Chances are you don’t know about one of Google’s rather unconventional hiring practices.

CEO Eric Schmidt had to go through some tough situations during “Burning Man” event in the “Black Rock Desert” of Nevada.

He had to withstand five nights without sleep, more than enough heat, a relentless sun and a chilly night.

The cherry on top was an uncertain, unsteady and complex situation.

They wanted him to stretch to his limits and beyond.

With more and more small and larger companies of Silicon Valley, a participation in this event should appear on your curriculum.

For, this psychedelic event makes people work together as a team under extreme conditions.

In most cases group flow states are reached.

In this article you will learn, what this event is all about and how more and more professionals and entrepreneurs use altered states of consciousness for their productivity.


What is “flow” and what happens in a flow state?

altered consciousness

As you can read in this article, flow is one of many altered states of consciousness.

In this state you feel very good and can peak perform.

Your focus reaches such a high level, that you forget everything else (including your sense for your little “I”).

Action and perception merge. Time stands still and feeling for linear time is not there anymore.

Several hours can pass by like a few minutes.

There is no consistent research about this altered state of consciousness yet, which could be called 100% scientific.

Thus, we will get a bit into borderline science (my favorite field).

You predominantly find anecdotal evidence and a few scientific studies with little consensus between different researchers.

So far several participants of the Flow Genome Project contributed anecdotal evidence.

Part of it are entrepreneurs, scientists and authors.
They reported being 700 percent more creative in flow.

Additionally a study of McKinsey Managers resulted in Managers being 500 percent more productive.

Professor Teresa Amabile discovered that humans in flow state are not only more creative at the moment of flow, but also one day after.

So, it can be speculated, that you can profit from the positive effects of flow also long-term.

Still challenging, but this can be measured in the brain via brain wave frequencies.

While in normal waking-state fast beta waves prevail, in a flow state they switch to slower alpha and theta waves.

Alpha waves are connected with daydreaming. Theta waves appear during REM sleep phases or shortly before falling asleep.

Precisely in these moments different and conflicting ideas can be combined very efficiently.

This power of deduction is what is needed for problem solving.

And problem solving is something needed by the Sillicon Valley’s startup culture.

It is not limited to them only. Everyone who needs out-of-the-box thinking can enjoy this.

A change in brain wave pattern is one aspect of “Flow”.

Another one is the temporary deactivation of the prefrontal cortex.

This is the place where we solve complex thinking problems. It is also the place which creates the feeling of the little “I”.

At least from the physiological viewpoint, this is the explanation, why the “I” feeling dissolves during flow.

You can also ask a philosophical question at this point.

Who are you, if the feeling of “I” can be dissolved that easily and you still are aware of it at the same time?

Who is this other you watching this, then?

This dissolution brings several benefits for your creativity.

Since this part of the brain is usually also the inner critique and doubter for all kinds of things.

Some call this inner critic “Inner Woody Allan”.

In more spiritual circles, it is called “monkey mind” or “brain monkey”.

In any case this is something you don’t need in a creative brainstorm session.

Moreover, this deactivation causes us to be more courageous. It also enables us to imagine different possibilities and perspectives.

Something important, when wanting to dissolve limiting beliefs.

Neurochemically also very interesting things are happening during flow.

Here too, research hasn’t found 100% consensus.
Even measuring flow with EEG is already a challenge.

Back to neurochemistry:

Where researchers don’t have any consensus is, in which sequence different substances are emitted by the body during flow.

If you would like to dig deeper at this point, I can recommend the book Satisfaction: The Science of Finding True Fulfillment.

It is established knowledge, that the body distributes larger amounts of dopamine, endorphin, noradrenaline, anandamide and serotonin during “flow”.

All increase performance and influence creativity.

Noradrenalin and dopamine increase your focus and imagination.

They also help you, absorbing a large amount of information.

Furthermore, they increase your capacity to recognize patterns and to combine new ideas in new ways with each other.

Anandamides increase lateral thinking.

All in all this is the ideal endogenous chemical cocktail, helping us to attack problems in a particularly creative way.

Specially in group work environments flow states are important.
As examples military elite units could be mentioned.

The problem with normal daily consciousness is, that the brain can process only a limited amount of information.

The subconscious is much more effective.

As already mentioned above, creativity can flow without obstacles during flow.

Normal daily consciousness retreats and the subconsciousness take over.

The endogenous chemical substances of flow not only improve creativity, but do a lot of other things:

  • Increasing of focus
  • Reducing muscle reaction times
  • Faster pattern recognition

This is a capacity sought by elite military units.

If they get into enemy territory faster information processing and pattern recognition is crucial.

This can decide about life and death.

Is is for example the fast recognition of different dangerous situations:


  • Who has to be disarmed.
  • Which civilians need to get out of the field of fire.
  • When the trigger has to be pulled and when not.

These small teams like the Seals are that well trained, that these small groups forms one sole unit.

Because of the flow state they act as one organism.

Hierarchies are flexible and switch dynamically and intuitively according to flow.

Sometimes one leads the group sometimes another.

By the way fast pattern recognition is also helpful trading.

Navy Seals are an extreme example, and not everybody needs to be part of them, to get into group flow.

Risky and life threatening situations are particularly predestined for causing flow states.

But, they can also be attained in not such situations. Singing is an example of that.

This study shows, that “Flow” or “social flow” can also be reached by singing in a group like in a choir or in the spiritual field, when chanting mantras.

The study was done with a Jazz-Ensemble group.



Flow states can be a booster for increased productivity.

It creates the ideal endogenous chemical cocktail.

This helps to attack problems in a creative way and peak perform in different fields.

Normal daily consciousness makes room for the subconscious mind. And the latter uses fast broadband speed.

I am curious: In which situations have you been in a flow state yet?

Are you even ready for altered states of consciousness?