Creating flow in the gig economy

By Camille Preston, PhD, PCC

Boston is home to some of the world’s top business schools. To stay on top, our schools need to provide students with the leadership skills required to be both successful and engaged in today’s changing economy.

For close to a decade, my motto has been simple: Do what you love, from a place you love, with people you enjoy. Some might call me an early adopter to the gig economy. A recent report by McKinsey Global Institute, Independent Work: Choice, Necessity and the Gig Economy, shows that more and more people are buying into this approach to work and experiencing more satisfaction as a result. Free agents (people who work independently) report higher levels of satisfaction. This may explain why an estimated 162 million people (20-30% of the workforce) now fall into this category.

However, as we move to a gig economy, students must also develop new leadership skills too. They need to understand their individual triggers for peak performance, or what I refer to as flow. Why? Because in flow, individuals are up to five times as productive and up to seven times as creative. This means that flow is essential to the bottom line and personal well being. But can we teach students to generate and stay in flow? I believe that we can and that doing so is essential. To understand why, consider the relationship between leadership and flow.

Over the past decade, a growing number of business schools have started to mandate leadership training. Yet, as Srikant Datar, David Garvin and Patrick Cullen observe in Rethinking the MBA: Business Education at a Crossroads, while “virtually all of the top business schools aspire to ‘develop leaders’,” efforts are “widely viewed as falling short.” This is because cognitive intelligence (IQ) can only get you so far when it comes to training future leaders. Some research suggests that IQ accounts for 4-20% of one’s success as a leader. The other 80-96% is EQ.

As more people join the gig economy and move from employee to entrepreneur, EQ (emotional intelligence) will matter more than ever before. Part of EQ, however, is about knowing how to tap into flow. The Create More Flow curriculum is designed to help individuals know themselves better—to cultivate their EQ—and then to rethink how they work to spend more time being and feeling their best.

Notably, creating more flow is within everyone’s reach. It’s about prioritizing what really matters. It’s about being able to identify and rank one’s goals. Creating more flow is also about heightening engagement (being present for the people and projects that matter most).  It’s about knowing what steps are critical to effectively move the dial on a project and about fostering the agility to respond to change. Most importantly, it’s about taking time out to prioritize one’s own wellbeing too.  

Creating more flow is about making small tweaks to our work that hold the potential to produce massive rewards. What could be a more important lesson to deliver to tomorrow’s leaders?

Originally published on The Boston Business Journal, if you have a subscription, read it here.