Go for Flow in Your Métier First

Volume 2, Issue 7

Valuable lessons from two great scientists — one of the mind, the other of marketing

The Human Effectiveness Institute defines Flow as the state of autotelic perfect action. It is a brain/mind state where all parts of you are in synch, and is now popularly known as the Zone. “Autotelic” means you are doing the action for its own sake, not for its outcome, and it feels to you as if it is doing itself, because you are going with the flow (“automaticity”). This however is different from your robotic Emergency Oversimplification Procedure (EOP) state where you run off at the mouth, for example, without all your mental/intuitive gears meshing and thus you constantly undo yourself.

A subtle state indeed. Most people can remember having at least one experience of being in the Zone, but are not quick to agree that one can learn to spend more time in Flow. Most people consider it something accessible to top athletes, musicians, artists and other performers, but to no one else. The Institute’s mission is to change that perception.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, former Chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago, coined the term “Flow” and has written the definitive books about the phenomenon. His theories were developed while working to successfully improve the performance of the school’s lacrosse team. He created the accompanying schematic,

presented a few years back at the Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference, which shows that you are not going to get into Flow unless you are doing something in which you are already highly skilled. Flow happens when high skill and high challenge meet.

This means that to truly train yourself to attain Flow more often, you need to practice it within your own personal métier — the thing you do best.

For those of my readers who work somewhere in the broad field of marketing, I recommend Al Achenbaum’s new book. This will be a way for you to practice your skills at an even higher level, by absorbing the 1500 pages of lessons that must be the single most valuable treasure trove of marketing learning in existence, given where Al has been and what he has accomplished.

When I was a rookie at Grey, Al and his estimable right hand at the time (another luminary, Russ Haley) were moving the industry away from sole reliance on judging the value of an ad based on its memorability. They introduced the difficult new concept of attitude shift into a field that at the time was as auteur-dominated by creatives as Hollywood, and therefore just as hard to present science to. Yet they succeeded, with help from FCB’s Frank Gromer and his Study of Brand XL, which established that attitude shifts actually preceded buying changes (the only extant copy I know of is the one I donated to Ed Papazian’s library).

Back in those days Grey had assembled a brain trust of Al Achenbaum, Russ Haley, and Betty Coumbe on the research side, and on the media side Hal Miller, Larry Deckinger, Howard Kamin, Helen Johnston, and Norm Hecht — and me at the bottom of the food chain. These incredible mentors encouraged me to roam the halls at 5AM reading from all the unlocked files on the 11th floor at 445 Park — like a monk in the Alexandrine Library. This is how I absorbed Al’s teaching, as well as that of other luminaries. Plus Hal had his personal training program for two lucky pups, one of whom was me.

Al’s book is called (“and may I say, not in a shy way”*) Marketing Lessons From a Living Legend and is available from BarnesandNoble.com on their eBook platform, the Nook. Al is truly one of the all-time original Mad Men and he will help your quest for Flow even if you’re not in marketing but have an interest in how scientists have improved that art.

Best to all,


*From the song “I Did It My Way”.

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