When we are completely focused on a task, we’re said to be “in the zone.” I call it being on a roll, and once it kicks in I can write for hours without a break, and invariably I do my best work. Steven Kotler describes it as a flow state, and it’s the new Holy Grail of productivity.
Kotler, who was a keynote speaker at PCBC 2017, is a New York Times bestselling author and journalist. He’s investigated scores of high-performing individuals from Navy SEALs and Green Berets to surfers and Olympic athletes. And he didn’t just stand by and watch; he participated in a lot of risky activities that broke nearly every bone in his body. Kotler says we need to upgrade our mental hardware, and that flow is “the source code of ultimate human performance.”
In his latest book, “Stealing Fire,” Kotler talks about people who are harnessing rare and controversial states of consciousness to solve critical challenges and outperform the competition. It’s not about endless hours at the office or better work habits or even sheer determination, but about the workings of the human brain and the creativity that could potentially be unleashed in an altered state. It might sound a bit out there, but consider this: anyone who does creative work for a living -- designing, building, writing, music, art -- is going to be more imaginative and productive if they can totally concentrate on their task. Presumably that means being able to shut out noise and other extraneous distractions, always a challenge for those who work in open-concept offices or cube farms.
According to Kotler, flow is driven by four accelerating forces: psychology, neurobiology, technology, and pharmacology. It follows that those who practice tai chi or yoga or meditation have a leg up on flow. Personally, I don’t enter “the zone” every day or even every other day; it’s unpredictable and easily impacted by fatigue and other factors. But scientists and researchers and people like Elon Musk are avidly seeking ways that creative people can enter, at will, into a flow state with great results. By extension, this fosters a healthier work/life balance.
That’s what I took away from Kotler’s speech. Now I want to read his book.