Thursday, October 30, 2008

Definition of flow-wolf

Csikszentmihalyi talks about the "autotelic personality" which allows those individuals lucky enough to possess it, to "transform ordinary experience into flow."

I think that defines the flow-wolf ..... even if not all of us are necessarily good at it.

All this talk about Maslow and Nietzsche is to better understand WHY we would want to be striving for flow? Perhaps more specifically, why we don't stop when we attain a simple flow experience associated with the low-levels of Maslow's hierarchy.

Why must we push our selves to achieve more complex flow experiences .... instead of being satisfied with the simple pleasures of life? What's the driver? Why the need to succeed? Why the will to power?

Where's the off button?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Nietzsche and the Hunger

I'm intrigued by the hunger, or life-force, that drives the flow-wolf. Certainly I think Maslow's pyramid has something to offer in showing where we go, but what causes us to climb that mountain?

I consider that Nietzsche's "will to power" concept has something to say about this. It helps us recognize the force that underlies our motivations, beyond simply dominance of others, but as an essential part of the creative process.

Certainly esteem, status and power represent the penultimate level in Maslow's heirarchy and can be interpreted as seeking social dominance. But what of the self-actualized individual? Perhaps he or she is seeking power over self and human failings? Certainly there is a transcendent state that we seek that is beyond the desire for worldly power. One manifestation of that is to have the power to create - and so become a small "g" god ourselves?

Ok, I'm not an expert on Nietzsche (and this is a contentious area of his work given some selective editing) but here we have another view of what lies at the summit of human desires ..... and what drives us to climb the mountain. His view is probably closer to that of Maslow - little talk of spirituality and more the observations of a scholar.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

I've been doing some thinking about Maslow and his Hierarchy of Needs.
A simple and elegant model of what drives the individual .... I think it also has some close ties to flow that are worth investigating.
Here are a few questions that come to mind:
  • Is flow available at all levels of the hierarchy?
  • If so, is there more flow opportunities at the higher?
  • What is self-actualization anyway? Is it nirvana? Ultimate flow?
These and other questions ..... I'm going to have to explore the associations more fully. Certainly there is a view that self-actualization is related to spirituality. I myself do not think it is necessarily so and given that Maslow is a scientist I doubt that is what he had in mind.
My simple interpretation of what's at the apex of the needs hierarchy is the self-awareness and confidence that comes with having transcended all other worldly needs. It is about not being reliant upon others for our sense of self, of knowing our place in society and recognizing the limits of our powers. If that takes us into the spiritual plane, so be it. But there is nothing wrong with reaching the summit and simply stopping, not thinking too much and taking in the view.
I'll have to check the official definition and get back to you .....

Saturday, October 25, 2008

My New Personal Motto

If you wish to drown, do not torture yourself with shallow water.

Bulgarian Proverb

Friday, October 24, 2008

Front-End Loading (FEL)

Not everyone may have heard of the term Front-End Loading (FEL), and certainly my using it identifies me as an engineering-type - which in some ways I am.

Anyway. FEL's definition refers to the investment made in preparation, planning and organization at the early stages of a project, with the expectation that it will help the project to be more effective, cost-efficient and successful in the longer-term.

What I find particularly interesting is the relationship between speed, or pace, and FEL is that most people get impatient easily and want to by-pass the early stages of a project so that they can "accelerate results." In other words, there is a tendency to give-up on FEL.

Yet the use of FEL often pays dividends. It can lay down the foundations for the success of a project and ensure that the requirements and expectations are clear at the outset. In fact I think FEL must be a very early discovery made by our ancestors. After all, it would have been easier to slide a flat rock along the ground than to chisel it into a wheel.

Somebody must have had the patience, confidence and tenacity to chip away at that rock before enjoying the deferred gratification of bringing the first wheel into existence.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Flow and Sock Drawers

Yes, it seems that I have a fixation with organized sock drawers!

I admit, I find nothing more frustrating than searching for a pair of matching socks in a drawer full of odd socks ..... it is a pet peeve, and definitely causes unnecessary irritation and stress because you can bet that it will not be easy to find the matching odd sock when you are in a hurry!

It is a matter of front-end-loading .... for those of you not familiar with the term, it simply means that I'd rather put in the time to sort and pair-off my socks initially, rather than wasting the time trying to find matching odds when I'm rushing for work.

Is it more efficient to pair them off first? Don't know .... that's the theory at least, but it is definitely more satisfying, especially if folding the laundry and sorting out the socks can be re-framed as a flow activity.

I'm still working on that last point.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

More on Time Saving Tips

I have more points to raise on time-management and flow .... but for now here is an explanation for my gut reaction to some of the tips in the previously discussed CNN article.

I have found with some very close (but nameless :-) family members that time saving can interpreted as an excuse to take short-cuts. I guess the old project management mantra of balancing schedule, cost and quality is relevant here. If we just fixate on just one dimension then the other two are likely to suffer neglect. So one person's time saving tip (unmatched socks in the article) is another person's poor quality (unacceptable messiness).

I have seen some major family flare-ups due to this kind of mismatch of goals. When one individual spends all day cooking something special for a party and another just whips out to get some take-away, there is likely to be some fall-out. There is a real likelihood of conflict (and indeed, I have seen it happen) because there is an inequality of effort that can be interpreted as a lack of "respect" for the event.

Possibly, someone misread the occasion .... but if the person who brought the take-away actually thinks they are being efficient, while the cook considers them simply lazy ....... then there will be blood.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Alternative to Time Saving Tips?

I found an article on Time Saving Tips on CNN and, as I often do, I kept it aside to read later. Yes, I know, that could be called procrastination - but I like to think it is just parking it for a more appropriate time.

Anyway, I did get back to read it. Just now in fact and I found it somewhat ..... how can I say this .... disappointing and flat? Please, don't misunderstand me. It is not simply about the author, who like any blogger has exposed herself and her life philosophies to the world, making it easy for those of us who like an organized sock-drawer to cringe at her description of domestic order.

No, it is something else. Something I have felt a number of times when I meet highly organized and effective people who try and apply time-management to their entire lives. I am struggling to describe it but it is about the hollowness of all that "order". I can't help but think they aren't enjoying life somehow ..... all that efficient, mechanistic processing of information and events. I can see its application at work but ..... the recording of TV shows, the skipping past the adverts, getting someone else to scrub your floors, to roast your turkey? I know, we all do some aspects of this of course, but string them all together and it seems to me you pay little respect to life's nuances. Even if you enjoy work and make that your focus, it seems so self-indulgent to push aside the other dimensions of human existence - outsourcing key life activities and squeezing them into highly efficient little time-boxes is somehow disrespectful.

What is all that time-saving for .... what are they doing that is so important? How are they so sure of their purpose - that the thing they are choosing to spend their precious time on is the right thing.

I guess I think enjoyment comes from a different place ..... I'm not yet figured out how to explain it but I have been suspicious that there is may be some inherent conflict between efficiency and flow. Can it be that time-management and flow are mutually exclusive? This needs to be explored further .....

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Doctors & Patients: What Makes an Expert?

It occurred to me a long time ago that our expectations of experts can be quite peculiar, and the doctor - patient relationship provides a good example.We usually go to the doctor with our symptoms which can be wide ranging if we are seeing a general practitioner. From the common cold to some rare and unidentifiable rash, we allow ourselves to be examined, poked and prodded as needed to allow the doctor to make a diagnosis. Which he or she duly does from past experiences or, when it gets too tough, is sent to specialists who continue the rounds of tests until something (hopefully) works.
The point that I noted with interest was that it is rare for any of these experts to have actually experienced the symptoms or suffered the pain and discomfort themselves. I know that it is just as well we have some "independence" in the process but surely we lose something when all that is provided is a second-hand experience and book learning.
This is an argument that applies equally to "consultants" of all colour and hue. I'm thinking here of some of the most respected roles in our community - besides medico, the same can be said of lawyers and priests. And while I think there is an argument that can be developed each way, there definitely IS an argument each way.
The real mystery is why we think it is normal to ONLY have people with book-learning and second-hand experience diagnosing and advising on a range of societies critical issues. The lack of "real-world" experiences in our experts is what makes for classic jokes like the definition of a consultant, as someone who borrows your watch to tell you the time.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Doodling and Flow

I find the renewed interest in doodling quite interesting and see a relationship with flow.
After all, doodling satisfies the some of the fundamental requirements of a flow activity.
Firstly it offers immediate feedback - lines emerge on a blank page just by us moving a pen around. Simple but effective. There is a form of validation we get by impacting our world, even in such a simple way.
There is also variable challenges provided by doodling and we have the opportunity to progressively increase the complexity as our capabilities grown. We can lose ourselves in the activity and lose sense of time. OK, not sure if we can really get any transcendent experiences out of doodling or feel somehow united in our humanity but hey, it is really simple innocent fun so I'm not going to complain.
I'll take flow where I can get it.

Writing a Book (Part I)

I just went "public" with my family about my attempt to write a book about flow - here is the story in a to-be-determined number of parts.
As a "man of ideas" I knew that the idea of writing a book would not be taken very seriously by my wife. She often complains that I "play with her". What she means is that I use her as a sounding board for my ideas without any real intention of following through.
The fact is that I appreciate her views, but she gets pretty tired of my ideas that for the most part go nowhere. She says that she has grown immune to my plans and schemes and no longer "bites" because it is all really mental masturbation with little chance of consummating anything (nice metaphor, eh?).
So I knew the book idea was going to have little chance of being taken seriously. The only way to get her attention was to "just do it" and show her the results.
I therefore hatched the plan at the start of September to commence writing a simple book on flow and today's high-achievers - basically extending and elaborating on the theme of this blog. Of course I needed a goal and so I planned to have a draft published at the end of the month to coincide with my wife's birthday in early October. Somewhat aggressive a timeline you might say but it was only a draft and I needed a challenge to motivate me.
I still think it was a good plan - pity about the execution.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Where are all the CRAZY people?

I just saw the beautiful film Caramel last night - highly recommended but some might say it is a "chick-flick". Its effect on me has caught me off-guard and I am still working through some points ..... but one somewhat tangential thought occurred to me as I mulled it over the movie: where are all the crazy, eccentric people in my world?
While the old lady in the film is definitely somewhat senile, if not completely demented, she made the lives and experiences of those around her richer and textured. Maybe it is just my small circle, but I don't see the extremes much in our modern society. If people get a little "strange" we ship them off to the retirement villages or hospices or whatever asylums we create for such people.
The result is that only shiny, healthy people are around most of the time .... what an imbalanced view of life. It may suit us because it is certainly inconvenient to have the eccentric and somewhat weird folk around - are they not aggravating when we occasionally see them on the bus, or train, or on the street?
But I'm wondering that while it can seem more efficient to have the more unpleasant side of society hidden away (less distracting - more productive) maybe we are missing out of a complete life experience when we do that.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Price of Holidays

I'm reminded of the time we were heading back home from a holiday, sharing the hotel's courtesy bus to the airport.
Another young family on the bus were obviously having a difficult moment; Mom with baby in arms having a domestic in "public" with Pop who was fuming.
All very awkward .... but what he said in his quiet and barely contained anger is something I'll not forget. It was this:

I seem to be stressed out earning the money and even more stressed out spending it!

Could not have said it better.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Holidays, Productivity and the Inevitable Costs

Holidays are such pleasant escapes .... they provide an excuse to let everything slide.
Just a concentrated version of what has been happening anyway .... isn't contemplating life just another distraction to mundane work.
Still, holidays do shake, or perhaps it is just gently stir, one's view of what is important. So easy to just idle away the day - reading, walking .... and lots of eating. Priorities go on hold .... and in the space created there is nothing to do but think.
Dangerous thoughts!
About the value of the work we do. And how our pleasures seem to be quite distinct from absorbs us at work. And how little we need to actually be contented.
If holidays did not have to end, they would represent a longer-term danger to productivity. Of course, they do have to come to an end because all that contentedness comes at a price and we have to pay handsomely for our escape.