People often think of creativity as major breakthroughs. However, according to the class I am taking creativity exists on two levels; with each level representing a different type of creative problem solving.
Big “C” creativity makes giant leaps for humanity, and include such milestones as the polio vaccine and space travel. Here is an example of a “Big C” that changed my life.
I came across Mihály Csikszentmihályi’s work while I was a doctoral student in the 90’s. Two decades earlier, Csikszentmihályi had become fascinated by artists, especially painters, who got so lost in their work that they would disregard their need for other activities such as eating or sleeping for long periods of time. Csikszentmihályi’s research focused on understanding the phenomenon experienced by these artists. His flow research and theory of flow were used by Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers in developing their theories.
Flow, also known as being in the zone athletes, is the mental state where someone is fully immersed in an activity. It is a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment of the process, usually with a resulting loss in ability to sense of space and time.
Flow is a balancing act between the level of skill and the level of challenge. Not challenged enough, you’re bored; out of your depth, and you’re stressed out. The interesting thing is that your competence grows the fastest when you operate at the edge of your ability. In other words, the flow channel is not flat; it changes, always requiring us to find our new edge. Csikszentmihályi’s research shows that an individual’s capacity to overcome challenges in order to achieve goals not only leads to optimal experience, but also to a sense of life satisfaction.
Mihály Csikszentmihályi’s research changed my life. I have surfed the edge of the flow channel for years. When I get too big for my britches, I dial it back and reduce the anxiety, but I always play the edge.
“The zone” is where I live.