How does flow, creativity and play, experience and memory influence the work environment?

Table of contents

  • Creativity and Play
  • Flow
  • Experience and Memory
  • Conclusion
  • Resources

Creativity and Play

Judgment is the killer for creativity. Embarrassment or fear of failure leads to conservative approaches and stops wild ideas. According to Brown our fear of judgment of peers leads us to be more conservative. Children on the process of becoming and adult become sensitive of the opinions of others. Children that feel in a trusted secure environment are freer to play, because they trust in kind judgment of their surroundings. In order to nurture creativity at a workplace, a trusted environment should be in place that creates a sense of security to allow people to take risks and have the security to play and experiment. Children are an example where they not only question what an object is but also what use it could make. The human brain has developed in such a way that we can anticipate certain situations. In a playful environment this skill allows us to use to imagine our self in a certain situation as well as observe our play and iterate in various forms. Roleplay is therefore very useful to test if our imagination is accurate and if the situation feels authentic. In order to embrace creativity and playfulness into everyday work, rules about how to play and when to play give a structure and improve the quality of outcome (Brown, n.d.).

As stated by Peter Kruse it is not possible to ask someone to be creative, creativity is a process to overcome a state of imbalance and return to a balanced state. The easiest way to create a creative environment is to create friction into an existing situation. This friction can also be understood to be a challenge to overcome (“Prof. Peter Kruse über Kreativität (plus Transcript)—YouTube,” n.d.).


A challenge is required for creativity to flourish and according to Csikszentmihaly this challenge can also help in achieving a state of flow. A state of flow is desirable because the mind will only focus on the task at hand without distraction. The mind is so consumed by the task that everything else is suspended. In order to achieve a flow state a situation needs to be challenging and at the same time the skill level needs to be adequate enough to create a perfect balance. By increasing the challenge while a skill is being improved, a state of flow can be extended. An interesting finding according to Csikszentmihaly is that in a flow state the self-perceived existence is temporarily suspended because the mind consumes full attention in the process of dealing with the situation. There is simply put not enough brain capacity available for our conscious self to actively influence our doing. There are two state of minds that are close to state of flow which are arousal and control. In a state of arousal most people have sharp learning curves as the challenges are higher than the skill level. A longer duration in such an arousal state can lead to a fear and burn-out. In a state of control where the skill level is higher than the perceived challenge people are in a state of control and if the challenges do not increase, then the mind can enter the state of boredom. The most distant state to a desirable state of flow is finally the state of apathy. The single largest contributor to this state is watching TV – only 6-7% of the time spent watching TV can deliver a flow state (Csikszentmihalyi, n.d.). If flow is such a desirable state, how can a business foster a flow favorable work environment? There have been attempts to increase challenges for employees such as “Job-rotation” and trainings to enhance a skill level. However, in a transactional business environment the task to make turnover outweighs whereas in a transformational business the focus lies on creating. That also means that transformational changes are more important than transaction leaders. Csikszentmihaly points out that in order to be creative in a flow state and develop something entirely new that is considered an improvement to the current system, requires at least 10 years of knowledge in this field. 

Experience and Memory

It might be that happiness is derived from a state of flow and fulfilment and that to experience happiness is more important and meaningful to employees than income. As Kahneman points out in his Ted talk, people with an anual income below 60k USD show signs of unhappiness. However, people who earn more than 60k USD a year show no signs of being happier. This underlines the understanding that income is a hygiene and not a motivational factor. Companies should pay more attention in making sure minimum basic needs are met and to focus on supporting happy memories at work. Kahneman suggests that in order to measure happiness, there needs to be a differentiation between the experience of happiness and the memory of a happy event. According to Kahneman experience and memory are very different and have a fundamental influence on how we perceive happiness. For instance, an experience creating happiness but ending with a negative experience will lead to a negative memory and possibly an unhappy memory. In contrast if we experience a bad situation that has a happy ending the memory formed will be subsequently happy. Kahneman also points out that not our experiencing self, but our memory of it will be the decisive factor for going through this experience again (Kahneman, n.d.). A positive memory can contribute to word of mouth and help companies to retain and attract more customers. Similar to movies or in evaluating service a lot of focus on making a happy and successful outcome lies in how the end was experienced as this will form a memory that people recollect and evaluate the experience.


In a study by Schroer & Hertel the readiness to participate was most closely associated with autonomy in choice for which project to work on, a projects and task significance, and the newness of the challenge or “skill variety” (Schroer & Hertel, 2009). Freedom of choice therefore has an impact on the number of hours spent on a project. These decisive factors have also an impact on reaching a state of flow. Focus should be led on the outcome of the experience and thus in forming a happy memory which will influence our future decisions. Because our brain cannot process our wellbeing or happiness during a state of flow it is even more important to focus on the outcome of the flow state and trigger a happy memory and feeling of achievement with it. Thus, in order to achieve a form of flow state in our working life we need to maintain a good mix of skill used and choice of challenges. Security and trust in a work environment will allow creativity to unfold and thus business should focus on providing basic needs for financial remuneration and work security. To drive creativity at workplace friction to a balanced system is required. However, in order to allow for creativity to unfold in a playful and constructive manner a sense of security and trust is needed to allow for creativity to be embraced. Setting goals that are purpose led and not transactional will help give people a sense of choice and decision to participate. In order to enhance creativity companies may wish to enable environments that are favorable for a state of flow. Immediate feedback but not judgmental is needed to maintain a positive flow state. In order to reiterate any creative processes business should focus on positive outcomes or achievements for participants to form happy memories and thus these memories will lead people to want to repeat such a creative process. 


Brown, T. (n.d.). Tales of creativity and play. Retrieved from

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (n.d.). Über “Flow.” Retrieved from

Kahneman, D. (n.d.). The riddle of experience vs. Memory. Retrieved from

Prof. Peter Kruse über Kreativität (plus Transcript)—YouTube. (n.d.). Retrieved December 5, 2019, from

Schroer, J., & Hertel, G. (2009). Voluntary engagement in an open web-based encyclopedia: Wikipedians and why they do it. Media Psychology12(1), 96–120.