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I am plodding on with trying to work out how seriously to take Csikszentmihalyi.  Given that he has spent over 30 years working in the area of flow and optimal experience, has written several books and papers and presented his findings widely and his ideas have been adopted and applied in many different disciplines, the implication is that something meaningful is there.  However, having just read Creativity (see summary in wiki) I remain unconvinced, especially when the final chapter appears to be a self-help handbook on how to become a more creative person. I would like to find a knowledgable critique of his work, which might help me to assess better what I am reading, how seriously to take it, and how to apply it.



  1. anna says:

    I’ve just been talking about a very similar train of thought with Chris and Gareth – and yes there’s a similar vein of ‘is this really as deserving of such wide attention as it gets?’ The general feeling was that Flow is a very general and perhaps ill-defined concept, that seems to be a catch-all term to fit many things, becoming less useful as it becomes more wide in scope.

    In all honesty, I don’t know if there’s anything there or not – the general style he writes in is so conversationalist and easy to read that as a result I almost doubt the academic credibility of what he writes! And from my little knowledge of his work, he doesn’t really seem to engage with any other researchers except in the projects that he leads himself.

    However… he is one of two keynote speakers at the Creativity and Cognition conference this year, and when I did a quick check to see how many people had cited him, it ran into the thousands…

    I would say that opinions on Csikszentmihalyi vary widely, so you may struggle to find one ‘knowledgeable critique of his work’ that accurately sums up the general consenses on his writings – don’t underestimate your own ability to critique his work though 😉 I like your review of Creativity – I definitely agree that the Creativity book doesn’t end as I would like it to have done, but instead ventures into self help territory – this came up in my earlier chat as well!

  2. lizit says:

    Thanks Anna. It’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one reading this stuff and questioning. It’s not only Csikszentmihalyi but how others seem to use his concepts, some even seeming to acknowledge how fluffy a concept ‘flow’ is and then proceeding to define what they understand by it and base a piece of work on that definition. It might be useful some time to have a general discussion around these concepts, perhaps drawing in somebody knowledgeable in the area and thrash it out a bit. I’m not sure how one would set out about doing that though.

    I’ve read a few of his books now. My review of Creativity was born out of the frustration I felt when reading the others – an attempt to find something of substance. Maybe I should just move on and find something less ephemeral 🙂

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