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Creative Career Path

Finding Your Flow2010.03.31

    Chuang Tzu was a Taoist sage who lived from 369~286 BC, who masterfully put forth his philosophy in the form of dialogs, story, and metaphor that has striking relevance today.


    One of his best loved stories tells of Prince Hui’s Cook, whose finesse in cutting up an oxen initiates him into the Way of Life. Marveling at the cook’s dexterity with the chopper, he asks the cook how he came upon such skill.


    The cook tells of how he follows the Tao, which is better than skill, as it guides his hand to find the path of least resistance and greatest effect. He has learned to see with his mind, not his eye, and all of his movements are fluid and effective without forcing the blade.


    “A good cook changes his chopper once a year― because he cuts. An ordinary cook, once a month― because he hacks. But I have had this chopper nineteen years, and although I have cut up many thousands of oxen, its edge is as if fresh from the grindstone.” Read the full story at,


    These words from ancient China speak to us today over the centuries, because we see in the words of Prince Hui’s cook, a picture of our own struggle to find flow.


    We hack away at our work, doing things the hard way and wearing ourselves out. Have you ever found yourself working at a job that saps your motivation, and offers precious little reward for your time? If you have to work for a living, why not work in a way that fuels your sense of purpose and gives you energy? Prince Hui’s cook found the path of least resistance and wisdom in his work.


    Consider your own work carefully. You may find plenty of food for thought. Managers also struggle with the problem of motivation, their own and that of their employees. If the blade of the chopper gets dull with forceful use, think how much more the damage to people who work under stressful conditions.


    The paradigm that managers have inherited for motivation is often based on reward and punishment. There is a notion that people are inherently lazy, and therefore respond best when driven by the carrot and the stick. The assumption is that people somehow need to be forced or coaxed to work.


    That notion is persuasively overturned in a highly acclaimed book by Daniel H. Pink, "DRIVE: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us". He acknowledges that extrinsic motivation by carrot and stick does work under limited circumstances, but increasingly people are not willing to play the game just for money or status. Four decades of research on motivation shows conclusively that intrinsic motivation is not only more sustainable, it is also more productive. Practice is now starting to catch up with theory.


    Pink demonstrates that the secret to high performance is based on three elements of intrinsic motivation―autonomy, mastery, and purpose. He illustrates this with examples of companies that are getting it right and getting results, by introducing practices that allow employees more freedom in how they achieve results, and encouraging self-performance reviews.


    Daniel Pink is equally persuasive in person as he is in print. His presentation on the book was delivered at the TED Conference in Oxford, and is well worth viewing:


    The idea that intrinsic motivation works better is gaining serious attention in Japan. The "Weekly Toyo Keizai" magazine recently devoted an entire issue to what Daniel Pink calls "Motivation 3.0", and Kodansha will release the Japanese translation of DRIVE in June of 2010.


    The idea of working with full concentration and commitment is nothing new to Japan, though somehow we seem to have lost the plot in the pursuit of extrinsic rewards. Perhaps now it is coming full circle in the direction of what started as an ancient Chinese tradition. There are many ways to find your flow, but if you can’t find it in your work, you may not have the energy to find it in your free time.




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    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

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