An edited transcript of the Forum held by CEU Business School
MISSING LINK DISCOVERED: Planting Csíkszentmihályi’s Flow Theory into Management and Leadership Practice held on Monday, November 9, 2015, CEU AUDITORIUM, Budapest V, Nádor u. 9. The contributors were co-authors of the Missing Link Discovered book together with Prof. Csikszentmihalyi:
- Paul Marer, Prof. of Business, CEU Business School
- Zoltan Buzady, Prof. of Management, CEU Business School, c
- Zad Vecsey, CEO of ALEAS Simulations, Budapest and Los Angeles
- Mihály Csikszentmihalyi, Distinguished Prof. of Psychology & Management, Claremont Graduate University, California
The full transcript is available in PDF here: Forum Missing Link Discovered CEU_BS Nov 9 2015 edited transcript.
BUSINESS AND ACADEMICS Thanks, Zoltan. OK, let me tell you my story. The last eight years were the journey of my life. But before going into the details, I want to answer a simple question: “what am I doing here, in this academic forum, as the CEO of a small but highly innovative company?”
I’m an illustration of what Dean Horwitch mentioned in his welcome: not only an entrepreneur building successful leadership games, but an innovative one. Although I am a Hungarian, working here and running a Californian-Hungarian company from Budapest, at the same time I have to be internationally connected to be able to perform well in my technical capabilities, sales and marketing, and now, as the case in point, becoming a part of an int’l academic network.
In order to be a successful entrepreneur, I have to be also intelligently and realistically opportunistic. (My initial target market for FLIGBY was multinationals, but as the opportunities to get linked with academia arose, due to personal contacts, new vistas for product development and applications arose.)
I started my career at Coopers & Lybrand. There; and ever since then, I met too many dysfunctional (“huff and puff”) managers and leaders. I felt the challenge to do something I liked to do and at the same time to be useful, to give meaning to my professional life.
So I started to develop management games, realizing that this field will continue to expand rapidly for as far in time as one can see. I was fortunate to win first Hungary’s top prize in serious games in 2003; later on the EU’s top prize in Berlin, and in 2012 the globe’s top prize for my profession, the International Serious Play Awards Golden Medal for the best leadership game, in Seattle.
THE “GOOD BUSINESS” BOOK When I heard about Flow and read Prof Csikszentmihalyi’s book, Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning, I said, Flow is a great topic for my next serious simulation videogame. I did not know Prof. Csikszentmihalyi, but I contacted and visited him in California – to try to persuade him to cooperate with me/us in designing an interactive videogame simulation to help popularize and teach the relevance of his Flow theory for management/leadership.
I realized that both of us had a big challenge: my was to convince a traditional professor who wrote academic bestsellers to agree to work with me to find a new way to deliver and implant his obviously insightful advice to managers and leaders to help them to create for their co-workers a Flow-supporting work environment.
Frankly, initially, Prof. Csikszentmihalyi was not too motivated to participate. In 2007 serious gaming business (and the gamification trend) had just started, and the first results did not seem too relevant for science. So first the Professor was rather skeptical, but things turned for the better. At our initial meeting I showed him one of our earlier products. Actually a project management simulation of a Himalaya expedition, and it turned out, that Prof. Csikszentmihalyi was a serious young mountaineer.
Photo: Prof. Csikszentmihalyi as a mountaineer
I think that, fortuitously, it helped to make him more cooperative, so our deal for Flow was finally done. Gradually he became an ever more supportive and involved partner, as he himself states in his contribution to our book being published today.
FLIGBY was the most challenging projects in my life. Not only from a technical point of view, but also developing the content required innovative approaches. A new way was needed because even though Csikszentmihalyi’s Good Business, published a dozen years ago, had persuasive reasoning and many good suggestions, a gap remained on how to transplant, effectively, his ideas into the minds of current and future managers/leaders. The tool for this, I thought, was through serious gaming, hence FLIGBY.
PARTNERING CEU BUSINESS SCHOOL Personal contacts with local professors (to whom we have made our products available, including FLIGBY) helped us in several ways:
- Their classroom experiences and intellects helped lift the Game to a higher level;
- FLIGBY has been played by close to 10,000 players, yielding millions of skill-linked observations. This growing data bank is able — and we are willing to support — excellent opportunities to better understand managers/leaders’ behaviors and the kinds of skills they need to be effective managers/leaders by following practices that are in accordance with the principles and values of Flow.
- We have a symbiotic relationship, as increasingly found in the real world: academia (MCs – corporation (ALEAS) – academia (CEU).
The most recent product of this synergetic relationship is the book being published today. Summarizing the experiences I learned through this project: three major lessons:
- Lesson 1: Working with scientists is a real challenge but it also offers a magic source for inspiration and learning. Entrepreneurs are suspect to scientists and academics, but they should not be; if the cooperation is good, it can be a win-win situation.
- Lesson 2: Flow is a complex thing. Flow seems to be an easy theory and not too difficult to practice, but in reality, it is far more complex than anything in the world of “5 minutes management” — books and advice — that proliferate to entice gullible managers.
- Lesson 3: Pioneering innovations happen in teams. The FLIGBY ecosystem is a complex network of teams (Support providers, Researchers, Clients, Players) and Interesting characters (MCS, Paul, Zoli, MC).
The Authors: Zad Vecsey, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Paul Marer, Zoltan Buzady