Richard Bistrong finds his flow
Monday, September 18, 2017 at 7:18AM
Richard Bistrong in Finding Flow, OECD

In Finding Flow, author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi said “flow tends to occur when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable.” 

And in such a state, “goals are clear, feedback relevant, and challenges and skills are in balance,” adding how “attention becomes ordered and fully invested.”

In sum, flow “acts as a magnet for learning.”

I think of flow as that point when what we enjoy doing intersects with what we do best. When one’s profession is in those cross hairs, those are the moments when we look up at the clock after a task, and wonder “where did the time go?”

I remember the first time I felt flow. I was a grad student at the University of Virginia and my foreign policy mentor, Professor Whittle Johnston, asked me to teach four classes to undergrads as part of his foreign policy class. It required a lecture once a week to each of the four groups, assigning work, and grading papers.

That was in 1985-1986. Working with the undergraduates, reading their papers, inspired me.

After my entry into the defense field and international sales, flow would become elusive. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy success or the work, especially when I first started in my overseas responsibilities. But that perfect intersection of losing track of time, of being inherently motivated to succeed, well, it would never be the same as it was when I was working with those undergrads.

Until now.

Thirty years later I have rediscovered that “magnet of learning.” Leaders from diverse industries and markets come together at anti-corruption conferences and corporate events and town halls to share their successes and continued challenges. Compliance is now a profession where no one person or group can claim ownership but rather where new viewpoints and differing perspectives abound and are encouraged.

Recently I took part, both as an observer and participant, in a week of events that started in Paris at the OECD and then wound through Switzerland, Connecticut, and finally Boston. I finished the week on the train back home from Boston feeling energized, and filled with new knowledge and viewpoints that I had not considered just a week before.

In sum, flow has returned to my professional life, not necessarily revolving around a new-found knowledge of an anti-corruption law or enforcement action, but around thought leadership, dialog and constructive engagement. Having some voice in that collective discourse has brought back those memories of satisfaction, as when I was burning the midnight oil grading those mounds of papers.


Richard Bistrong is a contributing editor of the FCPA Blog and CEO of Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLC. In 2010 he pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to violate the FCPA and served fourteen-and-a-half months at a U.S. federal prison camp. He was named to Compliance Week's list of Top Minds in 2017 and was one of Ethisphere's 100 Most Influential in Business Ethics in 2015.

His popular real-life compliance training video, Behind the Bribe, produced in cooperation with Mastercard, was released in June.

To request a demo of the full eleven-minute video or a licensing fee schedule, please click here.

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