“Missing Link Discovered” Leadership Forum with Prof. Csikszentmihalyi – Part 1

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 CsikszentmihalyiDistinguished 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.


Welcome remarks by Mel Horwitch, Dean, CEU Business School



One of world’s most distinguished social science scholars is Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, whose renown rests especially on his Theory of Flow:

“A mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment”.

Until recently, insufficient attention has been paid to the many ways in which Flow Theory ideas can be used and leveraged by managers and leaders to enhance successful practice. Filling this gap, a panel of CEU Business School professors and invited experts in the field discussed how the Theory of Flow can be innovatively mastered by leaders, managers, entrepreneurs, students, and just about anyone, as a way of simultaneously improving individual satisfaction, organizational effectiveness and societal well-being.

The Forum introduced a just-published book on this topic.


Prof. Paul Marer about Flow and Teaching Innovation



ABOUT THE GENRE OF THE EVENT This event is labeled not as a series of lectures, not as a conference, not as a workshop, but as a forum. A forum means, first, that each of the four panelists will offer ideas and personal stories – not lectures – that we hope you will find interesting and perhaps useful in some ways. The stories will focus on the following topics:

  • The concept and application of Flow
  • Leadership and Flow
  • Teaching innovations related to Leadership and Flow
  • New research vistas and plans on Leadership and Flow

I’ll introduce these topics briefly; my colleagues will elaborate them. 
The second reason this is a forum is that about 1/3rd of the two-hour program is reserved for your participation: comments, suggestions, questions. 
I must start with an apology: The organizers received written requests for participation from more than twice as many persons as expected. Even this Auditorium – the largest space at CEU – cannot accommodate everyone. Therefore, we are streaming the proceedings into two large rooms upstairs as well as to outside the Auditorium. We welcome the other half of the audience upstairs and outside. You can hear us and see us but will not be able to ask Qs or make comments, live. We apologize to you for the unavoidable “discrimination”. Thank you for understanding. 
To alleviate the problem that some in the audience will not be able to contribute live, we opened a messaging wall on the FB event page of this Forum. We also welcome persons around the world who are viewing us live, via ustream broadcast.

The three of us on the podium are most pleased to be on the same panel with one of world’s leading social scientists of Hungarian origin: Prof. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It is difficult for non-Hungarians to pronounce his name, so his colleagues and students call him Prof. Csikszentmihalyi; his friends address him by his first name, Mihaly. 
Prof. Csikszentmihalyi is one of the founding fathers of positive psychology: that branch of the discipline that focuses not on treating mental illness but on a scientific understanding of what it means, and how to achieve, a good and happy life that is also socially productive. 
Prof. Csikszentmihalyi has done decades of path-breaking research to understand the thinking, the feeling, and the motivations of ordinary people, like you and I. An example of his pioneering research decades ago: his team gave beepers to well over 100 high-school students in 
Chicago. At any time when the beeper sounded, the student had to report what he or she was doing at the time and the mood state he or she was in.


What Prof. Csikszentmihalyi found was that while most students complained most of the time (reporting anxiety, worry, apathy, boredom), they felt the best when they were absorbed in a challenge that interested them.

The arrangement of the eight states of mind is arbitrary. Moods can jump from any state to any other state w/o having to touch any intermediate mood state.

Prof. Csikszentmihalyi did in-depth interviews with hundreds (if not thousands) of persons, ranging from assembly-line workers to Nobel-prized scientists. His key finding was similar to that with the high-school students: the subjects felt the best (were the happiest, so to speak) when they were deeply absorbed in trying to meet a challenge. To this discovery, Prof. Csikszentmihalyi gave the label, Flow, because the most frequent analogy his subjects used to describe their mood when they were deeply absorbed in a challenge was as if they were carried, effortlessly by a gently-flowing river.

Definition of Flow: A mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment.

FLOW AND MANAGEMENT/LEADERSHIP PRACTICES The concept of Flow has found research and practical applications in many fields, including: Psychology, Self-improvement, Religion, Sports, Music, Education, Architecture, Leadership/Management. At CEU Bus School, our focus of course has been on the implications of Flow for management and leadership.

There is a raging debate in the literature on whether managers and leaders are the same or different species. Many experts say that they are different. Their frequently cited mantra is that “managers do things right; leaders do the right things.”

The three authors on the panel agree with one of the best known professors of management who says that the distinction between leaders and managers is artificial and unnecessary:

“Leadership involves plumbing as well as poetry. Instead of distinguishing leaders from managers, we should encourage all managers to be leaders. And we should define leadership as management practiced well.”

Thus, to us, management and leadership are interchangeable terms.

How Flow and leadership got linked is an interesting story. In the 1990s, Prof. Csikszentmihalyi was chair of the Psychology Dept. of the U of Chicago. Prof. Peter Drucker, arguably the most influential management guru of the 20th century and a prof at Claremont Grad U in California at the time, was able to convince Prof. Csikszentmihalyi and his wife, Isabella to exchange cold and windy Chicago for the blue skies and sunshine of California. In 2000 the Csikszentmihalyis moved to Claremont. Mihaly became Chair Prof of Psychology & Management (a chair he occupies still). Befitting a prof also of management, in 2003 Prof. Csikszentmihalyi published the book “Good Business“.

The book has countless practical examples and psychological insights on what it means – and why it pays – to manage one-self, one’s team, one’s organization in accordance with the precepts of the theory of Flow. My one-sentence summary of the book:

“The best way to manage people is to create an environment where employees enjoy their work and grow in the process of doing it.”

Enhanced worker satisfaction and engagement is a win-win situation for all stakeholders of an organization – be it a business, a university, an NGO, or a government agency – because:

  • Individuals satisfied at work – where they spend one-third of their working lives – contributes to their happiness
  • Such workplaces attract the most able individuals and likely to keep them longer
  • Obtains spontaneous effort from most as they do their tasks
  • Promotes individual and team productivity
  • Improves organizational performance, broadly defined

I mentioned that Prof. Csikszentmihalyi is a founding father of positive psychology: a scientific study of what it means, and how to achieve, a good and happy life that is also socially productive. An integral part of the theory and practice of Flow is behavior that is guided by an individual ethical responsibility framework:


Csikszentmihalyi’s three recommendations – do no harm for selfish reasons, help others experience Flow, and contribute to something beyond yourself – are permanently relevant to us – as individuals as well as managers/leaders.

FLOW AND TEACHING INNOVATIONS To introduce our third topic, teaching innovations related to Leadership and Flow, I’ll share a story: A quarter century ago I taught a student, sitting on the podium, Zad Vecsey, and we have kept in touch ever since. Zad, who has an MBA from the London Business School and started his career as a management consultant with Coopers and Lybrand, joined his small family mgmt. consulting firm 20 years ago. He gradually changed the firm’s profile from “jawboning” to building management simulation games. Over the years he won first Hungary’s, later the EU’s top prize for creating innovative management simulation games.

In 2004, Zad’s firm and CEU Business School signed a strategic partnership agreement: Zad’s firm gave the School unrestricted free access to all of his firm’s e-learning and simulation products in return for receiving student and faculty feedback on them. Although my own specializations are IB, economics and finance, in 2012 I was asked to teach a strategic management course to Executive MBAs. As I was preparing for the course, Zad called with great excitement that the new leadership simulation game he conceived and his firm developed just won the gold medal at the Seattle world congress where hundreds of new “serious games” were competing for prizes. He explained that the game teaches students as future managers (as well as current managers) on how to make decision after decision in accordance with Prof. Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow-promoting theory of leadership, and that he developed the award-winning game together with the Prof.

“Hey Zad”, I asked, “may I use your new game in my strategic management course?” “Of course you may. In fact, we only have the Beta version, which means that while the game is complete, it has not yet been tested. You and your students will provide useful feedback, exactly as stated in the strategic partnership agreement we signed years ago.”

My CEU Bus School colleague, Zoltan Buzady – who had used Zad’s earlier management simulation games in his courses – also got involved. The two of us have been working with Zad and his staff ever more intensively during the past few years, so much so that we wrote a book together, Missing Link Discovered, being published today. You’ll find out more about it from my colleagues. Our book links – scientifically and interestingly, we believe – the theory and practice of Flow, their implications for managing and leading organizations, with the newest effective methods of teaching current and future managers/leaders via a state-of- the art simulation game that is absorbing and fun to play.

To cut myself short and to make this event a Forum, as announced, I hope that some of the students I see in the audience, who played the game in my course in 2012, will share some of their experiences during the Q & A period; not so much on the technical aspects of the Game but the management/leadership lessons it teaches.

Oh yes, the fourth theme of this Forum is our ambitious plan to build, together with Prof. Csikszentmihalyi’s Quality of Life Research Center at Claremont, and others, a global Leadership and Flow research program and network that is also being launched today.

It is my pleasure to turn over the microphone to my colleague, Zoltan Buzady, whose presentation will elaborate on the themes I introduced.

Continue reading with Part 2!