This blog post is based on a Mindvalley Talks episode with Steven Kotler, who’s the New York Times bestselling author of ‘Stealing Fire’ and leading expert on high performance. Kotler is also the Cofounder of Creating Equilibrium, a conference focused on solving environmental challenges.
There’s no denying it – the landscape of business has changed.
With technology moving things at breakneck speed, time is a luxury businesses simply can’t afford.
To keep up, business owners and employees need to not only be high-performing, but also efficient – they need to get twice as much done in half the time.
The million-dollar question is, how?
Pulitzer Prize nominate writer, Steven Kotler, says that it can be done – by accessing altered brain states that actually slow time down.
Yep. You read that right.
It’s a metaphor of course – but Imagine a world where your employees are 500% more productive?
Where they get five times as much done as the competition because time seems to just move slower for them?
This high-performance state, where employees operate at genius-like levels, is called “flow,” and Kotler says it’s essential to corporations’ success in the 21st century.
In this article, you’ll learn the three keys on how to access this flow state and how to trigger more motivation, creativity, and rapid learning in the workplace.
What Is The Genius Zone?
Flow is a technical term dating back to the late 1880s and refers to the genius-like state we enter when we feel and perform our best.
This altered state also brings about those moments of rapt attention and total absorption where we are so focused on the task at hand that everything else disappears.
Have you ever been so focused on something, that what you thought was five minutes was actually five hours? That’s flow.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the “Godfather” of flow psychology, discovered there are four fundamental laws of flow.
These laws allowed researchers to further study this high-performance state.
- Flow is definable.
And because it’s definable, it is measurable.
- Flow is universal.
Everyone, everywhere can access it, provided certain circumstances are met.
- Flow is called flow because it makes us feel flowy.
In flow state, every action leads perfectly and seamlessly from the first action to the last.
- Flow is fundamental to our wellbeing and overall life satisfaction.
After discovering flow was definable, measurable, and essential to life satisfaction, the question on researchers’ minds became, “where is this coming from?”
Understanding The Science of Cognitive Function
In order to access flow to build high-performing teams, we must first understand how the human brain works.
The Deep Now
It was once hypothesized that humans only use 10% of their brains at any given time.
Because of this, it was believed that the key to superpowered performance was in accessing 100% of our brains all at once.
Research has since debunked this theory. Scientists discovered that in flow state we actually use even less of our brains.
Does that seem contradictory to you? Here’s how it works:
When we enter the high-performing genius zone known as flow, we incur what’s called ‘transient hypo-frontality’.
In other words, when we experience flow state, our bodies perform an efficiency exchange that shuts down a portion of the brain and plunges us into the “Deep Now.”
And this has a huge impact on performance.
Changes in neuroanatomical functions
We don’t realize it, but most of us are constantly stressed from ruminating in the past and worrying about our future.
However, when we are hyper-present, as we are in the “Deep Now,” we begin to use less of our brains.
Consequently, our nervous system resets and parts of our brain shut down, which leads to a lesser sense of self. Consequently, our nagging, always-on, defeatist, inner critic also disappears.
This means, in the genius zone, we stop being our own worst enemies.
In flow, we experience freedom and liberation that unlocks an extraordinary potential.
This liberation is essential in creating teams that dream up solutions to impossible challenges.
Gone are the days where businesses simply needed to generate profits to be considered successful.
Today, we demand workplace environments that are full of purpose-driven individuals who enjoy every minute of their work. We demand companies that are passionate about solving complex global issues.
To that end, Kotler has dedicated himself to the question of,
“What does it take to achieve impossible paradigm-shifting breakthroughs consistently?”
In his research, he discovered the three components of what’s now known as the High-Performance Triangle, and how a boosting of flow state neurochemicals leads to extraordinary achievement in the workplace.
The High-Performance Triangle
There are five neurochemicals released in flow state, and not only are they the most potent pleasure drugs the brain can produce, flow is also the only state where we can receive all five at once. According to a ten-year study by the Mackenzie Global Consultancy group, this is what accounts for the 500% increase in employee motivation found in the genius zone.
An essential element of high-performing teams, creativity has been termed “the most important skill of the 21st century.”Kotler says flow is as close to high-speed, perfect, creative decision-making as we can get, and studies run by his organization show that flow amplifies creativity by 400-700%. In addition to this huge spike, a Harvard study reveals that heightened creativity can outlast flow state by a day, sometimes even two.
What this suggests, is that flow doesn’t just train the brain to think more creatively in the moment, it trains the brain to implement increased productivity over time.
Just as flow slows down time, flow also speeds up our rate of learning. As a result, studies show that learning rates increase 470% during times of flow state. To put this into context, tapping into the genius zone can cut Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of 10,000 hours to mastery in half.
With this research, we see that flow is no doubt an essential tool for the future of businesses.
Fortunately, Kotler has discovered that flow states can be triggered by implementing certain strategies.
Designing The Workplace For Optimal Performance
According to Kotler, the number one foundational aspect needed to create high performance in the workplace is focus.
Flow follows focus.
This means, quite often, well-meaning employers unknowingly sabotage performance by insisting on commonplace rules such as, “emails must be returned within a 15-minute window.”
Rules such as these destroy flow, Kotler says.
In addition to focus, there are two other pillars that cultures of high performance exemplify.
The three pillars include:
- Uninterrupted Concentration
Building 90-120 minute focus blocks
- Deep Embodiment
Engaging multiple sensory streams at once, or “hands-on” learning
Any place a culture of innovation exists, their workplace will exhibit heightened levels of passion, novelty, complexity, unpredictability, and risk.
In addition to these five flow triggers that spark the Deep Now, there are many other environmental, psychological, social and creative strategies for engineering a culture of innovation in the workplace.
Recent studies have discovered that most employees spend 5% of their work-life in flow without even realizing it.
By designing a workplace environment that utilizes these triggers, employers can increase that rate from 5% to 20% and, in doing so, double overall workplace productivity.
As long as they do so with one mental model in mind;
Believing The Impossible Is Possible
Perhaps the most important idea to creating high-performance teams is that in order to achieve the impossible, your team must believe that the impossible is possible.
Before Roger Bannister ran the world’s first four-minute mile, the feat was thought to be impossible. Doctors hypothesized that any attempt at such would kill a man.
Once Bannister changed the mental frame he built around the challenge, the impossible became possible, and with this tight coupling between the body and the mind, he achieved it.
Then, more miraculous phenomena happened.
Within six weeks, an Australian runner, John Landy, broke the barrier again.
And then twelve months after that, three runners broke the “impossible” four-minute mile barrier in a single race.
Over the last fifty years, more than a thousand runners have conquered this “impossible limitation” without the physical challenge ever changing.
By understanding the science of how the brain works, engineering a workplace that triggers flow state, and adopting certain company-wide mental models, we can create high-performance teams that outperform the competition consistently.
With these keys in place, it is possible to engineer entire teams of individuals who day-in and day-out go after the impossible, dream up the future, and build world-changing businesses in record time.
What kinds of challenges would you solve if your employees could constantly be in flow? Let us know in the comments below!