Super Flow


The Rise of Superman is the title of a new book by Steven Kotler. Subtitled “Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance,” Kotler’s book focuses primarily on what happens when individuals and small groups get in the proverbial “zone” where performance reaches new levels because of a heightened state he calls Flow.

As a long-time lean flow practitioner and student of performance this book naturally caught my attention. In his preface Kotler writes:

Of all the things these athletes have accomplished, nothing is more impressive than their mastery of the state known to researchers as flow. Most of us have at least passing familiarity with flow. If you’ve ever lost an afternoon to a great  conversation or gotten so involved in a work project that all else is forgotten, then you’ve tasted the experience. In flow, we are so focused on the task at hand that everything else falls away. Action and awareness merge. Time flies. Self vanishes. Performance goes through the roof.

We call this experience flow because that is the sensation conferred. In flow, every action, each decision, leads effortlessly, fluidly, seamlessly to the next. It’s high-speed problem solving; it’s being swept away by the river of ultimate performance.

Flow is an optimal state of consciousness, a peak state where we both feel our best and perform our best. It is a transformation available to anyone, anywhere, provided that certain initial conditions are met. Everyone from assembly line workers in Detroit to jazz musicians in Algeria to software designers in Mumbai rely on flow to drive performance and accelerate innovation.

Any of us who has used something as simple as the nuts-and-bolts or paper airplane games to teach lean flow principles will recognize the hallmarks of the state of smooth, effortless flow teams achieve when work is leveled, muda removed and work is synchronized and paced to the heartbeat of demand. Kotler’s book adds further scientific evidence to the existence of flow in ways with which a non-technical reader can relate.

One of the early high-lights of the book is Kotler’s telling of the “Millennium Wave,” an enormous wave surfed by legend Laird Hamilton in 2000. It is an athletic-artistic feat that illustrates what “superhuman” acts people can reach when in “the flow.” His book is filled with these examples.

(Some cool surfing video of Laird Hamilton:

He also refers to the phenomena of the explicit and implicit thinking functions and how speed and energy efficiency are the results of systems in a state of flow. As process excellence practitioners we all recognize that defects and other impediments to flow force us to switch to the less effective and efficient explicit mode.

Through the book we see how performance, invention, and engagement are entwined in the idea of flow, itself the product of goal clarity, immediate performance feedback (and not just of the garden-variety management performance feedback but the kind of feedback video games provide), a sense of personal control over the situation (which reinforces the importance of empowerment) and a balance between too easy and too challenging (which reflects the idea of the power of continual improvement).

You can see more on the book website:

Here is Steven Kotler talk about The Rise of Superman:


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