The Wow of the Now: Of Flow, Creativity and IP

river flow-great

What once was new is now old

And what is now new will soon be old

And so it goes

With friends and foes


Once a friend, now a foe

And now a friend, but a foe before


Nothing to hold

Nothing to last

Each day is gold

But flowing so fast


Regret not the past

And fret not the future

The moment is now

Let’s make it a wow!


Happy “Now” Year to all of you!

And for those anxiously awaiting the IP linkage, let me point you to two important words deployed in this poor attempt at poetry above : “flow” and “now”. In many ways, they constitute the core essence of creativity. Those that create often tell us that they are in the “moment”, in the “zone” when they create best. Where often times there is no distinction between the creator and the created; so immersed are they in the act of creation that …..boundaries dissolve, borders merge, spaces expand, time ceases to matter and there is one continuous “flow” between subject and object.

A process captured best by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, a leading expert on the psychology of creativity who first propounded the theory of “flow”. For those interested, here is what he means by “flow”.

1. Flow: “A state of “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” (See Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”).

2. Case Study 1: Csikszentmihalyi gives us the following case study of a leading composer, who describes his experience thus:

“You are in an ecstatic state to such a point that you feel as though you almost don’t exist. I have experienced this time and time again. My hand seems devoid of myself, and I have nothing to do with what is happening. I just sit there watching it in a state of awe and wonderment. And [the music] just flows out of itself.”

3. Case Study 2: And yet another case study (of leading poet Mark Strand) who describes his “flow” experience thus:

“You’re right in the work, you lose your sense of time, you’re completely enraptured, you’re completely caught up in what you’re doing…. there’s no future or past, it’s just an extended present in which you’re making meaning…”

4. Autotelism: Almost all the people studied by Csikszentmihalyi placed the joy of working ahead of any extrinsic rewards they may receive from it (“autotelism”). A piece of wisdom that is incredibly important for our IP debates; where even absent compelling empirical evidence, we assume that external rewards are what primarily motivate and incentivise people to create/innovate.

“Creative persons differ from one another in a variety of ways, but in one respect they are unanimous: They all love what they do. It is not the hope of achieving fame or making money that drives them; rather, it is the opportunity to do the work that they enjoy doing. Jacob Rabinow explains: “You invent for the hell of it. I don’t start with the idea, ‘What will make money?’ This is a rough world; money’s important. But if I have to trade between what’s fun for me and what’s money-making, I’ll take what’s fun.” The novelist Naguib Mahfouz concurs in more genteel tones: “I love my work more than I love what it produces. I am dedicated to the work regardless of its consequences.”

Flow(ing) from Dhyan: Made in India?

Interestingly, “flow” resonates with many of the tenets of Zen Buddhism, whose core essence is  that of being “in the moment”. Fully and completely. Not dwelling in the past; or anxiously awaiting the future. But focussing on the here and “now”.

Zen, they say, derives from “Chan”, a Chinese precept. And “Chan” in turn drew from “Dhyan”, an absorptive “meditative” state well known to Buddhism and Hinduism. The notion of “Dhyan” underlies many of our ancient spiritual traditions, including Yoga. Csikszentmihalyi acknowledges this link in one of his works:

“The similarities between Yoga and flow are extremely strong….Both try to achieve a joyous, self-forgetful involvement through concentration, which in turn is made possible by a discipline of the body.”

There you have it, we’ve come one full circle to realize that the concept of “flow” may have been “made in India”. And yet we’ve all but forgotten this historical heritage and its potential value for our innovation and IP debates. Where we end up spending more time fixing the things that matter less for creativity and innovation. And ignoring the things that matter more. Such as the fact that our schools kill creativity a thousand fold more than IP (or the woeful lack of it)! Where parents keen to see their children settled in stable jobs and well-dowried marriages shudder at the very mention of entrepreneurship and risk. We need to fix these! And fix them quick! For they matter more for the unleashing of creativity than technical twitches to legal regimes. Particularly when the empirical connect between such legal twitches (increasing patent protection) and the alleged enhancement in the rate of innovation are still heavily contested.

As a well cited report (“A patent system for the 21st Century” [Committee on Intellectual Property Rights in the Knowledge Based Economy]) tellingly put it:

“[t]here are theoretical as well as empirical reasons to question whether patent rights advance innovation in a substantial way in most industries.

And on that metaphysical note, let me (on behalf of the SpicyIP team) wish all our readers a very Happy New Year! Or better still a Happy “Now” Year! One with more of a flow and less of an (IP) row.

Ps: Interestingly, “Csíkszentmihályi” is pronounced as “Chicks sent me high”. Quite fitting, given that the intimate presence of the fairer sex (and vice versa) has been known to spur creativity like no other!

Shamnad Basheer

Shamnad Basheer

Prof. (Dr.) Shamnad Basheer founded SpicyIP in 2005. He's also the Founder of IDIA, a project to train underprivileged students for admissions to the leading law schools. He served for two years as an expert on the IP global advisory council (GAC) of the World Economic Forum (WEF). In 2015, he received the Infosys Prize in Humanities in 2015 for his work on legal education and on democratising the discourse around intellectual property law and policy. The jury was headed by Nobel laureate, Prof. Amartya Sen. Professional History: After graduating from the NLS, Bangalore Prof. Basheer joined Anand and Anand, one of India’s leading IP firms. He went on to head their telecommunication and technology practice and was rated by the IFLR as a leading technology lawyer. He left for the University of Oxford to pursue post-graduate studies, completing the BCL, MPhil and DPhil as a Wellcome Trust scholar. His first academic appointment was at the George Washington University Law School, where he served as the Frank H Marks Visiting Associate Professor of IP Law. He then relocated to India in 2008 to take up the MHRD Chaired Professorship in IP Law at WB NUJS, a leading Indian law school. Later, he was the Honorary Research Chair of IP Law at Nirma University and also a visiting professor of law at the National Law School (NLS), Bangalore. Prof. Basheer has published widely and his articles have won awards, including those instituted by ATRIP, the Stanford Technology Law Review and CREATe. He was consulted widely by the government, industry, international organisations and civil society on a variety of IP issues. He also served on several government committees.


  1. AvatarUsha Chandrasekhar


    The inventors/authors are concerned with the now and the flow. The Applicants( not inventors/authors) are concerned with the ‘freeze’ of every ‘now’ That is hard to reconcile , since business cannot survive without pecuniary returns.

    But there is a POwer in the ‘NOW” , which allows you to flow with every moment of ‘now’, and that is where the inventor is different from the applicant.

    good read: THE POWER OF NOW’ by Ekhardt Tolle


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