A Sustainable Business Maverick

Dr. Michael Crooke – Achieving Spectacular Results with Flow-Based Leadership

Many famous individuals have been so inspired by Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow and his Good Business concepts that they gave him credit for some spectacular successes achieved by putting the Flow concept into practice. One of the most remarkable is Dr. Michael Crooke (MC, as he likes to be called), former Navy SEAL and former CEO of Patagonia, now Professor at University Oregon.

Good business is about values.

In 1998, after leadership roles at outdoor equipment/apparel companies (including the backpack maker Kelty and cycling’s premier clothing and shoe manufacturer Pearl Izumi), MC accepted the position of President and CEO of Patagonia. The company — famous for high-performance outdoor wear and its strong commitment to the environment — had entered a period of competitive and organizational uncertainty and found itself falling from a high ranking on Fortune‘s list of the 100 Best Companies To Work For.

Having read Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow years before, MC realized that a major problem was a perceived growing gap between the firm’s historically strong espoused values and how business was actually conducted. MC set forth to rectify Patagonia’s engagement problem by focusing on what originally made Patagonia great (mountaineering) and the authenticity that came from the values of its founder, Yvon Chouinard.

Simultaneously, MC enrolled in Claremont University’s Ph.D. program. Working with Prof. Csikszentmihalyi, MC’s dissertation focused on creating a workplace environment conducive to Flow. Patagonia was his laboratory. “Flow,“ he says, “was at the center of everything I was doing at Patagonia, and remains at the heart of all my professional activities since“.

Patagonia, the company – that used to be famous for outdoor wear and its strong commitment to the environment – had entered a period of competitive and organizational uncertainty. The situation forced the company’s founders to put the company up for sale. This is when MC took over as CEO and began working with the founders and a new management team to turn things around by systematically applying Flow engagement strategic initiatives. The turnaround at Patagonia, where MC remained CEO until 2005, was spectacular. The next five years, the company moved from 88th to 14th on Fortune‘s list of the 100 Best Companies To Work For.

Values are fundamental to both individuals and organizations. Defined as enduring beliefs about end-states or modes of conduct, internalized values guide behavior and influence decision-making and judgment. Values have been called “the most distinctive property or defining characteristic of a social institution”. Many values are universally held, but the relative importance assigned to particular values varies considerably across individuals, organizations, and societies.

Today, MC combines careers as a sought-after business consultant with academic positions. He is the inaugural Avemere Professor of Practice and founding faculty of Advanced Strategy at the Lundquist College of Business at the University of Oregon, where he is interim Associate Dean. MC is also the founder and Lead Faculty for the Socially, Environmentally, and Ethically Responsible (SEER) business certificate program at Pepperdine University. Based on his vast business experience, dissertation, and continuing work with Csikszentmihalyi, the SEER business model focuses on innovating winning business strategies that profitably incorporate social, ethical and environmental values.

Needless to say, MC is a great fan of FLIGBY and incorporates the Game into his university courses.