Paths to Ultimate Human Performance – Flow

Author: Pia Torreck, Equity Partner, Ingvardsen Partners

In an era where we discuss generative AI and Chat GPT, one might wonder if our employees should just become adept at using various AI tools to achieve higher efficiency, productivity, and engagement. Or should there also be an optimization of the human resource – the employee?

We have long moved from measuring employee satisfaction to measuring employee engagement. Gallup has demonstrated a stronger correlation between engagement and bottom-line/customer satisfaction than employee satisfaction. For many years, Gallup has researched employee engagement, and their findings often emphasize the importance of measuring and improving engagement as a way to enhance productivity, customer satisfaction, and other critical business outcomes. While “well-being” often addresses whether an employee is content or feels comfortable, “engagement” examines how deeply an employee feels connected to their workplace and how motivated they are to give their best. Gallup’s research indicates that teams with high engagement significantly outperform in terms of productivity, revenue, customer satisfaction, and employee retention than teams with low engagement. Engaged employees are clearly a goal.

Psychologically safe Team Culture

Google has tried to understand why some of their teams achieved better results. They discovered that these teams had a culture characterized by:

  • High reliability. The team trusted each other and were confident that things would be done, as agreed.
  • Psychological safety. Team members could speak openly, without fear of bullying, ridicule, or condemnation. The team allowed for challenging mental models and contributing new ideas.
  • Clear frameworks. The team had a clear direction, a common ambition, and distinctly defined roles.
  • Meaning. Team members could see the purpose of their collective task.
  • Making a difference. Team members felt their work contributed to a broader context.

When the team functions well, it leads to satisfied employees and, more importantly, engaged employees who take the initiative and responsibility.
But several companies have achieved significantly higher productivity and efficiency by focusing on flow.


Flow requires so-called “intrinsic motivation”, meaning one has an inherent motivation to perform an activity because it is interesting and satisfying in itself. According to the American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow is a “concentrated state of absorption related to an experience or activity.” And flow arises when:

  1. There’s a balance between challenge and skills.
  2. One must focus on the activity at hand.
  3. The task must have clear objectives.
  4. There must be an opportunity for immediate feedback.
  5. One operates with a deep, yet effortless engagement, removing concerns from consciousness.

Essentially, flow is the universal human state we experience when everything aligns perfectly, and things proceed smoothly without much effort. It’s an almost magical sensation where everything seems possible.
But what exactly happens to us when this wonderful state occurs? Can flow be invoked on demand? How significant can it be in the workplace? This is something known by several companies that have introduced a 4-day working week. They reap both increased productivity, efficiency, and engagement. However, flow demands specific workplace conditions and layout. Steven Kotler, who wrote the book “The Rise of Superman”, points out:
In a McKinsey study, it was found that top executives are 5 times – or 500% – more productive when in flow. In a study of sharpshooters in the U.S. army, it was found that snipers in flow learned 200-500% faster than usual. In extreme sports like mountain climbing, surfing, helo skiing, mountain biking, etc., flow is an absolute necessity for the athletes:
The flow state triggers a powerful neurochemical cocktail, which is the source of flow granting us superhuman abilities. Your brain and body become addicted to the flow state. You want more of it. Perhaps that’s why top performers endure. They’re addicted to this beautiful biochemical cocktail triggered by flow. The flow state can be accessed on demand if one practices working with the 3 external flow triggers, the 4 internal flow triggers, the 9 social triggers, and the creative trigger, which is the most critical of all. As well as the 4 phases of a flow cycle – struggle, release, flow, and recovery – not all of which are equally pleasant.

It also seems that flow can heal stress and, in general, enhance both physical and mental health in employees. At work, in your daily life, you can benefit from pursuing more flow for yourself and your employees. Brain research suggests that flow can prevent and cure stress. When you’re in flow, you’re so engrossed that you forget yourself. Your body reduces activity in your frontal lobes, and your brain enters a hypo (“opposite of hyper”) state, releasing hormones and biochemistry into your body. Among these hormones is dopamine, which provides joy and a sense of reward, and among the biochemistry is cortisol, known for reducing stress.

When your employees sit with headphones on, listening to immersive music – they’re likely in flow.
Constant disruptions ruin flow. Employees should find flow appealing. And work should be done to ensure the environment facilitates it.
Flow is thus an optimal state where you become healthier, learn better, and perform better.

Healthy Growth Mindset Culture

A prerequisite for creating a healthy high-performance culture is that it’s based on a so-called Growth Mindset culture, where learning and feedback are the focus. Introducing flow as a performance-boosting mechanism can have various risks. Therefore, company leaders and employees should understand a healthy company culture where one dares to fail, share knowledge, and ask for help.

Generative AI and Flow

So, are open-plan offices dead? Or should there be designated zones for flow work? Perhaps headphones should be provided to everyone?
Improved health and significant engagement of employees through flow, combined with the desire to achieve top performances with generative AI, could provide a basis for increased competitive strength for companies.


Look at the flow videos:

What The Science Of Flow Can Teach Us About Limitless Performance (Steven Kotler)

Enter FLOW STATE & Stay Productive 99% Of EVERYDAY! | Steven Kotler


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