Do you know what it takes to achieve a mental state of being fully involved and focused on the task at hand? Joining us on YAP this week is Steven Kotler, a best selling author, entrepreneur and one of the world’s leading experts on the state of flow and ultimate human performance.
Many of us can relate to the countless times we’ve been distracted by a new youtube video or Facebook post while working on a project for work, or studying for an exam. Unfortunately, staying focused on the task at hand is essential for improving both our mental and physical performance. This is where flow comes in, Steven Kotler describes the flow state as one where there is complete concentration on the task at hand, increasing our sense of control and mastery over the situation. While we are in flow times slows and we lose awareness of our physical needs.
As Steven Kotler states during the interview: “The scientific definition of flow is an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and we perform our best. It’s a moment of wrapped attention and total absorption, we get so focused on the task at hand, then everything else disappears. So action awareness will start to merge your sense of self, self consciousness, self criticism will vanish completely.”
Learning how to achieve this flow state of mind can help many of us improve our overall performance while completing tasks and accomplishing goals. In this episode, Hala Taha and our guest Steven Kotler discuss what it means to experience flow and share tips on how each of us can achieve this fully immersed mental state.
For more on Steven Kotler follow him on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/steven-kotler-4305b110/, on instagram @kotler.steven, on Twitter @steven_kotler and visit his website at https://www.stevenkotler.com/.
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Hala Taha:00:00:00Hey Stephen, welcome to young and profiting podcast.Steven Kotler:00:00:03Good to be with you.Hala Taha:00:00:04We are so pumped to have you on the show. And before we get started I just want to share a little bitof background for my listeners. Steven is a leading expert on the state of flow and high performance and he explorers altered states of consciousness and their effect on human performance. In addition to that, Stephen is a Pulitzer prize nominated author with eight bestsellers under his belt like stealing fire, the rise of Superman tomorrow land and more. His latest book which we'll dig into later today is called the last Tango in cyberspace and it's a Scifi thriller which explores the future we may be living in just five years from now. So Steven, I reallywant to focus this interview on two parts. First I want to talk about flow and I know you're probably sick of talking about this, but it's so interesting and relevant for my audience and I literally have been waiting a year to talk to you about this topic.Hala Taha:00:00:56So looking forward to that. And then equally as interesting, I want to discuss last Tango and cyberspace and some of the connections we can make from it to real life in regards to the advancement of technology and your key messages related to humanity. Like empathy for all.There's so much to cover. We only have an hour or so. I'm going to try to move things fast, skip the fluff and hit all the key points. So are you ready for this right yet? Okay. So like I said before, you are the biggest expert on flow of our millennial generation. Let's start to dissect what flow exactly as many people describe flow as being in the zone. When you get so focused on a task that everything else disappears and your performance, both mentaland physical go through the roof. So what is your definition of flow and what are the ways that peopledescribe flow and the feeling of flow?Steven Kotler:00:01:46So, uh, the best place to start as not with my definition of flow, it's with the technical definition offlow, that the scientific definition of flow, which is an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and we perform our best. And as you pointed out, my definition is very similar to what
you just said. It's a moment. So those moments of kind of wrapped attention and total absorption, we get so focused on the task at hand, then everythingelse disappears. So action awareness will start to merge your sense of self, self consciousness, self criticism will vanish completely. Time passes, strangely the technical term is it dilates, which is a fancy way of saying it either slows down, you get a freeze frame effect, married enemy's been in a car crash or more frequently it speeds up and five hours go by in five minutes. You didn't even notice. Time was passing and throughout, as you pointed out, all aspects of performance, both mental and physical go through the roof. So that's sort of the standard, you know, scientific definition of flow.Hala Taha:00:02:43And I know that you have three fundamental laws of flow. Can you go into that? For my listeners,Steven Kotler:00:02:49flow science itself, it's really old. It dates back to the 1880s 1890 some of the earliest experiments run in what kind of became experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience will run on flow. In the 1970s psychologist named me, Hi Chi seng Hi, who's at the University of Chicago is often called the godfather of flow because he coined the term flow. That's where the term itself came from. He did some of the largest global studies on optimal performance anybody's ever conducted and he learned five kind of fundamental truths about flow that I think are a really great place to start any discussion as you pointed out, the first of those is that flow is definable and what I mean by that is it has core characteristics. There are six of them that CIC sent me high identified, I listed someof them a second ago when I was sort of giving my quick definition of flow there.Steven Kotler:00:03:42Things like total complete concentration in the moment on the task at hand, the vanishing itself, time, dilation, a sense of total control and mastery over the situation. A couple of other things and because it's definable, it's measurable, they are really great, well validated psychometric instruments for measuring flow. The other things that you need to know that I think are really key is flow is a spectrum experience. So it's like any emotion, right? You've got anger, you can be a littleirked, you could be homicidally murderous. It's the same emotion flow is the same way. You can be in a
state of micro flow. There's sort of a debate here, but traditionally people think it's when all the flows conditions show up. It's all characteristics of complete concentration, time dilation, the vanishing itself, but they're just dialed down really quietly and then there's a macro flow and you get all of those all at once and it often historically until the 1950s when we realize better, this was treated as a full blown mystical experience.Steven Kotler:00:04:37Time slows down and your sense of self vanishes and you feel like you become one with everything. And people thought it was a mystical experience. They didn't understand there was neurobiology underneath that experience causing it. But we've since learned that. So flow is a spectrum. And the reason that's so important is most people spend about 5% of their work life, for example, in flow anddon't even notice it. So if you can learn to notice it, you can sort of learn to turn it up a little bit more and get more of that state. That's critical. And I think the most important thing is what flow has to do with meaning and life satisfaction and overall wellbeing. So when positive psychologists talk about the three levels of happiness, they're sort of baseline happiness. How do you feel right here, right now? And there's not a whole lot you can do there.Steven Kotler:00:05:23A lot of that's nature. A lot of it's nurture. There are certain interventions that positive psychology has developed that can help you be happier, but there'snot a ton you can do there. There's second level, what they call a life of enjoyment is literally a high flow lifestyle. And then the top level, the best you can feel on this planet is a high flow lifestyle attached to purpose. Something greater than yourself outside yourself. And that is literally the best experience. So when we do studies of like overall wellbeing, life satisfaction, meaning that people who score off the charts to the people with the most flow in their lives. So that stuff is really, really critical. It's sort of one of the reasons you really want flow in your life and what more flow in your life.Hala Taha:00:06:04That's amazing. And so interesting, and I've heard you say that wherever we see the possible become possible, you see flow and a great use case of flow and how powerful it can be is the insane progress
that's surfing and running have had in the last 203040 years. Can you walk us through some of these examples and give us some context about how human performance has been unlocked in some of these action sports?Steven Kotler:00:06:31So what started to happen in the eighties and the nineties is that action sports started to progress on essentially nearly exponential growth curves, meaning the level of performance which had been steady for a very long time, started exploding. And surfing is a great example because surfing as a thousand year old sport and from 480 until 1996 the biggest wave of anybody to ever serve was 25 feet. And there were physics papers written about how it was impossible for surfers to paddle into our surf waves over 25 feet tall. In 1996 that started to evaporate and now we're just a couple of decades later and surfers are routinely pulling into waves that are 60,70,80,90,100 feet tall. That's really common. Used to be believed that the largest cliff jump anybody could accomplish on skis or on a snowboard was 80 feet. Nobody believed that the human body could take more than that. In fact, in snowboarding in 1992 the biggest gap jump, and it'd be a ever cleared, was the baker road gap up inMount Washington.Steven Kotler:00:07:35And it's a jump literally over a highway and it's 40 feet. And to add, now that's huge, right? That's two buses stacked lengthwise. But today again, like 21 years later, snowboarders are clearing gap jumps that are 250, 300 feet tall. So they've gone from like two buses to skyscrapers in 20 years. Um, or you know, the classic example and I love talking about is my buddy Alex Honnold who was the star of the movie free Solo for free soloing El Cap. But the story I like as much is half dome, half dome, this huge slab of rock in Yosemite Valley. And most climbers take a day to a day and a half to climb it and they bring portal alleges they sleep on the sideof the wall and that's what it takes. And they climb with ropes and protection of course. And then in 2012 Alex Honnold free soloed. So he climbed without ropes of protection.Steven Kotler:00:08:29So if you've made a mistake, he was going to die. He's going to fall to his death and he free soloed half dome in an hour and 22 minutes. It's like the rough equivalent of running a four minute mile and
37 seconds still doesn't make any sense. These are just a handful of examples. They're all over. I mean you're seeing a lot of progression in a lot of sports for sure, but an action sports, it's really, really clear, but it's not just action sports. You know, I started out my work in action sports looking at this and then I took this question of sort of what does it take to do the impossible and to pretty much every domain imaginable. And I wrote books about what I discovered. So tomorrow land for example, which isa book you mentioned earlier, that book looked at those maverick innovators who turned science fiction ideas in scifi technology, right?Steven Kotler:00:09:15They did the impossible of dreaming up the future in abundance, which I co wrote with Peter Diamandis. We looked at individuals or small teamsgoing after grand global, impossible challenges, poverty, healthcare, crisis, water scarcity, energy scarcity, those kinds of challenges. Challenges that 20 years earlier were like large corporations or big governments. We're the only people playing. And here were individuals going at the same and possible challenges and succeeding. Bold looked at entrepreneurs like Larry Page, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, people who've done impossible things in business, built world, changing industries in record time. Often by the way, in industries where people didn't even think you could innovate right at the time, Branson created Virgin Airlines. Everybody said you can't create another airlines. There's no way this will work. And yet he bet half this music company on it. Um, big impossible. Crazy. So I spent my whole career looking at this stuff. And, and you are absolutely correct. It doesn't matter what domain you look in, whenever you see the impossible, they can possible. You see the state of consciousness, maleness, flow, you see other things. It's not the only thing you see, but you always see flow.Hala Taha:00:10:24So what exactly happens to our mental and physical when we enter into a flow state? Maybe let's start off at a neurobiological level. What happens?Steven Kotler:00:10:33So if you want it make any sense. When you talk about neurobiology, you want to talk about four things. You want to talk about neuro anatomy and networks, which is where in the brain things are
taking place. The old idea about the brain was things were localized, right? This spot did this thing.The new thinking about the brain is that's not how it appears to work. And most things are interlinked. Network connections in the same spot. We'll do triple and double and duty all over the place. But anyways, you need to talk about location, right? And then the next thing you have to talk about is neurochemistry in neural electricity, which is the two ways the brain communicates to itself and to the body, right? And that's how it sends signals. So when you're talking about neurobiology, that's really what you want to talk about.Steven Kotler:00:11:16And in flow we see really, really potent changes. Wesee large swatches of the prefrontal cortex. This is where your executive function lives. A lot of your higher cognitive functions are housed there, gets very, very, very quiet in flow. Most of it's shuts off. We see brainwaves move from where they are. So right now you and I were talking, our brains are in Beta. It's a fast moving wave. It's where we are when we're awake and alert. Below Beta is a slowerwave alpha. This is sort of the signature of creativity. It's daydreaming mode. It's the brain going from thought to thought without a lot of internal resistance. One level down is theta, which is sort of where we are. Not that often when we're awake that you can have waking state data, but rem sleep, the hypnogogic state, it's where you're going from idea to idea with no internal resistance, right?Steven Kotler:00:12:04You're, you're falling asleep and you're thinking about a green sweater you wore during the day andit turns into a green elephant and then turns into a green ocean and then the green planet, right? That's data. So flow takes place on the borderline between Alpha and theta, so it's a lot different now.Your brain actually pops all over the place when you're in that state, but it returns to this baseline and then neurochemically. We see stress hormones get flushed out of the system. When you move into flow and then four or five or six of the most potent performance enhancing feel good neurochemicals, the brand can produce, get shot into your system. There's physiological changes as well. We can now measure changes to heart rate and heart rate variability and facial expressions and facial muscles. And there's a bunch of other things that
we look for now when we try to figure out if people are in flow. But those are the sort of the basic kind of neurobiological changes. So that's why when I said earlier, the scientific definition of flow is an optimal state of consciousness. We're feel our best when we perform our best, the neurobiology and physiology that I've just been describing. That's what we mean, right? Like when we say flow, we're talking about very, very specific neurobiological changes, changes in the brain and the body that are very measurable and very distinct.Hala Taha:00:13:17And there's also like a potent shift of neurochemicals that strengthen motivation, creativity, and learning. Can you walk us through what neurochemicals are exactly and why this boost in neurochemicals is so addictive?Steven Kotler:00:13:31Yeah. So neurochemicals is sad or one of the two ways the brain communicates, right? They're signaling molecules. And typically by the way, the brain isn't very fancy. It's kind of a binary engine. So usually what the signals are is do more of this thing or do less of this thing. That's really what neuro chemicals do. But the neuro chemicals you get in flow nor epinephrin dopamine, Amanda Mide endorphins, possibly Serotonin, possibly oxytocin. They're all performance enhancing chemicals, first of all. So a muscle reaction times speed up, they dead and pain, strength increases. This is all stuff they're doing, but their biggest impact, as you pointed out, are cognitive and their cognitive performance enhancing chemicals. So their biggest impacts are on motivation, learning and creativity. And we'll start with motivation. Cause you hinted atthat these chemicals besides performance enhancement are pleasure drugs. They're the brains reward system, right?Steven Kotler:00:14:27We are goal directed creatures. Human beings are, and underpinning all this gold direction, our rewards and underpinning all of these rewards are feel good neurochemicals. And just to give you an idea, so romantic love, when you fall in love, you'vefallen in love before. Yes. It's fun, right? Really, really, really fun. Right? All right, so that fun, that racing heart that I can't stop thinking about, I'm on,can't stop smiling, blah, all that stuff. Her, I don't know. Your preference doesn't matter. Small animals don't care him. Doesn't matter to me.
Could care less. My point is that when we're falling in love, that is predominantly norepinephrine and dopamine, and this is not my work. This is Helen Fisher's work at Rutgers on this. But loving love is most people's favorite experience, right? And that'sonly two of flows, five neurochemical cocktails. These are really potent, potent pleasure drugs.Steven Kotler:00:15:20So potent that researchers talk about flow is the most addictive state on earth. And if you want to see the performance side of that, McKinsey did a 10year study of top business executives and they found that top executives are five times more productive in flow than out of flow. That's a 500% boost in productivity and motivation. That's what addictive neurochemistry can do. So one of the great things about flow is you're actually getting your own biology to work for you rather than against you. And this is what that means. So you can get this huge step function worth of change in motivation from flow. Similar thing happens in creativity, so creativity really gets jacked up in flow primarily because all these neurochemicals surround the creative process that surround the brains. Information processing machinery. So in studies done by my organization, some done at Harvard, some done at the University of Sydney in Australia, we see that creativity spikes in about 400to 700% in flow.Steven Kotler:00:16:18And then Theresa model at Harvard figured out thatheightened creativity can outlast the flow state by a day. Sometimes too huge boost in creativity and learning. We see something very similar, quick shorthand for how learning works in the brain. The more neurochemicals that show up during an experience, better chance that experience will go from short term holding to longterm storage. Another thing that neurochemicals to do, they tag experiences is critically important. Save for later flow, which is this huge neuro chemical dump reallymagnifies learnings on experiments run by the Department of Defense. We see learning will spike and flow some 230% these again, huge, huge, hugechange. Very, very useful.Hala Taha:00:17:00Wow. So interesting. And it's so, you know, it makesyou wonder like how do you actually get into a flow state? How do you take advantage of all these great things that you're saying and and efficiencies
that we can gain. I've read that there's preconditions or triggers that can help you get into flow and with stats, like you just mentioned that you're, you could be 500% more productive. I know my listeners must be dying to know how to get yourflow hacking tips.Steven Kotler:00:17:25Yeah, it's, you know, it's interesting. A lot of what we do at the flow research collective is, is train people up, right? We're a research and a training organization on the training side, you know, we work with everybody from kind of the u s special forces through big corporations that it sort of the general public and one of the clearest findings that it showed up and it was counterintuitive to me. I really didn't believe this. In fact, if you would have come to me 10 years ago, I'd been like, Stephen doyou believe is absolutely true about flow and flow science and training and things like that. I was at this state is really hard to train and it turns out I was wrong. I mean I was really wrong. Um, and a lot of this is cause you're getting your biology to work for you and rather against you.Steven Kotler:00:18:03But we get really spectacular results. And as you pointed out, one of the ways we do this is by training people how to use flow triggers. So flow states have triggers preconditions that lead to more flow and there are about 22 that we know of. There's way more I'm sure, but that's what we've got a really good beat on. So just neurobiologically, cause I think if you're going to understand anythingabout high performance, cognitive literacy is really important. It's important to understand what's going on in your brain, in your body when you're performing at your best. That way you can do moreof it. It's repeatable. And so what these triggers do, they do one of three things. They either drive two different neurochemicals, norepinephrine and dopamine into your brain or they lower cognitive load. Let me back up. One step. Flow follows focus. It only shows up when all of our attention is in the right here at the right now.Steven Kotler:00:18:56So that's what all these triggers do. They drive attention into the present moment and as I mentioned a second ago, they do this in one of three ways. They either produce nor epinephrine ordopamine, which among their many functions in the brain are big focusing drugs. They drive
attention into the right here right now and thus propel us into flow or they lower cognitive load. Cognitive load is all the crap you're trying to think about at any one time. And since your brain has a fixed energy budget, if I take away some of the stuff you're trying to pay attention to, if I lower cognitive load, you got more energy to pay attention to stuff in the present. So I'm liberating energy that you can really spend on focus. So that'swhat these triggers do. Simplest trigger, you know, always the place I start. Can I swear on your podcast?Steven Kotler:00:19:44Okay. We work with organizations. The very first thing I do is I said, look, if you can't hang a sign on your door that says fuck off, I'm flowing. You can't do this work, you're sunk. Forget about it. And the reason is what the research shows is to maximize flow. You need 90 to 120 minute periods of uninterrupted concentration. And Tim Ferriss has argued that if you're working on anything really, really creative, and I think he's right on this, that at least a couple of times a week you should have like three, four or five hour really time luxurious stretches to focus on your work. And for me, what this really means is I get up at four o'clock in the morning, I start writing. So from 4:00 AM to 8:00 AM everyday I right, my phone is off, my email is off, my internet is off. In fact, all that stuff gets turned off at the end of the day, the night before. So when I leave my office at the end of the day, I Skype gets turned off, the internet gets turned off, email gets shut down, my phone, my landline gets unplugged, my cell phone gets turned off, all lights get turnedSteven Kotler:00:20:48off and I leave my computer and focus view. So all Isee are the words on a page. It's all I see. It's dark outside. There's nothing but words on a page. There's no contact. And that's what I do for four hours now. So that does, I'll turn. I actually will, and this is, it's worth pointing this out so people don't get me wrong on this one. Sometimes what I'm writing requires research, right? Our director of research, Connor Murphy is a coder and he works the same way. When he's coding. He will flit all overthe Internet looking for bits of code and ideas and take this that. I'll do the same thing with research, right? It's not to say that I totally keep my focus only on the writing. I will go elsewhere and do
research and come back to the writing. That stuff happens, but I will stay focused on the task at hand.Steven Kotler:00:21:33Usually, you know, for four hours straight every morning. And really that's what I've done for 30 years. It's really a foundational to peak performance and it's really hard right these days, especially for people who have fear of missing out, all that stuff that shutting down that much every day is really weird to most people. It's really hard. It's hard for companies to do or at a lot of companies we work with, they have house policies that say if you don't respond to this message in 15 minutes in this email and a half an hour, like you're fired kind of stuff. That's absolutely insane. I mean literally it's a corporate policy that goes against ourbiological hard wiring and we know and there's, youknow, copious research, the late great Clifford massit was at Stanford, kind of prove this more than anybody else. The brain doesn't multitask. It just is not built for, it's not wired that way. You can sort of slowly over time start to train that tiny little bit, a little more than we thought, but it really doesn't do it. So uninterrupted concentration is how we're builtand you need to maximize that for flows. That's absolutely the place you've got to start.Hala Taha:00:22:36Yeah, I think that's such a key point for my listenersis just that like if you have something super important to do, you need to just turn everything off and dedicate, like you said, 90 to 120 minutes just to concentrate on your task at hand. And I know it sounds so simple, but for millennials, literally, I just feel like every five minutes we want to check our phone, we want to, you know, like we get the pings in the rings constantly andSteven Kotler:00:23:03it's a dope man addiction and the only way, so here's a fundamental truth. The only thing more powerful than neurochemistry is neuro chemistry. Literally, you will not beat the little like that little dopamine rush that you get when your phone buzzes in your pocket and there might be a message or a like or whatever, right? That's dopamine. That's a reward chemical. It's the same thing that's produced by cocaine, the most addictive drug on earth. That's no joke. It's a real addiction. The only way to beat it is with a bigger addiction, so you're not going to be able to replace
like that desire until you actually start replacing it with the bigger successes that comeSteven Kotler:00:23:46from deep blow states, more neurochemistry and that kind of reward success loop that's more powerful than the foe, right? So what you have to do is sort of, you've got to run the experiment. You're going to be like, oh, I'm going to conduct thisexperiment for two weeks, three weeks, whatever, and see how I feel on the back end and I guarantee you, you're going to feel better. There's going to be more flow. There's going to be more meaning. There's going to be more, it's going to be a richer experience. You're going to get more done.Hala Taha:00:24:18Yeah. Let's talk about another one of your triggers, novelty and complexity. I thought this was really interesting.Steven Kotler:00:24:24Well over 2000 papers have been written on flow fairly recently by the way. And there's a lot of work, a lot of really, really, really smart people who have contributed to this field and have thought about this and the triggers. So this is built out of the work done by Robert Sapolsky at Stanford who discovered that whenever the brain encounters novelty, complexity and uncertainty, it produces large quantities of dopamine. And if you start getting like novelty and complexity together or novelty and unpredictability supposedly calls it the magic of maybe the brain loves, maybe we love, maybe we love the thrum of possibility. It's a really, really, really addictive and you get a lot of Dopamine from it. Huge, huge squirts of dopamine. So this is why, for example, you've had this experience yourself, I'm sure where you've traveledand it's sorta like instant flow states, right? You FindYourself, you're walking around Italy or Greece or wherever the hell you go upstate New Jersey and it's totally new and you find yourself in a low grade flow state and it's just kind of encountering novelty and on unpredictability around every corner. It's driving Delta meetings, your brain, pretty soon it's going to drive you into flow.Hala Taha:00:25:38Cool. And then how about immediate feedback?Steven Kotler:00:25:41This is chicks at me, highs work, one of those well validated a flows, triggers and again, flow follows focus, right? So we pay the most attention to the
task at hand. We know how we're doing, right? Wellyou don't have to wonder how am I doing and so you can course correct in real time. This is why sports are so great at producing flow. Same thing with some of the arts, performing arts and even some of the tactile arts, right? The very, very, very immediate feedback. In fact, there's direct correlations between those professions that get themost feedback and performance and flow as well. Surgeons, high flow activities, they get a lot of feedback, right? Like your patient dies on the table,you did a bad job. That's immediate feedback. But jobs that have a lot less satisfaction, like radiologists, they read radiological screens and they never even know what happens to their patient. So they can't improve and there's not a lot of flow in their jobs because they're not getting enough feedback. Writing, for example, out of my own life, as publishing has shrunk over the past 20 years editorsSteven Kotler:00:26:44have been able to do less and less editing. And so my editors don't really edit me anymore. I'm writinga book. If I get an editor to look at my book two or three times along the way, that's huge. That's big. And that doesn't work for me. I need feedback a couple times a week on my writing and fact I need somebody to read my writing aloud to me a couple times a week and provide feedback. So that's where I have somebody on my staff who does that because I need that kind of feedback. So I tell people, one of the best things you can do if you want to do this kind of work is find a feedback buddy at work, a friend, whatever. It's tricky to find the right criteria cause everybody comes in with individual biases, right? So you have to learn how to steer and what you need to steer for.Steven Kotler:00:27:28And everybody's going to be different. You have to figure out what is the feedback that best drives youtowards flow. I have not found a diagnostic that works for it. The only thing that I have found that works is when you find yourself in a deep flow state, one of the things to ask yourself is how muchfeedback did I receive along the way that got me here. You can only trying like that way and what kind of feedback is most useful to you? Those are things you have to figure out for yourself, but immediate feedback is a great flow trigger.
Hala Taha:00:27:57Yeah, and I think related to this, Jeff Bezos at Amazon, he institutionalized the yes in order to create states of flow where basically if somebody wants to say no, they had to write like a two page paper on why they said No.Steven Kotler:00:28:11You have done a lot of research into me you have, oh yeah, so I talk about this a little bit. This is a group flow thing, so individual flow is you or me and flow, but we can also get into a flow state together. It's a team performing at their best. It's a fourth quarter comeback in football. It's a great brainstorming session. It's a band coming together and with the music just sort of blows the roof off this stadium climate thing, right? So the basic group flow trigger is the first rule of Improv, which is always say yes, yes. And, and so an Improv, they say this because if you and I are doing Improv and you say to me, hey Steven, there's a blue elephant in the bathroom. And I say, shut the fuck up. No, there is not. Well, that's not very funny in the story.Steven Kotler:00:28:56Doesn't go anywhere, right? Like not funny. But if I say, Oh crap, I hope he's not using up all the toilet paper, well now we can build a scene and it goes someplace exciting, right? So conversations, idea generation needs to be additive, not argumentative. Now this doesn't mean you can't criticize. You can, and in fact, in brainstorming sessions, brainstorming sessions that are all about yes and positive feedback don't work. You need to be critical, but you have to find something to be additive to build on to. And Jeff's point was that Amazon is so fricking easy, especially for middle managers who don't want to get in trouble to say no to things and we need group flow to succeed that he instituted an institutional yes policy. So if you're an Amazon and you want to say no, you gotta write a two page memo and you've got to post it on the cock company website about why yousay no.Steven Kotler:00:29:50So he can sort of work around this and that. By the way, this is sort of what we've seen and what I've seen with kind of the organizations that are sort of good at flow stuff is this stuff has to sort of be baked in. It's hard to bolt it on afterwards. It's a lot easier when it's at the center of your culture sort offrom the beginning. And I think this is, by the way, one of the advantages I see sort of with millennial
companies, younger companies right now, they get this, this is not a question for them at all. So you know, working with tech companies, I don't have to really even explain flow. They already get it. They just want more of it. Whereas all their companies, then it's more understanding around it before they're willing to kind of embrace some of these ideas. Though I've done a couple big trainings recently into very conservative, very big law forbs and I kind of figure if the stuff is spread, if you're reaching law firms and accountants, you're everywhere. It's mainstream.Hala Taha:00:30:50Okay, so let's continue and discuss about this idea of communitas and group flow. I'd love for you to just give some more examples of how this is so powerful and how teams can work together to havegroup flow and be more impactful.Steven Kotler:00:31:04I wish there was a lot I could say here, it's sort of the black hole of flow research because it's very hard. We have no way of measuring shared collective consciousness as of yet. Even a psychometric survey, I haven't seen a group flow survey that is well validated. So this is the very cutting edge of the field really. But Keith Sawyer, who's brilliant, who's now at the University of NorthCarolina, spent 15 years working with second city television, which is sort of a one of the big theater comedy troupes into Saturday night live, big Improvcomedy troupe in Chicago and he is observed and videotaped basically comedic Improv for 10 15 years straight to figure out what drove a group together and he's come up with 10 triggers. I write about them at length in rises, superman, or if you go to my website in the rabbit hole, you'll spine.Steven Kotler:00:32:00I think there's a group flow rabbit hole where I break them all down. But those are the triggers much in the same way. I mean, you know, completeconcentration also exists for the group. Those sorts of things are true. Always say yes. There's another one. There's some interesting ones that have more to do with how you build your teams than what the team can do together. And I think this is really tricky and interesting. What are the things that the research shows is that you sorta need everybody tobe at roughly the same level of skill. For example, take a band, right? If the drummer doesn't have as much skills as the guitar players and the
drummers, the guy who's keeping time and driving everything forward, the band is screwed, right? So everybody sort of has to be at the same sort of skilllevel to really maximize group flow. They also need a level of familiarity with one another. And what that's about is sort of common language, shared language so they can communicate really, really quickly and effectively. So those are, you know, a handful of the basics there.Hala Taha:00:33:01Awesome. Well very interesting. Moving on to part two of the interview, most people know you from your work from Flow, your nonfiction book, the rise of Superman, but you're also a trained novelist and your latest fiction is called the last Tango in cyberspace. So let's take the rest of the interview to talk about your new book. It's a near term future thriller taking place five years from now. It's about the ramifications of future technology, the evolution and critical importance of empathy and the impacts of consciousness expansion and an accelerated world. The protagonist is named Lyon Zorn and he is the first of his kind, Lyon is an empathy tracker or an m tracker and he can feel empathy much deeper than most and he empathizes beyond humans, plants, animals, ecosystems and so on. He can even track cultural trends before they merge. Before we get into some of the main points of the book and how they relate into real life. Tell us a bit more about the book in your own words, why you wrote it, what the name means and so on.Steven Kotler:00:34:02I wrote it because as you pointed out, I'm trained asa novelist and I've, I think I've written eight nonfiction books in a row or nine nonfiction but some colossal number of books in a row and I just missed the genre. It's really fun to be able to kind of create a world and tell a story and sort of more importantly I think this is both what the title means and sort of why I wrote the book. A lot of the books I'd been writing for my past books I've written fairlyrecently. Abundance, bold, tomorrow land. And in a certain extent stealing fire are all about disruptive technology and accelerating disruptive technology and the change that's coming down, you know, those books have to make sense. So I do it one technology at a time and one innovation at the time, but that's not the future, right?
Steven Kotler:00:34:44The future is all these technologies at once, all these innovations at once. And people would often ask me, Steven, you know, what do you think's coming? What's the future really like? And I didn't have an answer to the question. And one of the main reasons is because I couldn't put it all together. And so that's one of the reasons I wanted to write this book as I wanted to put all the technologies together. So everything in the book is either real now mean it exists in the world, just probably not evenly distributed or it's in a lab somewhere. So there's only, I think, two technologies in the book that I made up for plot reasons and everything else is real. And one I wanted to create a world and sort of like tell a storyin that world and see what it was like. And you know, last Tango in cyberspace is a fancy way of saying goodbye to something new.Steven Kotler:00:35:25Right? That's the end of something new. And in this case, what I'm really talking about is sort of the world as we know it. Cause that's what you quickly discover when you put the technologies that are accelerating the merging. Right now if you put them together in one world and you spin the clock forward just a little bit, it becomes a staggeringly shockingly different place to live. So that's where it started for me is wanting to kind of create that world and and put a story inside that world so everybody could get a sense of what's coming and how fast it's coming.Hala Taha:00:35:59Yeah. It's so fascinating that you decided to write this book about the imminent future just five years out. Like you mentioned, all the technology you wrote about in the book exists in lab or is room retreat exist. So what are some of the technologies that you talk about in the book and how do you imagine five years from now to be?Steven Kotler:00:36:16So that's an interesting question. I'll give you. Uh, you know, autonomous cars are everywhere in the block. Autonomous taxis are, you know, Uber and Lyft, they're all rolling out autonomous car companies this year. That's a technology that's common very quickly. There's odd men in reality and virtual reality are both set to explode in with augmented reality. It's really weird because they're literally like, the technologies really haven't started showing up, but every major entertainment
company advertising companies is putting millions and millions and millions in the technology. And they're using it to create an information layer that literally hovers between the you and the real world.You put it on a pair of glasses, it's going to show up.So five years from now you're gonna be walking down the street in New York, you're going to put on your glasses and it's going to be everything from like, you know, the buildings that you're walking by,their history is going to pop up.Steven Kotler:00:37:05Or if you're hungry and you happen to like Chinese food, all the Chinese food restaurants on the street will start glowing orange in their menus. We've rejected into the sky kind of thing. Like all this is coming very, very quickly, very, very, very soon. Flying cars. By the way, even though we're not a technology in the book, but earlier this year I wrote about this in another book that's about to come out. Uber had their second annual flying car conference and it's because Uber wants flying taxis,autonomous flying taxis in Dallas, La, and a couple of other cities by 2023 so this is becoming really, really, really quickly, these kinds of things. Artificial intelligence is moving at ridiculous speeds. Quantum computing is moving at ridiculous speeds and you know, only getting faster. So all these things, nanotechnology, biotechnology at levels can't imagine. I'll give you a simple example from biotechnology.Steven Kotler:00:37:56Little bit of this is in the book, but five or six years ago I got to hang out with Yu hair, who's the head of biomechatronics and MIT and he invented the world's first bionic body parts of bionic ankle. And at the time it was so robust, soldiers were returningto combat in Afghanistan and Iraq wearing them. So really amazing bionic body part that was six years ago. Today, 50% of the human body is replaceable with bionics. Within five more years it could be 70 80% of the human body. This stuff is moving very, very, very quickly. And you know, some of the technologies that we explore in the book are consciousness altering technologies. Those are also as I, you know, I started working on this subject a little bit in stealing fire, but those things are exploding as well and people don't think about that but there's inter space technologies just like this, you know, real world technologies and those are also accelerating and some of them are
We are goal directed creatures. Human beings are, and underpinning all this gold direction, our rewards and underpinning all of these rewards are feel good neurochemicals
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