Flow and Knowledge Flow - HBR

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Create a Work Environment That Fosters Flow

by Steven Kotler  |   9:00 AM May 6, 2014


Everywhere we look in business, timetables once measured by calendars can now be clocked by egg timers. So how can we keep up? In a word — and according to an ever-increasing pile of evidence — “flow.”

Technically defined as an “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best,” the term takes its name from the sensation it confers. In flow, every action, every decision, arises seamlessly from the last. In this state, we are so focused on the task at hand that all else falls away. Action and awareness merge. Our sense of self vanishes. Our sense of time distorts. And performance goes through the roof.

In my book, The Rise of Superman, I examine how extreme athletes — surfers, snowboarders, skydivers, and others — have used flow to lift athletic performance to levels unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, but the much more important point is that anyone can tap this state. It’s ubiquitous. It shows up anywhere, provided certain initial conditions are met — and that includes the world of business.

In a 10-year study conducted by McKinsey, top executives reported being five times more productive in flow. Think about that for a moment. This means, if you can spend Monday in flow, you’ll get as much done as your steady-state peers do in a week. In fact, according to these same McKinsey researchers, if we could increase the time we spend in flow by 15-20%, overall workplace productivity would almost double.

At the heart of this doubling sits a co