Flow and Creativity

Flow and Creativity

I sit on the periphery of an organization called the Flow Genome Project. When the first meetings to get it kicked off were held in Los Angeles some years back, I was invited to be a part of them. Sitting alongside geneticists and neuroscientists doing cutting edge work was pretty heady. What was even trippier was attending a salon later with people like Jason Silva and Rodney Mullen. Trippier still was the fact that my opinions and experiences mattered to those present.

The Flow Genome Project exists for the sole purpose of better understanding flow states. There’s nothing more satisfying that happens in our lives than flow. No matter whether it’s playing with your kids, riding your bike, doing work about which you are passionate—those best experiences all have the same underpinning. When in flow your brain unleashes a cocktail of dopamine, endorphins, norepinehprine, anandamide and serotonin. As a neuroscientist once told me, “It’s the perfect antidepressant.”

The ultimate goal of the Flow Genome Project is to map the totality of flow so that we can better hack into it. Whether you’re  bouncing through a rock garden, finding a gap to slide through in an undulating peloton, cooking or identifying threats on the battlefield, you’re at your best when in flow. And we know that the more people reach flow the more they reach flow.

However, academia hasn’t been terribly interested in studying the phenomenon, so the FGP is funding its own studies. It’s all private sector. Part of their work is a series of studies based on respondents’ answers to questionnaires. I’ve signed on to help get them more respondents to these surveys.

The first in this series is one on flow and creativity. The two go together like beer and pizza. For those of you who have creative pursuits in your life (and cycling can be plenty creative), I encourage you to take the survey and help science. There’s nothing in this for me other than knowing I’ve helped them expand their sample size.

If you’re interested, go here.

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  1. toro toro

    This is really cool. I’ve been reading your posts on this stuff for a while, and fascinated.

    Are there philosophers involved with the project? It’s really interesting to me, and I can also think of about half a dozen colleagues off the top of my head who would work on pertinent stuff. David Papineau’s recent book on philosophy and sport also has a fair bit that seems relevant.

    1. Author

      I’m not sure who the full advisory team is for the FGP at this point. Every time I talk to Steven he has another name of someone he thinks I should know. I’m confident that at least one philosopher is on speed dial.

  2. Tim

    I find many of the questions slightly odd. I feel like I don’t think in the same way as the people formulating the questions.

    On one hand I think I am moderately creative in a problem solving sense but on the other I may be the least artistically creative person on earth. There also seems a disconnect between occasions where I consider I have experienced flow and any creative experiences. I have experienced flow in various forms of sport but would not ever say that I have experienced it in my work while diagnosing/fixing technical problems. There have been occasions where everything seems to come together and my concentration seems heightened but it doesn’t seem the same as when I experience flow on my MTB for instance. Maybe it is a different form of flow, maybe it is closely related but it feels substantially different to me.

    I find the whole concept incredibly interesting and very much warranting further research but really struggled with translating my experiences into the format of the survey.

    1. Author

      Surveys are, unfortunately, rather blunt instruments. I struggled with some of the questions as well when I took it. The upside is that this will provide a pretty terrific statistical body that will paint a helpful big picture. It’s not perfect by any means, but it will further our understanding of flow and there’s zero downside to that.

  3. Author

    Hi All, I just heard from Steven Kotler and he tells me that with the help of RKP readers they hit their goal for the number of survey respondents they wanted for the study. So, thanks for your help.

    Also, he tells me that the survey was necessarily clunky because they were working with preexisting surveys to ensure validity. They’ll get better in the future.

    Finally, I noted in my post that all this study is private sector. That’s not entirely true. While lots of the heavy lifting is being done in the private sector, this study is, at least in part, being conducted by Trinity College in Dublin. Which is to say, at least some in academia have gotten interested in flow.

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