Book Review: Missing Link Discovered

MISSING LINK DISCOVERED by P. Marer, Z. Buzady, and Z. Vecsey

Review by B. Gourley

So, you’re a leader and you’ve experienced Flow. Self-criticism vanished.  Time fell away. The task was challenging, but the performance felt effortless. Your attention was rapt, and any craving for distractions disappeared. Maybe you even had a spate of creativity. You come away feeling great. Clarity reigns.  Maybe you found Flow at work, but maybe it was during skiing, golfing, or composing haiku. Either way, after thinking about how to repeat the feat, your next thought is, “What could my business [or organization] achieve if my people were in this state of mind for even a fraction of each day?” Increased productivity? Decreased healthcare costs and/or disruptions owing to sick days? Maybe, you’d see fewer complaints between stressed co-workers, or coming from customers?  Regardless, you know that Flow is elusive and fickle. It may seem that the harder you seek it, the less success you have. You pick up a couple of books on finding Flow—maybe you watch some TedTalks on YouTube–and they provide helpful tips for finding the Flow state for yourself, but most don’t have much to say on facilitating Flow in others.

That’s where FLIGBY comes in, and the Missing Link Discovered book is a companion to FLIGBY. [Note: “FLIGBY” is short for “FLow is Good Business for You,” which ties it into the work of positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who both coined the term “Flow” and wrote a bestseller titled Good Business about both achieving Flow in the workplace and how some businesses succeed in the simultaneous pursuit of profit, Flow and virtue. Csikszentmihalyi was actively involved in the development of the FLIGBY game. The “missing link” referenced in the title is between leadership and Flow.]  FLIGBY is an educational video game in which the player assumes the role of the General Manager (GM) of a winery. The last GM was a hard-driving pursuer of profit who left the winery’s mission and values in a muddle and its employees stressed out and at each other’s throats. The player makes about 150 decisions over the course of the 23 scenes that map a timeline of one grape-growing season during a virtual eight months. While the player still has to consider the usual business objectives–such as profitability–to succeed, he or she also has to help the Winery’s employees find Flow.  The game is used both by professors of business education courses (e.g. in MBA programs) and by corporate trainers.

As this is a review of the book and not the FLIGBY game, I won’t talk much more about it beyond this paragraph. However, I did have an opportunity to play the game and found it to be both educational and engrossing. The scenes are live-action, and the cast did a great job of creating the emotional tension necessary to make one feel a stake in the decisions. There’s a narrative arc that unfolds over the course of the game, and so it appeals to the way our brains best take in information.  Of course, the game also pays attention to those factors that facilitate Flow, such as offering immediate feedback and increasing challenges, such that the difficulty of tasks rises with as one’s skills develop.

I’ll now clarify what I mean by the book being “a companion” to the FLIGBY game. It’s not a game manual. [That is, the nuts and bolts of how to navigate the game, as well as general background information, are provided within the game itself as well as through a series of digital appendices to the book—a list of which is included in the book.]  Rather, Missing Link Discovered is intended to bring readers up to speed in three areas relevant to the FLIGBY game. These areas are delineated by the book’s three parts. Part I (Ch. 1 – 3) introduces Flow and explains how its pursuit fits into the larger scheme of leadership responsibilities. It begins with an introduction to Flow and Csikszentmihalyi’s research, then links Flow and leadership, and—finally–describes the set of leadership skills identified and measured in the game.

The second part (Ch. 4 through 8) introduces the game, situates it in the context of serious games (those for which entertainment is a secondary concern), and discusses the topic of feedback in great detail (Note: feedback is a crucial issue because delayed or inadequate feedback is one of the major reasons that people have trouble achieving Flow–particularly in a workplace setting.) The last chapter in this section is a collection of captioned photos that chart the development of the game, from its chief architect’s first meeting with Professor Csikszentmihalyi to the game’s use for both instruction and research.

While the first two parts of the book are relevant to FLIGBY players and non-players alike, the last part is targeting professors, corporate trainers, and researchers. It consists of two chapters. Chapter 9 discusses such issues as wherein an individual’s education or training the game should be situated, and how it should be presented. The last chapter (Ch. 10) opens up a discussion about the research potential offered by FLIGBY. Given the game’s widespread use in both academia and the corporate world, a great deal of data is collected that can be used anonymously by researchers to study interesting research questions (e.g., how player groups in differing demographics or job positions make certain decisions and the kinds of skill levels they display).

The book offers a number of ancillary features that increase its usability and clarity. The first of these features is two single-page summaries that introduce readers to Flow and FLIGBY, respectively. Besides the aforementioned photo chapter, the book has many diagrams and other graphics to clarify concepts addressed in the text. The book is footnoted throughout and provides a glossary of key terms. It should also be noted that there is an introduction by Professor Csikszentmihalyi in which he describes his involvement in the project and presents his thoughts on the value of FLIGBY.

I recommend this book, particularly for those who will be playing FLIGBY or who are in the process of determining whether Flow-promoting management is right for one’s students to learn or employees to practice.  From corporate programs in mindfulness to interest in Flow-based leadership, all signs point to a workplace revolution in which there is a long overdue convergence of incentives and objectives between employees and employers.  It’s been a long road from Henry Ford’s plan to make sure all employees could afford the cars the company made to the explosion of Google’s “Search Inside Yourself” program and others like it, but this revolution is picking up steam and if you’re unaware, you might want to look into it by reading this book.