The construct and criterion validity for being “in-the-zone” leading to optimal academic and job performance
Kulkarni, Amey Sudhir
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Flow is a state of complete focus and immersion with the activity at hand. It is commonly referred to as “being in the zone.” Flow has been a key component of the recent positive psychology movement and the downstream effects of flow include greater happiness, more creativity, and reduced defensiveness. An overview of the research on flow and more specifically, an overview of the research on flow at work is provided. Previous research, however, has failed to illustrate why flow produces positive outcomes. This paper outlines the origins of the flow experience using anthropological evidence consistent with I-D Compensation Theory. Next, the results of two studies are presented to demonstrate that optimal experience (i.e., flow) leads to optimal performance. Study one surveyed undergraduate students and clarified the construct of flow, established discriminant validity from engagement, and showed flow as a significant predictor of academic performance and citizenship behavior. Study two surveyed an adult working population and established the criterion validity of flow to job performance and organizational citizenship behavior. More specifically, higher levels of flow in dockworkers and drivers lead to fewer costly accidents and greater productivity over and above engagement alone. Also, flow mediated the relationship between engagement and organizational citizenship behavior. Theoretical and practical implications for flow in academics and in the workplace are discussed.