Disclaimer: these considerations (especially the "good game" parallel) have been somehow inspired & provoked by the excellent book - "The Art of Leadership" authored by Michael Lopp. Highly recommended.

I've always been a total "flow" junkie. Oh my god, it feels so good. The impression that you can do everything literally, that there are no barriers that could stop you, that creations come out of your fingers with the unthinkable speed and natural ... smoothness. The state of "flow" feels better than ... everything, literally everything else that comes to my mind.

If you're not certain about what do I mean by the "flow", feel free to check this article:

Immersing yourself into the Flow
I’ve noticed just recently that in all my ramblings regarding cognitive psychology & how does it impact my own private & professional life, I’ve somehow omitted one of terms I personally value very high & find truly important - “Flow”. The Flow What’s the Flow? > “Flow, also known as the zone, is…

But instinctively I do associate the term "flow" with individual contributor's work. Uninterrupted, hyper-focused, when you sync with your internal frequency to skyrocket your brainpower's amplitude. It's only you versus the problem (nothing else exists/matters): unconstrained, super-aware, devoid of all uncertainty. That almost forces a question through my throat:

What about managers? Can managers regularly ascend and achieve the state of "flow"?

Well, keeping in mind the nature of managerial work, it appears ... challenging. Context switching, neverending interruptions and unexpected fire-fights, hopping between pro-active and re-active mode, leaving topics unfinished (only to get back to them ... soonish) and at last but not least - myriads of interactions with other people on the way. All of this together is the bread and butter of that profession.

Nevertheless, it's an undeniable fact that it's entirely possible for managers to achieve their own, unique, dedicated version of "flow" (defined by Michael Lopp as a sense of fulfillment disproportionally high when compared to the effort committed).

How come?

Again, let me turn it over to Michael Lopp, as his mental model perfectly pinpoints the essence of what I'd like to express. So, according to him, the state of "flow" is achievable when one's work can be categorized as the so-called "good game". What are the criteria by which one could recognize the "good game"?

  1. the continual sense of progression (things are getting better / moving towards the goal)
  2. the perception of learning & mastering (proven by feedback/data/facts)
  3. a convincing impression that "I can win" (the goal is achievable and makes sense - matters for me)

The initial two sound rather obvious, so I won't waste a single keystroke on elaborating on them. It's the last one I find more interesting - as I find it truly complex and multi-dimensional.

"I cannot win" can have multiple meanings, e.g.:

  1. this is beyond me, I can't figure a way to make these things happen
  2. I find it technically not possible to do - there are objective reasons why this can't happen (aka "Kobayashi Maru scenario")
  3. there's a contradiction (in goals, alignments, priorities) that I can't remove/reduce - it's not possible to achieve X w/o breaking Y which is equally crucial
  4. I don't believe in a sense/value in X, so even if I make it, it would not feel a "win"
  5. I find X unethical or at least questionable when it comes to ethics (according to my system of value)
  6. the case is lost, all we can do is to extend the game, withdraw step-by-step and postpone the inevitable

Hear me, hear me

If you find yourself in any of these situations (and many do - as far as I know), it's the fundamental thing to get that fixed (if you care for a significant, deep work satisfaction, whether you're a manager or not). Either by stepping outside the rules of the game (redefining the game - which, I'm not going to fool you, can be very hard) or switching to a completely different kind of playground. Otherwise you're stuck being a mercenary - paid not for (& not motivated by) results & outcomes, but time spent.