mean that the people running these companies are martyrs to the well being of others? Not really.  Doing things this way creates a joyous way of doing business.  People who are driven by the desire to do their best, and to contribute to society, believe in what they are doing, and are happy doing it is a great task.  What else could you ask for?

Enjoyment is the foundation for memories that, in looking back enrich lives, and give one confidence for the future.

It is not possible to succeed as a leader unless one enjoys what they do.

What does it actually mean to enjoy something?

The answer is getting into a state of flow. Examples of flow for me are rock climbing, reading a good book, painting a helmet, riding my mountain bike, working out.

Flow is important in business because if a person doesn't enjoy their job they will not be that great at it. Almost any activity can lead to flow.  Even the most mundane tasks. The person who is engaged with the world, interested, curious, and excited is never at a loss to experience flow.

8 Conditions of flow:

  1. Clear goals - Rock climbing the goal on the mind is not the top of the mountain. It is the next move without falling. True enjoyment comes from the steps one takes towards the end goal, not actually achieving it. Savor the steps along the way and don't be so concerned with the outcome. So don't worry about a successful performance, but more about how you feel during the performance.  If what matters in life is happiness not success, then the journey is what counts, not reaching the destination.
  2. Immediate feedback - Helps you know that what you are doing matters. And has consequences. Feedback may come from others, but its best if it can come directly from the activity itself.
  3. Balance of opportunity and capacity ( a task is challenging, but doable) - Challenge and skills should be high and equal. A difficult task is exciting.  But if too hard it will cause anxiety, and if too easy it will cause boredom. Most people find their jobs too confining, and family life too predictable.  So they seek outside stimulants. The key is to find the opportunity in any situation. There will always be a dozen things to do and enjoy.
  4. Concentration deepens - When you're doing something that has clear goals, and immediate feedback you will become involved in it. Even if the activity is not important.. like a video game.  When intensity rises we will find ourselves deeply into it. Avoiding the monkey mind of daily distraction.  Where awareness and action merge into one.  You are a piece of the bike you are riding, not separate.  When things become effortless and you don't exist. It really comes down to our ability to concentrate on a narrow task.  We cannot focus on many things at once.  You can't rock climb and make phone calls and be in the zone.
  5. The present is what matters - You are focused on the task at hand and not thinking about your everyday life issues. Our mind will tend to wander without a task to work on. And when we have nothing to work on the mind will dig up negative things to focus on and make us depressed. In flow this is not possible as we are focused on what we are doing and not letting the mind wander off wherever it wants.  It is in the present.  It provides an escape.  Some people will turn to alcohol, sex, drugs, etc for this escape, but getting into flow is a much better option.  It will produce a positive outcome through challenges, effort, and building skills versus negative ones found in the former. It is an escape that pushes you forward rather than backward. Einstien said that art and science are the best means to escape from reality that humanity had created.  But I would say we have even more nowadays.
  6. Control is not a problem -In flow one has a strong sense of control over the situation, and more so over one's own performance over the environment.  Being used by the creative forces.. possessed by the muse. What matters is doing one's best for the sake of doing the task at hand, and knowing that the best one can do should be enough to prevail.
  7. Time is altered - Time flies by.  But sometimes the opposite happens as well. Flow will adapt to the action at hand and speed up, slow down based on how absorbed it is. We actually control the experience of time.
  8. Loss of Ego - Awareness of one's personhood temporarily disappears. They forget their social persona, rank, name, status and everything that it entails.  One forget self consciousness.  Their feats, desires, defeats, ambitions, etc. What is important is that when one enters a state of flow and forgets oneself.  After the event and when the self reappears a person has a boost in their self esteem.

"happiness cannot be attained by wanting to be happy-it must come as the unintended consequence of working for a goal greater than oneself. The truth of this insight is borne out by our own findings." - Viktor Frankl

You don't have to save the world to be in flow.  If a action produces flow it is worthy doing for that cause alone.  Don't do a task for the money or fame.  Do it because you love it.

"You are entitled to the work, but not to its rewards."

Something that is worth doing doesn't require an external reward. It is intrinsically rewarding just by doing the activity. Rock climbing isn't about getting to the top of the mountain. The enjoyment is the climbing itself.

Many athletes no longer enjoy their sport because it becomes about a paycheck and contract.

The point to remember is that just because we are paid to do something doesn't mean we can't enjoy doing it. Surgeons are highly paid and enjoy what they do under a flow state.