BOOK REVIEW: Missing Link Discovered by P. Marer, Z. Buzady, and Z. Vecsey

Missing Link Discovered: Planting Csikszentmihalyi's Flow Theory into Management and Leadership Practice by using FLIGBY, the official Flow-Leadership GameMissing Link Discovered: Planting Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Theory into Management and Leadership Practice by using FLIGBY, the official Flow-Leadership Game by Paul Marer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

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 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 from 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 state for yourself, but most don’t have much to say on facilitating Flow for others.

 

That’s where FLIGBY comes in, and “Missing Link Discovered” 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 book entitled “Good Business” about both achieving Flow in the workplace and how some businesses succeed in the simultaneous pursuit of profit 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 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 to a timeline of one’s first half a year as GM. While the player still has to consider the usual business objectives–such as profitability–to succeed one also has to help one’s employees find Flow. The game is used by 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 too 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 an increasing challenge such that the difficulty rises with one’s skill.

 

I’ll now clarify what I mean by the book being “a companion” to the FLIGBY game. It’s not a game manual. [i.e. 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—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 used in the game.

 

The second part (Ch. 4 – 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 charts the development of the game from the 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 all players, the last part is aimed at Professors, corporate trainers, and researchers. It consists of two chapters. Chapter 9 discusses such issues as where in an individual’s education or training the game should be situated, and how it should be presented. The last chapter (Ch. 10) is a bit different in that it 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 players in differing demographics or job positions make decisions.)

 

The book offers a number of ancillary features that increase its usability and clarity. The first of these features are 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 FLIGBY is right for one’s students or employees. 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.

View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Narconomics by Tom Wainwright

Narconomics: How to Run a Drug CartelNarconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel by Tom Wainwright
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

“Narconomics” is about how drug cartels are taking pages from the playbooks of big businesses like Walmart and Coca-cola. In cases like diversifying into new markets or deciding to collude with a competitor, this might not seem surprising. However, it may come as a shock to find out about the franchising and CSR (corporate social responsibility) practices of drug cartels. Other than being outside access to the justice system, and thus resorting to violence to achieve what contracts, mediators, and courts would do for other businesses, the drug business it turns out is very much a business.

 

Along the way a secondary story emerges that is just as interesting and even more important. It’s the story of how the drug war makes no sense from the standpoint of economic logic. Destroying fields in South America only makes for poorer farmers because their monopsonistic (i.e. single buyer) market pushes the cost of lost crops back onto them. And because raw product is such a tiny portion of retail price, their destruction has almost no effect on prices at the user end. Furthermore, as more US and European states legalize marijuana, it seems that this will have more of an effect at putting cartels out of business and ending their reign of violence than all the arms shipments and foreign aid for drug enforcement ever had.

 

The book consists of ten chapters, each of which addresses an area of business practices that have been taken up by the drug cartels. Chapter one is about supply chains, and in the case of cocaine there is a rather long one. The raw product is grown in South America and must be infiltrated into the US—usually through Mexico. (For a while there was a prominent Caribbean route, but it was shut down—at least for a while.) This is where we learn about how the cartels adapt to eradicated crops, as well as how the product is marked up at various stages of the operation.

 

Chapter 2 is about the decision to compete versus collude. We mostly read about the competition, because in a lawless market competition equals violence. However, over time cartels have been increasingly willing to agree on distribution of territory. Although, there are also clever means to compete unique to criminal enterprises, such as engaging in violence in someone else’s territory to cause the police to crack down there—thus making it harder for said opposition.

 

Chapter 3 is about human resources, and the different approaches used to handle problems in this domain. In the movies, a drug cartel employee who fouled up always gets a bullet to the brain, but it seems that this isn’t always the case—though it certainly happens. Different countries and regions have differing labor mobility. In some cases, there is no labor mobility. (i.e. if one has a gang’s symbols tattooed all over one’s body, one can’t interview with a rival gang and Aetna sure as hell isn’t going to hire you.)

 

Chapter 4 is about public relations and giving to the public. One doesn’t think about drug lords engaging in CSR, but in some cases they may be more consistent with it than mainstream businesses. The cartels face an ongoing risk of people informing on them, and at least some of those people can do so without their identities becoming known. Violence is often used to solve problems in this domain, but it can’t do it all. That’s why drug lords build churches and schools, and often become beloved in the process.

 

Chapter 5 explores “offshoring” in the drug world. This may seem strange, but drug cartels, too, chase low-cost labor. But it’s not just about lowering costs, it’s also about finding a suitable regulatory environment—which in the cartel’s case means a slack one. An interesting point is made that all the statistics on doing business are still relevant to the drug business, but often in reverse. That is, if Toyota is putting in a plant, it wants a place with low corruption, but if the Sinaloa want to put in a facility–the easier the bribery the better.

 

Chapter 6 describes how franchising has come to be applied to drug cartels—famously the Zetas. The franchiser provides such goods as better weaponry in exchange for a cut of profits. Of course, there’s always a difference in incentives between franchisers and franchisees when it comes to delimiting territory, and this doesn’t always work out as well for drug dealers as it does for McDonald’s franchisees.

 

While the bulk of the book focuses on cocaine and marijuana, Chapter 7 is different in that most of it deals with the wave of synthetic drugs that has popped up. The topic is innovating around regulation, and so it’s certainly apropos to look at these drugs. If you’re not familiar, there are many synthetic drugs that are usually sold as potpourri or the like. Once they’re outlawed, the formula is tweaked a little. In a way, these “legal highs” may be the most dangerous because no one knows what effect they’ll have when they put the out on the street.

 

In chapter 8 we learn that the drug world hasn’t missed the online retail phenomena. Using special web browsers, individuals are able to make transactions that are not so difficult to trace. In an intriguing twist, the online market may foster more trust and higher quality product than the conventional street corner seller ever did.

 

Chapter 9 examines how drug traffickers diversify—most notably into human trafficking. Exploiting their knowledge of how to get things across the border, they become “coyotes.”

 

The last chapter investigates the effect of legalization, and it focuses heavily upon the effects that Denver’s legalizing marijuana has had in Denver, in the rest of the country, and on the cartels. Wainwright paints a balanced picture that shows that not everything is perfect with legalization. E.g. he presents a couple of cases of people who ingested pot-laced food products intended for several servings, and did crazy stuff. However, the bottom line is that legalization (and the regulation and taxation that comes with it) seems to be the way to go if you want to really hurt the cartels and stem the tide of violence, as well as to reduce the number of people showing up at the ER having ingested some substance of unknown chemical composition.

 

There is an extensive conclusion, about the length of one of the chapters that delves into the many ways our approach to eliminating drug use is ill-advised and dangerous. This connects together a number of the key points made throughout the chapter.

 

I found this book fascinating. Wainwright does some excellent investigative reporting—at no minor risk to life and limb. If you’re interested in issues of business and economics, you’ll love this book. If you’re not into business and economics, you’ll find this book to be an intriguing and palatable way to take on those subjects.

View all my reviews

5 Ways to Manage Your Email & Social Media Addiction

Addiction? That seems harsh. It feels like I’m equating a person who has his phone in hand several times every hour with a heroin junky or a nymphomaniac. But, the difference is in the word “Manage.” I wouldn’t write a post entitled “How to Manage your Heroin Addition.” I’d write one called, “Quit that Shit Before it Kills You.”  I’m not suggesting that one needs to do away with checking email and social media. These are great tools that allow us to be much more productive (potentially.)

 

Still, if we’re honest about it, most of us at some point get caught up in the compulsive checking of emails, social media, internet feeds, click-bait sites, sale pages for online retailers, and stats pages. There’s no denying it. A pile of evidence has accumulated about the extent to which people are dismayed by their own e-world activities. I just started reading Kotler and Wheal’s “Stealing Fire” (out February 21, 2017) and they site a study that found that about 2/3rds of those surveyed admitted checking their status page when they woke up in the middle of the night. It might seem off topic for book about altered states of consciousness to report on such matters, but its not because it’s all about the pursuit of a neurochemical bump. (Also, as I’ll discuss, a major problem of this addiction is in keeping one from slipping into the Flow with one’s work, family, or hobby activities.)

 

So, below are five methods I’ve found useful in my own on-going struggle with this addiction.

 

5.) Set a timer:  The problem with this addiction is that when one falls into habitually checking one’s status, one isn’t able to stay on task, and that means that one won’t achieve that elusive state of optimal performance called Flow. One needs time to immerse oneself in a task.

 

When I’m writing and editing, I set a timer, and until it beeps I do nothing off topic. I don’t make it some Herculean effort. I use 60 and 90 minute intervals. After the alarm rings, I can check email, do Tai Chi, get a cup of coffee, or work on my handstands. A longer time period may be more–or less–beneficial for you. (Isaac Asimov was said to only take a break after 5,000 words, but few writers have that in them.) The point is to make it long enough that one can get into a focused state of mind, but not so long that you become distracted and run down.

 

 

4.) Know your high energy period: This point relates to the last because it’s about blocking one’s productive time, and putting the more Flow-demanding activities when one is at one’s best. e.g. Are you a lark or an owl? (i.e. morning person or evening person.)

 

For example, I’m a morning person. This creates a potential problem. While I find it easy to get up with the sun, I’m at risk of saying, “Oh, I’ll just check emails, Facebook, my blog stats, a couple YouTube channels, and then I’ll get to work.” Then it’s noon, and the hours in which my mind was at its very best are gone. From 7pm until I go to sleep is when I should check these feeds because by that time my mind isn’t good for editing or writing tasks that require a high level of attention to detail.

 

 

3.) Go Cold Turkey [for a few days]: Sometimes it’s easier to make changes when one is forced by circumstance to quit. Then one can be more conscientious in resumption of the activity in question. (Moving to India helped me break a lot of bad habits.) If nothing else, this will help to give you confidence that the Earth won’t roll off it’s axis just because you aren’t checking on it twice an hour.

 

I can offer two examples from my own life. Every year my wife and I go on an extended trek in a place where there are no bars and saving batteries is essential. The past couple years, this has been in the Himalayas because we’ve been living in India, but anywhere remote will work. I also did the Vipassana Meditation Course last year. (If you’re interested in the latter, you can read my account of it here.)

img_1397

 

 

2.) Meditate: Why? Because when you start meditating regularly, you tend to do less and less out of mindless habit. You become conscious of what you’re doing, and that’s the first step to making changes. You also start to become attuned to those very subtle dopamine bumps, and in that way you  aren’t fighting it the impulse blindly. The high of the click is infinitesimally more subtle than taking mind altering substances, and so it’s easy for this all to take place below the waterline (analogizing the mind to an iceberg but instead of the majority of the mass of ice below the waterline, it’s the conscious mind above and the subconscious below.)

img_1556

 

 

1.) Substitute: In the immortal word of the rock band “The Who.” If your problem is so extensive that it does more than block your attempts to hit the Flow, you may need to find a healthier alternative to wean yourself away.

 

What does one look for in a substitute? If it’s going to fill the same space, it requires immediate feedback and a mix of “fails” mixed in with “successes.” These are the components that make the e-world so addictive. We know immediately whether we got something or not, and that keeps us clicking–not unlike the famous rats that would keep pressing a button for pleasure even to the point of forgetting to eat.

 

Some people may work on games that will help build their brain. (Warning: just don’t trade one unproductive addiction for another.) I’m an advocate of working on physical activities (e.g. trying to develop new capabilities in calisthenics or yoga), but these often involve a demoralizing amount of fails to reach the optimal level (the optimal being that one has enough fails to keep it from being boring but not so many that one is brutalized.)

DAILY PHOTO: Brigade Road

Taken February 18, 2014 in Bangalore

Taken February 18, 2014 in Bangalore

This is a section of Brigade Road in Bangalore–one of the city’s retail districts.

Fun fact: in India–for reasons I don’t know–franchisors don’t exercise control over or coordinate the locations of their stores. For this reason, one may have two Reebok stores in a given block and five within walking distance. It’s actually not unlike Waffle House is (or, perhaps, used to be) in the Atlanta metro area where one might have Waffle Houses catty-corner from each other. Usually, a company or franchisor wants to control the density of stores so that they don’t cannibalize each other out of business and leave their more disciplined competitors to snatch up market share.

If I had to guess why this seems to work here, I would say it has to do with high density of wealth and low labor cost for retailers. There are–in absolute terms–a lot of people in the city with disposable income but they are concentrated in certain areas so it doesn’t make as much sense to spread out your stores. Plus, with low labor costs, the price of keeping a store up is relatively low. Of course, it may have nothing to do with either of those issues, but rather be rooted in India’s bizarre regulatory environment.

TODAY’S RANT: Preferred Customer Cards

Today at the grocery store, the cashier asked whether I had a preferred customer card.

To which I, of course, replied, “No. Do you have one of my preferred cashier cards?”

I thought that she would be devastated when she realized that she didn’t have my card, but she apparently thought I was joking — which saddened me a little.

I don’t sign up for such cards for a number of reasons, most of which have to do with being a dude.

1.) Wallet real estate premium: As a man, any extra card has to be wedged under one of my butt cheeks where it will sit all day trying to cause scoliosis. While your firm’s card may seem thin, they add up. Therefore, the card had better offer great perqs, such as an option to cut to the front of the line any time I so choose or the knowledge that –should there be a maniac on the loose in the store– lesser favored customers will be shoveled in front of me as human shields.

2.) Commitment limitations: One idea behind these cards is to build customer loyalty. I’m a man who has been happily married coming up on 19 years. Every ounce of my capacity for commitment is spoken for. I have no excess loyalty to spare on a brand of canned corn or on a particular store (you all sell the same stuff.) Sorry Keebler Elves, but I am not above a midnight rendezvous with some freaky Nabisco Oreos. Don’t make me perpetrate a lie.

3.) The Fudgesicle Dossier: When thinking about who to confess my moments of greatest weakness to (as reflected in buying a gallon of “Chunky Monkey” ice cream): a friend, a loved one, a priest; oddly enough Acxiom Incorporated does not spring to mind. Acxiom is one of the big companies that collects information about when you buy tampons or condoms or gas station sushi. Somewhere in a massive server farm sits an e-file, an indelible record of a lifetime of bad decisions as reflected in my consumer purchasing history. I’m not going to feed that monster.

Any way, getting back to my story. The cashier said that without the card my total would come to $21.70, but with one it would only be $12.95. She then proceeded to “blip” a card that she had stored next to the register. It saved me a bundle, so I felt obligated to give her one of my preferred cashier cards.