Snowboarder Travis Rice

“Flow” refers to a state of complete focus, peace of mind and instinctive action. This elusive state of mind is the subject of author Steven Kotler’s new book, “The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance.” The author spent over a decade studying extreme athletes to understand how flow has propelled them to physical feats that were once thought impossible. Kotler argues that once we understand how flow works, we can use it to improve performance in all aspects of life.

Steven Kotler, author of "The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance" and co-founder of the Flow Genome Project

  • Robert Thomas

    Good grief.

    • thucy

      Snake oil, 100%.

      An author who cites “data” from McKinsey & Co.? It is reasonable to remain skeptical about what he’s selling.

      An author whose book relies on use of a preview trailer? When was the last time anyone needed a trailer to convince them of the value of a particular book?

      • LF

        All the publishers are doing trailers now.

        • thucy

          No, not “all” the publishers. Many publishers are employing trailers for substandard, commercially-oriented books for the corporate market.
          I’m sure Kotler’s book will sell well within the CEO and wanna-be CEO class. It won’t sell to the NYRB crowd.

          • Okay. Who is the NYRB crowd?

          • LF

            Great! Then you don’t have to buy the substandard book.

          • LF

            Here is a book trailer from Princeton University Press for the book called “The Invisible Hook.” also reviewed in NYRB and an award winner

          • Robert Thomas

            “What do you do with a drunken publicist…”

            How sad.

            Avast! Belay yer own lubbery print job, scurvy Institute fer Advanced Studies DOG!

            Sponsored by Friends of International Talk Like a Pirate Day

      • Book trailers have been in use for years. It’s just another way to connect with readers, many of whom are visual.

        BTW, have you heard of the book, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi?

        • Robert Thomas

          For slop like this.

  • Michael Kline

    Steven’s book, West of Jesus, is one of my all time favorites. Glad to hear that he is doing so well. Looking forward to reading the new book.

  • thucy

    I’d like to recommend a new book and an author to feature on KQED.
    Greg Grandin’s “The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World”.
    Not only is it a work of genuine and thoughtful scholarship, not only does it reveal so much of human hypocrisy and hopefulness, but what the 19th-century men described therein – both slaves and sailors -endured reveals Kotler’s “extreme athletes” to be little more than whiny, coddled babies.

  • Ben Rawner

    In high school I had an after school job so when I was in class I knew I had to pay extra attention because I wouldn’t be able to read that night. I called it “locking in” and I managed to get A’s. the focus I would get was amazing.

  • Bob Lewis

    Flow happens all the time with musicians who know how to do improvisation. You have no idea what note you’re going to play next and the music tells you where to go.

  • Aedna Mill

    “Superman”, “businessman”, all the anecdotes I’ve heard so far involved only guys. Feels like I fell off the extreme sports cliff into the ’50’s! Does this dude not want women to buy his book?

    • Great point. He did say that his book was just a case study. Ask him!

    • Guest


  • Winona Hubbard

    Is Mr. Kotler aware that he REALLY sounds like the actor George Clooney?

  • Kate

    Question: what’s the relationship between flow and collaboration? do you need to be doing an activity by yourself to experience flow?

  • Niketana

    Interesting show, but I fear that ‘flow’ will become a commodity. Also, in understanding it too clearly and too precisely, we will reify this natural, egoless, unselfconscious state. Soon we will have GMO flow and robotic flow. People familiar with flow, however, know that they can’t make it happen, though they can make the conditions available.

    When I played competitive sports, I knew that I needed some level of nervousness, maybe because it helped to focus me and prepare my body. But those special, I-could-play-forever, blissful and high performance games were out of my control. I would just look back fondly on them. That’s not to say that I didn’t play well on other occasions, but I didn’t have the same energy and didn’t want to be there as much.

    • thucy

      “But those special, I-could-play-forever, blissful and high performance games were out of my control.”

      True. But you could sell a lot of books by telling readers that it COULD be within one’s control.

    • I think the state of flow negates its commodification. And I think you can practice getting to flow and then 9 times out of 10 get there. I only speak from experience as a writer and amateur athlete.

  • Jon Gold

    How does flow happen in children? And isn’t flow simple ‘returning’ to a child-like nature of play and naiveté?

    • Oh, great question. I’m curious about that too.

  • Claire Wilson

    Can flow be artificially created? Will the future of flow possibly by created in a pill or substance that could be sold? Is it a natural state or artificially induced?

    • W00kie77

      There is an entire industry dependent on successfully creating flow state. It’s called the gaming industry. Game designer’s success is measured on the game’s ability to create a flow state for players.

  • Raymond

    I’m enjoying the discussion but the implicit assumptions about socio economic status, privilege, and access to resources is distracting. The neuro definition of flow – hypofrontality – is the inability to connect the dots between behavior and consequences- and is called ‘denial’ when it shows up in addicts, alcoholics, and teenagers – for example – but when it shows up in Silicone Valley it’s called Flow.

  • Manuel T. Ortega

    excellent supplemental reading are;
    “Flow” by Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi
    “Creativity” by Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi

  • Tom van Deusen

    Can the author speak to what happens during natural childbirth? What I have learned about natural childbirth sounds very similar to what the author is describing as flow.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    When I first moved to SF, I lost my brakes on a hill in San Francisco. Ahead was a red light and to the right was large double-parked truck. When my brake pedal went to the floor, time did really seem to slow down, and I felt like I had time to decide. I turned my steering wheel hard left before the intersection, passing over a one foot tall concrete road divider and my VW went up another hill on the left, completely avoiding hitting anything. The hill slowed the car down quickly and then I could simply drive up the hill. After exclaiming, “wow – that was close”, I realized the e-brake, which works mechanically, would have worked and that’s how I drove the car to shop. I still remember that slow motion feeling, and how clear my decision was — so I like that point that it’s less the goal than the clarity of the decision.

  • Jazzy Jez

    When he says people are injured “way more” from basketball and football, does he mean more often as a %, or more seriously? Or both? Or what?

    • thucy

      He meant WAY more, dude. Just: WAY more. Isn’t that sufficiently empirical for us?

    • Robert Thomas

      Go. With. The. Flow, J.J.

  • Robert Thomas

    I remember a British dramatization of the controversy among natural philosophers at the time of Isaac Newton’s and Gottfried Leibniz’s conflict over their claims of primacy regarding the infinitesimal analysis.

    Fey French philosopher: Monsieur, what is your opinion over ze technique of ze fluxions?
    Dyspeptic British philosopher: What?
    Fey French philosopher: Ze technique… Ze technique of ze fluxion of ze quantity?
    Dyspeptic British philosopher: The greatest flux I ever recall was two quarts a day.

  • Robert Thomas

    “Norepinephrine and dopamine is romantic love…”

    Says it all.

  • Manuel T. Ortega

    flow is everywhere
    in every mundane human activity
    flow presents in any activity when the individual loses self in moment…
    brushing teeth
    editing video
    composing poen, note, business letter
    considering what to say to your child…
    train your brain
    whenever one challenges a current state toward a desired state lay the opportunity to experience ‘flow’…

  • Robert Thomas

    “Coding produces flow… there’s a lot of flow in the Silicon Valley…”

    Djesus, Mary and Djoseph, SAVE US.

  • zach

    This discussion was very interesting, as I believe I have experienced Flow on several occasions, boulder hopping in Big Sur and oddly enough playing ping pong and also a few times playing a friendly game of horse, where I just could not miss! And if that wasnt enough mister Kotler brought up Shane McConkey, who I spent a lot of time with in fact lived with during summers in the very early 80s. Bottom line he was an adrenalin junky even at 8 yrs old, frighteningly so!

  • Nik Bresnick

    At no point did this author ever mention any women. Apparently flow states are an exclusively male experience or so one might confer listening to him ramble on and on about athletes, business men and other men. Women are 53% of the population and this guy is an idiot for missing half the story.

    • kate

      based on the criteria he lays out, i’ve experienced flow twice—during the long natural childbirth of my two children. talk about superhuman!
      wonder if he ever considers that in his research?

  • Guest

    Nothing new. I don’t even plan to read this book. Nor listen to this. Why do you all need to read this to understand focus? I am disappointed that KQED even took the time to interview the man. Sorry.

  • Niketana

    I don’t know that the best results happen in times of total flow. In fact, that state (especially when accompanied by bliss) doesn’t necessarily produce the best art. The process may feel good, but the product may not be technically good.

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