MALE SPEAKER: I'm really happy to welcome
our two guests and my friends here today,
Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal.
As you know, wellness, optimum living
have been big topics at Google for a while.
And they are complex issues.
I know my colleagues wrestle with these issues a lot,
trying to figure out solutions.
And today, what they will be presenting
and what we'll learn more about, flow,
I think is a big part of this complex puzzle.
And so I want to give you a little bit of background
with both of these folks before we get started.
So Steven is a "New York Times" best-selling author.
He's an award-winning journalist and co-founder
of the Flow Genome Project.
And he has many books, including "Abundance."
And his new book, "The Rise of Superman"
will be the focus on today.
His books have been translated in many different languages.
Articles have appeared in more than 70 publications,
including "New Times Magazine," "Atlantic Monthly," "Wired,"
Jamie Wheal is the executive director
of the Flow Genome Project.
And he's a leading expert in neurosemantics
of ultimate human performance.
And he works with Fortune 100 companies, leading business
schools, Young Presidents' Organization,
an also Red Bull, with their world-class athletes.
So with that, I'm going to turn it over to Steven.
STEVEN KOTLER: Hello.
Thank you guys for coming out.
I very much appreciate you being here.
I want to kind of just orientate you
a little bit to what we're going to do.
I'm going to kind of give you an introduction
to flow and start breaking down some of the neurobiology, how
it works under the hood and giving you
kind of the broad spectrum of importance.
And then Jamie's is going to take over
and he's going to talk about practical applications
about how you can get more flow into your lives.
As a way to kind of begin, I want
to tell you kind of where I began with this, which
was when I was 30 years old, I got Lyme disease.
And I spent the better portion of three years in bed.
If you don't know what Lyme disease is like,
imagine the worst flea you've ever had,
crossed with paranoid schizophrenia.
So by the end of it, the doctors had pulled me off medicines.
My stomach lining was bleeding out.
There was nothing else anybody else anybody could do for me.
And I was functional, 5% to 10% of the time.
My mind was totally shut down.
My body was in so much pain, I could barely walk.
I was hallucinating.
My short-term memory was gone.
My long-term memory was gone.
It was all gone.
And at this point, I was going to kill myself out
The only thing I was going to be from here on forward
was a burden to my friends and my family.
And it was really a question of when and not if at that point.
And in the middle of all this kind of negative thinking,
a friend of mine showed up at my house
and demanded we go surfing.
And it was a ridiculous request.
First of all, it had been about five years
since I had surfed at that point.
And the last time I had surfed, I
had nearly drowned in a big way of accident in Indonesia
and wanted nothing to do with surfing.
And as I said, I could barely walk across the room.
And she was a pain in my ass.
She wouldn't leave and wouldn't leave.
And kept badgering me and kept badgering me.
And after finally about three hours of this,
I was like, what the hell, let's go surfing.
What is the worst that can happen?
And they she kind of walked me to their car.
And they put me in their car and they drove me to Sunset Beach
in Los Angeles.
And if you know anything about surfing in Los Angeles,
you know that Sunset Beach is just
about the wimpiest beginner wave in the entire world.
And it was summer.
And the water was warm and the tide was low.
And the waves were crap, like maybe two feet high.
And no one was out.
And they walked me out to the break, literally by my elbows
and kind of helped me out there.
They gave me a board the size of Cadillac.
And the bigger the board, the easier it is to surf.
This was enormous.
And I was out there about 30 seconds when a wave came.
And I'm not quite sure what happened,
muscle memory took over, whatever.
The wave came.
I spun the board around.
I paddled a couple times and I popped up.
And I popped up into a completely different dimension.
My senses were incredibly incredibly, incredibly acute,
I was clear headed for the first time in years.
I felt like I had panoramic vision.
And time had dilated.
It had slowed down.
So that freeze-frame effect, if you've ever
been in a car crash, that was my experience.
And the most incredible thing was I felt great.
I mean I felt alive, that thrum of possibility.
And it was the first time in about three years
that I had felt it.
And that wave felt so good, I caught four more in a row.
And after that fifth wave, I was disassembled.
I was gone.
They had to carry me to the car.
They put me in the car.
They drove me home.
They had to put me into bed.
And people actually had to come and bring me food
because for 14 days, I couldn't walk again.
So I couldn't make it 50 feet away to my kitchen
to make a meal.
And on the 15th day, which was the day
that I could walk again, I got back in my car
and I went back to the ocean and I did it again.
And again, I had this kind of crazy, quasi-mystical
And again, it felt great.
And the cycle kept repeating itself.
And over about six months' time, when
the only thing I was doing different was surfing,
I went from about 10% functionality to about 80%
So my first question was what the hell is going on?
Because surfing is not a cure for chronic
autoimmune conditions, first of all.
Second of all, I'm a science writer by training.
I'm a rational materialist.
And I don't have mystical experiences.
And I certainly don't have them in the waves while surfing.
The whole thing seemed ludicrous.
Lyme is only fatal if it enters your brain.
And I was pretty certain that the reason
I was having these quasi-mystical experiences out
in the waves was because I was dying.
So where all this started for me was a giant quest
to figure out what the hell was going on with me.
What I discovered was this altered state of consciousness
I was experiencing had a name, flow states.
Now, you may know this by other names, being in the zone,
If you happen to be a beatnik jazz musician,
then you're in the pocket.
If you're a stand-up comic, it's called the forever box.
The lingo goes on, and on, and on.
The term researchers prefer is flow.
And they prefer this term for a reason.
It's actually a technical term.
And we'll come back to why in a second.
But in flow, what happens is attention
becomes so focused on the task at hand
that everything else disappears.
Your sense of action or awareness merge together.
So the doer and the beer become one.
A sense of self, our sense of self-consciousness
So that means it slows down like I mentioned.
You can that freeze-frame effect, like in a car crash.
Sometimes it speeds up.
And five hours will go by in like five minutes.
And throughout all aspects of performance,
mental and physical go through the roof.
I'm not going to dwell too much on it.
I'm just going to kind of explain it.
And we're going to go on to a lot of things.
But I want to talk about why flow actually healed me
from Lyme disease, just so you guys understand
what was going on.
We're going to talk later about the neurochemicals involved
All of them significantly jack up the immune system.
More importantly, they reset the nervous system back
So they calm you down.
An autoimmune condition is essentially
a haywire nervous system.
So the fact that periodic flow states were calming my system
back down is allowing me to form new neural nets.
Neural nets that didn't lead immediately back to illness.
And this is what kind of gave me a toehold and possibility
to get better.
What I also discovered when I was
researching flow and learning all this stuff
is that the exact same state that
helped me get from seriously subpar back to normal
was helping a lot of other people
go from normal up to superman.
Another thing that I learned very quickly on
is that I really was not the first person
to come to this conclusion.
Flow science dates back about 150 years, to the early 1870s.
By the turn of the century, Harvard psychologist
and philosopher William James was looking at the state.
And he was the first person to figure out
that the brain can radically alter consciousness
to improve performance.
More importantly was the work of one of James' students,
Walter Bradford for Cannon, who was a great physiologist.
Bradford Cannon discovered the fight or flight response.
And in doing so, he kind of give us our first window
into where this accelerated performance
might be coming from.
This was a very, very big deal.
Before that moment in time, performance enhancement
was essentially a gift from the gods.
You want a better time in 100-yard dash, Hermes can help.
You want to write a better poem, talk to the muses.
But Walter Bradford Cannon turned a gift from the gods
into standard biology.
He give us our very first toehold into the mystery.
In 1940s, psychologist Abraham Maslow
picked up on this thread.
He discovered that flow was a commonality
among all successful people.
And then in the 1960s and '70s, the real revolution began,
a guy named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi,
who is then the chairman of the University of Chicago
Csikszentmihalyi sort of-- well, Maslow discovered the state
in successful people.
Csikszentmihalyi got curious about kind of everybody else
in the world.
So he made what is now considered
one of the largest global psychological studies ever.
He went around the world, asking people
about the times in their life when I felt their best
and they performed their best.
And it was a huge group.
He started out talking to experts.
He talked to expert rock climbers,
ballet dancers, artists, surgeons.
It didn't matter.
They all said same thing.
They felt their best.
And they performed their best in the state he termed flow.
Then he blew it out to everybody else.
And by everybody else, I really mean everybody else.
He talked to Navajo sheepherders.
He talked to Italian grape farmers.
He talked to elderly Korean women.
He talked to Japanese teenage motorcycle gang members.
He talked to Detroit assembly line workers.
Everybody he talked to told him the same thing.
They felt their best, they performed their best
when they were in the state of flow.
Csikszentmihalyi also came up with the term "flow."
One of the reasons was when he was talking to all these people
and they describing this state, they always said,
well, I'm using my skills to the utmost.
I'm pushing myself as far as I possibly can.
But it feels effortless.
When I'm in this state, every decision,
every action leads seamlessly, fluidly to the next.
In other words, flow felt flowy.
The other major finding that came out of this,
as I hinted at a second ago, flow is ubiquitous.
It shows up everywhere, in anyone, anywhere,
provided certain initial conditions are met.
What this means is that everybody from jazz musicians
in Algeria, to software designers in Mumbai,
to coders here in Silicon Valley are using flow
to massively accelerate performance.
And it is a considerable bit of acceleration.
Flow amplifies all of our physical skills.
So in this state, we are better.
We are faster.
We are stronger.
We are more dexterous.
And we are more agile.
So our brains.
Flow jacks up information processing.
So when we're in the state, our senses
are actually taking in more information per second.
We're processing it more deeply.
So that is using more parts of our brain at once.
And while there's a lot of debate about this,
it does appear that we are processing it more quickly.
And it's not just information processing
that is getting jacked up.
Pattern recognition, future prediction, basically all
the fundamental neuronal processes in the brain
are amplified by flow.
As a result of this, scientists now
believe flow sits at the heart of every athletic championship.
So almost every gold medal that has ever been won.
But it also accounts for significant, significant
progress in the arts and major scientific breakthroughs.
In business, McKinsey did a 10-year study.
They found that top executives report being five times more
productive in flow than out of flow.
So you got to stop and think about that.
Normally, I have to explain to most audiences
that five times is actually a 500% increase.
I'm guessing you guys got it.
But what that means is you can go to work on Monday,
spend Monday in flow, take Tuesday through Friday off,
and get as much done as your steady-state peers.
So it is a huge, huge, huge amplification.
And that 500% increase may sound ridiculous
until you consider action-and-adventure sport
So one of things McKinsey discovered
is that average people, average workers, spend less than 5%
of their work life in flow.
One place where this is definitely not true
is in action-and adventure sports.
Action-and-adventure sport athletes,
for reasons that Jamie is going to get into later,
have essentially become the best flow hackers on Earth.
And this has happened over about the past 25 years.
And there are reasons for it.
And we'll talk about them later.
But I want to tell you what this has produced.
It has produced near exponential growth
in what's termed ultimate human performance, which
is performance when life or limb is on the line.
Nothing like this has ever happened before.
Sports progression, it's slow.
It's governed by the laws of evolution.
At no point in history does it quintuple in a decade.
Yet this is exactly what's been happening in surfing, skiing,
snowboarding, rock climbing, mountain biking, et cetera, all
the action and adventure sports.
I'll give you a couple of examples.
Surfing is a great one.
This is a thousand-year-old sport.
From 400 AD to 1996, the biggest wave anybody has ever surfed
is 25 feet.
Above that, it's believed impossible.
Scientists don't think it's possible.
Surfers don't think it's possible.
Today, we're pushing into 100-foot waves.
In snowboarding, in 1992, the biggest gap jump
that anybody had ever cleared is 40 feet.
Now, 40 feet is a big jump to clear on a snowboard.
Today, as you can tell from this image,
snowboarders are pushing into 230, 240 foot jumps.
So near exponential growth in ultimate human performance.
The better news, at the same time all this is going on,
they solved a couple of problems.
For a long time, one of the big problems in flow research
was the subject of state.
How the hell do know if your research subjects are in flow?
The good news about action adventure sport athletes,
sort of, is that the level of progression
has advanced so much in recent years
that if people are not in flow on their performing,
they're ending up in the hospital or dead.
So this gives you a hard research set to work with.
It's a hard data set.
If they lived through the experience,
we know they're in flow.
Simultaneously, combined with this-- flow science, as I said,
goes back to 150 years.
Most people are really aware of the first 130 years, which
is when we figured out the psychology of the state.
And we got really good at the psychology of the state.
What's happened since 1990ish is that our neurobiology
has gotten very good.
Our brain imaging technology has gotten very good.
EEG has gotten a lot better.
And for the very first time in history,
we can look under the hood and we
can figure out what's going on in flow.
One of the first things that we discovered is there's-- the old
idea about ultimate human performance was based
on what's called the 10% brain myth.
It was actually a misinterpretation
of William James.
But it's the idea-- and I'm sure you're all familiar with it--
that most of us only use 10% of our brain.
For ultimate performance, a/k/a flow,
it has to be all of our brain firing on all of our cylinders.
That was the idea.
It turns out that's exactly backwards.
What's happening in flow is the brain
isn't becoming hyperactive.
It's actually starting to deactivate.
So this is happening for a number of reasons.
The simple reason is it's an inefficiency exchange.
The brain is a giant energy hog.
It's 2% of our mass.
It uses 20% of our energy.
So one of the fundamental rules of the brain
is how do I can conserve energy?
So conscious processing is very slow
and it's extremely energy expensive.
Subconscious processing, on the other hand, is very, very quick
and it's very, very energy efficient.
So what's happening in flow is we
are trading conscious processing for subconscious processing.
As this is happening, huge swatches of the brain
are being shut off.
The technical term for this is "transient," meaning temporary,
"hypofrontality," hypo, H-Y-P-O, it's the opposite of hyper.
It means to deactivate, to slow down, to shut off.
Frontality refers to the prefrontal cortex,
the part of your brain that's back here,
that houses all of your higher cognitive functions.
So why does time dilate in a flow state?
Why does it speed up or slow down?
Because time, as Baylor neuroscientist David Eagleman
figured out, is calculated all over the brain, especially all
over the prefrontal cortex.
As parts of it start to wink out,
we can no longer separate past, from present, from future.
So we're plunged into what researchers
call the "deep now."
To give you another example of what goes on in flow,
another portion of the brain that goes off-- we
talked earlier about how self and self-consciousness
Why does self-consciousness disappear in flow?
Because a portion of the brain known as the dorsal lateral
prefrontal cortex, which sort of is
responsible for self monitoring and impulse control,
So self-monitoring, that's your inner critic, your inner Woody
That's that nagging, defeatist voice
that's always on in your head.
In flow, it's turned off.
When it turns off, we experience this as liberation.
We are literally free from ourselves.
Creativity goes up.
Risk taking goes up.
Performance goes up.
We are much more open to experience.
So what we've just been talking about
is neuroanatomy, where in the brain
something is taking place.
If you really want to kind of map an experience in the brain,
you have to talk about neuroanatomy,
where in the brain it's taking place, neurochemistry,
and neuroelectricity, which are the two
ways the brain sends signals.
I'm going to talk a little about neurochemistry.
Then Jamie's going to pick it up and talk a little bit
In flow, we get five of the most potent neurochemicals
the brain can possibly produce.
So all of these are performance enhancing neurochemicals.
Norepinephrine and dopamine enhance focus.
They tighten focus.
They drive us more into the now.
It also speeds up muscle reaction time.
They lower signal to noise ratios in the brain
also so we have more pattern recognition.
Anandamide is a pain reliever.
But it also speeds up or increases lateral thinking,
thinking outside the box.
So pattern recognition is defined
as the linking of similar ideas together.
Lateral thinking is the linking of disparate ideas together.
That goes up in flow.
Endorphins, very, very potent painkillers
and very, very powerful social bonding chemicals.
And serotonin keeps us calm throughout.
That's the chemical at the heart of the Prozac revolution.
So the thing you need to know about all
of these neurochemicals, besides the fact
that they up performance, is how they impact motivation.
So for those of you who don't know much about neurochemistry
and drugs, all of these chemicals
are incredibly potent reward chemicals.
Let's talk about dopamine for a second.
Cocaine is widely considered the most addictive substance
When someone snorts cocaine, all that actually happens
is dopamine floods into their brain
and then the brains blocks its re-uptake.
So the substance is in your brain for longer.
Norepinephrine-- let me go back-- norepinephrine is
speed or Ritalin.
Anandamide is the same psychoactive
that's inside of marijuana, THC.
Endorphins are opiates.
And just to give you an example, there
are about 20 different endorphins
in the brain and the body.
The most common one is 100 times more potent
than medical morphine.
And serotonin is essentially MDMA.
The point here is that when all five of these chemicals
flood into your brain, it produces
an extremely, extremely, extremely addictive experience.
Flow is arguably the most addictive experience on Earth
because it's probably the only time, or the only time
that we know of, when all five of these chemicals
get flooded into your brain at once.
Researchers don't like the word "addictive."
It has very negative connotations.
So they prefer "autotelic," which means an end in itself.
What this basically means is that once an experience starts
producing flow, we will go extraordinarily far
out of our way to get more of it.
Which is why researchers talk about flow
as the source code of intrinsic motivation.
So why does this apply in daily living?
One reason is, as a recent Gallup survey pointed out,
71% of American workers are disengaged
or actively disengaged on the job.
The other 29% have jobs that produce flow.
So we really know what the solution is to this problem.
The other thing I want to talk about,
flow doesn't just amp up motivation.
It also massively jacks up creativity.
It's hard to put numbers on this.
We did a kind of a loose study at the Flow Genome Project.
And I say loosen loose and preliminary.
And people reported a 7x improvement in creativity.
To give you another example of this,
an Australian study-- it's a neat study--
they took 40 people.
They give everybody a really tricky brain teaser to solve.
Nobody could solve it.
They induced flow artificially using transcranial stimulation.
They literally took an electric pulse
and knocked out the prefrontal cortex
and basically induced transient hypofrontality.
23 people solved the problem in record time.
So creativity goes massively through there.
Again, this comes down to neurochemistry.
So creativity as a skill is usually,
not always, but usually recombinatory.
It's the product of a novel idea bumping into an old thought
to create something startling new.
So if you want to increase creativity,
you have to increase all of those things.
Well, norepinephrine and dopamine, they tighten focus.
The brain is taking in more information for a second.
So it's heightening our access to novelty,
which is on the front end of the creativity equation.
Because they lower signal to noise ratios in the brain,
they are also upping pattern recognition,
so our ability to link ideas together.
And then anandamide is increasing lateral thinking
or our ability to link disparate ideas together.
So literally the state of flow surrounds creativity.
And what's really interesting here is creativity,
as most of you I'm sure are aware,
is a quality that's really, really desirable.
IBM did a global survey.
I think it was 1,500 CEOs.
Of the quality most necessary in a CEO
today, creativity was the number one answer.
Yet how to teach creativity?
How do we teach people to be more creative, a big problem.
Teresa Amabile at Harvard did a study
where she discovered that not only are people
more creative in the state of flow,
but that heightened creativity actually
outlasts the state by a couple of days.
Which suggests-- and more work needs to be done--
but it suggests that the state of flow
actually trains the brain to be more creative.
The other things these neurochemicals do
is they exist to kind of tag experiences.
So a quick shorthand for learning and memory, the more
neurochemicals that show up during experience, the greater
chance that experience moves from short-term holding
into long-term storage.
Neurochemicals are essentially a big tag on experience.
It says, important, save for later.
So flow is a gigantic dump of potent neurochemicals.
So this has a radical impact on learning.
In studies run by the US military
by DARPA in advanced brain monitoring, which
is a team in Carlsbad, California,
they again induced flow artificially,
two different ways.
They used transcranial direct stimulation
and they also used neural feedback.
And they found that snipers in flow
learned an average of 230% faster than normal.
They then repeated this same study
with novices, nonmilitary personnel.
And they found that the time it took
to get from novice to expert by artificially inducing flow
could be cut in half.
So what this tells us is that Malcolm Gladwell's
famous 10,000 hours to mastery, flow cuts them in half.
So this is where I'm going to stop with learning,
and creativity, and motivation because I think
those are three big categories that apply in everybody's life.
As a way of kind of transitioning into Jamie, what
I want to say is what has also come out of all this research
is not just what's going on in flow.
And because we've had these athletes as a data set,
we can figure out what they are doing
to get into flow so successfully and we can work backwards.
And we can apply this knowledge across all domains
So what we've discovered is that flow states have triggers.
These are preconditions that lead to more flow.
I'm going to turn it over and let Jamie talk about this
and why they're so important.
JAMIE WHEAL: Thank you.
So about 2,000 years ago, there was this epic, "Old Testament"
rap battle between Rabbi Hillel and the pharisees.
And the pharisees challenged him.
They said, OK, Rabbi Hillel, you think you're a hot shot.
Can you stand on one leg and recite all of scripture?
And he said yes, I can.
And he did it.
And he stood on one leg.
And he said do unto others as you
would have them do unto you.
The rest of scripture is mere commentary.
And here at Google, it's your guys' world
to be organizing the world's information.
And while that is ambitious and noble,
you guys know, too, that it's the insights
we gain, it's not simply the data we gather,
that makes a difference.
And where we are today is truly drowning
in information and just as we always
have been, starving for motivation.
We know better.
We know we're supposed to eat real foods, mostly plants,
not too much.
We know we're supposed to do work that matters.
We know we're supposed to practice gratitude.
We know that meditation is supposed to be amazing
if we ever get around to it and can sit still long enough.
We know all this stuff.
But if you just-- a quick glance at the stats behind me.
Look at the toll.
We are less healthy.
We are more obese.
There's higher workplace injuries.
There's dollar values attached to this stuff.
Lifetime fitness, arguably the kind
of access to embodiment and wellness
for like the suburban masses, 75% attrition rate.
And that's an internal statistic.
75% of the people that say yes, I
want you to take my $150 a month, I want the outcome,
never show up again.
And most chillingly, a study at Harvard conducted--
that, hey, when you are faced with a chronic lifestyle
disease, diabetes, heart disease, smoking
chronic stress, and your doctor says, hey, look, here's
You really have to change your ways
and if you don't, it might kill you.
This is what we're left with.
Seven out of eight of us would rather die than change.
So back to these guys.
[INAUDIBLE] is not just kind of noodling around on the sides.
They actually have a full-bore research project.
It is global.
It is interdisciplinary.
It's called the Quantified Warriors.
So forget you're kind of Quantified Self meet-ups
here in the Valley.
These guys are building these supersoldiers of 2030.
And what they're doing is sort of alternately
fascinating and horrifying, depending
on your point of view.
But there's something really interesting
that's been going on.
And Steven talked a little bit about there's
a 150 years of research.
The last 10 to 20 years has been getting super-interesting.
And if I was in your seats, I'd be saying, OK,
this sounds OK, cool.
But how come I don't know about it?
If it was really all that, we'd know about it right now.
And there's actually a problem.
There's a reason why we don't have
this as shared working knowledge.
Which is really how do we take information and translate it
Because as Steven said, flow is autotelic.
Flow has this massive neurochemical dump.
It encodes and rewards us to do more of it.
And if we could unlock that, intrinsic human motivation,
what's possible next?
Because these guys, the Special Operations forces,
Yale is working with Delta Force and the Rangers,
and Red Bull is working with the Coronado SEAL Team Six,
these guys are getting way into the fine details.
But they are explicitly disincented
to share this knowledge.
One of them wants to stay a step ahead of the bad guys.
And the other guys want to step up on the podium.
So what they've been learning has not been shared yet.
And certainly part of our mission
is to actually take this extreme, the folks who
risk their lives for a living, and bring it
more into the mainstream.
Bring it to impact entrepreneurs.
Bring it to communities of innovation
where we can harness the same rocket fuel.
So to go back and just kind of shake out
three of the more practical takeaways of what--
if you remember nothing else from today,
please think through these ones.
Number one is what we were just talking about.
Flow is the source code of intrinsic motivation reinforced
with the most potent neurochemical set
we have access to.
Next, it shortens learning.
Which means either I get to spend a lot more time
on the couch or I can actually go further
in my domains of inquiry.
I can learn more.
What happens to human progression
when we can double its efficacy?
And lastly, again Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi,
the godfather of flow, did a 10-year global study.
And one of the additional benefits
was that the people who have the most flow in their lives
are in fact the happiest.
So as far as the bottom line in optimal psychology,
that is the "so what" at the end of it.
So to go back to these action sports athletes as a case study
because they've been kind of a fringe population.
People don't pay much attention to them.
The notion ski bum and surf bum aren't exactly warm
embraces of people who have dedicated
their lives in these domains.
But they really have come up with three
very good and transferable ways for all of us
to get more flow in our life.
And the three re deep embodiment.
When they are doing things, they are
feeling the forces of gravity.
So their proprioceptive sense, like where
are my limbs in space, my vestibular sense,
where is my inner ear in relationship to my hips,
compression, weightlessness, rotation, all of these things
are giving very strong sensory motor inputs
into our body and brain.
And as Steven was mentioning, cells that fire together,
wire together and we create richer and more robust
So we've some fascinating studies.
They did a sort of human life-sized Frogger experiment
with college athletes versus just
frat boys and sorority girls.
And they said, OK, who's going to do better
at this life-size Frogger game and who would you
put your money on?
Well, the athletes and the athletes won.
But not for the reasons we would think.
They didn't win because they had faster reaction time.
They didn't win because they could-- explosive box jumps.
They won because they could process complex multivariable
equations faster and then act on that information.
So the notion of the dumb jock was also absolutely wrong.
And in comparison-- so this goes back
to the sort of ancient Shaolin temple-- mastery
and control of body yielding mastery and control of mind.
So you go from basically going on
a dial-up modem-- I'm just a brain on a stick, disembodied,
disconnected, only perceiving and receiving information
through one data feed-- into broadband or even satellite.
I am now picking up all channels available to me
as a sensing cognition machine.
And those neuron nets are now fired and wired together.
Next, rich environments.
Think about the difference in a surfer
or a skier, big mountain skier, any of these things,
between just playing ping-pong.
And every day that ping-pong table is exactly the same.
And my paddle is.
And the ball bounces the same way.
It all works.
And I can kind of check out.
But in a situation where the environment
is so rich it's overwhelming and stimulating,
it actually sort of can knock out my waking sense of self
and forces me to pay explicit, acute attention
because if I don't, I get knocked down.
And lastly, high consequences, which
I just kind of foreshadowed.
In fact, Oscar Wilde I think famously said,
there's nothing like the prospect
of being hung in the morning to clear one's mind.
So immediate high consequences have this wonderful effect,
which is very hard in this day and age.
We're always elsewhere and elsewhen.
I'm thinking about tomorrow.
I'm on my phones.
I'm pitching this.
I'm posting that.
Like high consequences bring me back into the incontrovertible
It is the only place that flow can happen.
And if I get out of it, if I drift, I get spanked.
And it hurts and I learn.
Now, think about how much of our learning and experiences
these days are disconnected from those kind of tight feedback
So let's translate this to your guys' world
a little bit because that's the beauty.
And this would just be kind of a curiosity
if it didn't matter to us as well.
So think about rich environments.
You guys are obviously in one.
The cross pollination-- a lot of the sort
of cutting edge organizational design of workplaces,
whether it's at Pixar with the atrium
and the serendipitous meetings.
Whether it's your guys' cafeterias and restaurants,
with the lines and the management
and all of your commons areas explicitly
designed to create novel, changing
environments, high consequences.
I mean obviously, next door Facebook's got the shit fast,
break stuff, lean and agile design and development.
The entrepreneurial mentalities that you guys
have where failure is expected because if you're not failing,
you're not learning as rapidly as you might.
And deep embodiment, I mean it's no mistake I think that you
guys here at Google, with founders who
were both Montessori children-- which in the flow research
is the most flow-prone educational method
in the world, with sensorial, manipulative children sweeping
and cutting and actually using body and brain simultaneously,
as well as the founders' passion for all things action
sports and adventure, the DNA of this place
is pretty much set up to be about an optimal an environment
for cultivating this as anywhere you could think of.
So Steven described the five neurochemicals
and described the neuroanatomy a little bit.
But let's put this in motion.
Let's actually put this in time, through time
as we might experience it.
Because what this is, what we're calling the flow genome
matrix, which is literally what's the genome?
What are the core components?
How do they work.
And if we have that knowledge, what can we do with it?
And just so you guys kind of track
the research, the lineage behind this model,
this comes largely out of Herbert Benson's work
at Harvard, as well as Dr. Lesley Sherlinis, who
is the sort of mad scientist, EEG guy
behind a lot of the SEAL team and Red Bull
work that we just mentioned earlier.
But let's just take a look at this process
because the first thing to dispel is that flow is a state.
So it comes and it goes.
It's not an ever on kind of thing.
But it's not like a light switch.
It's not just, it's on and I'm in it, or it's off
and I'm someplace else.
It's a cycle.
And it has at least four distinct stages.
So if we take a look at how those progress,
the first-- whether you're a more of a fan of M. Scott
Peck and "The Road Less Traveled" or Buddha
and his Noble Truths, either way, life's a bitch.
Life is struggle.
And that's how it starts.
And we start by being in over our heads.
We start by finding ourselves in a situation or a condition--
and this could be late night code delivery.
This could be some new, big business problem.
It could be relational, whatever it is.
And we start out of our depth.
And we end up with a bit of a sort of angel
and a devil dialogue on our shoulder.