Jamie Wheal, Executive Director of Flow Genome Project, is a leading expert on the neuro-physiology of human performance and a man on a mission to make the “genome of flow” available to everyone by 2020. Parvati Magazine spoke with Jamie to learn what that means and why it matters now more than ever.
Parvati Magazine: Let’s start with the basics. What is flow to you?
Jamie Wheal: It’s a peak state of awareness in motion, or awareness in action, where you feel and perform at your best.
PMAG: Your book on flow, Stealing Fire, was a 2017 top business book. Why are organizations investing in flow training for their teams?
JW: In the sense that twentieth century business was about solving problems such as how you build a fleet of airplanes and get them to come and go on time, the twenty-first century is about solving complex problems: everything from global refugees to the food supply. We’re managing many more facts that intersect with each other in complex relationships. The premium is not on information, but on insight, and synthesis. A lot of research shows that peak experiences are a more powerful place from which to gain key insights. But [to put it] simply, businesses are interested in learning to harness flow for sustainable high performance and heightened innovation and collaboration.
PMAG: You and Steven Kotler have declared your mission to reverse-engineer the genome of flow and open-source it to everyone by 2020. What does that mean and why are you doing this?
JW: The genome of flow is [about] the core building blocks at the level of neurobiology and psychology that put people into interesting non-ordinary states. Once we know them, we can actually tune our bodies and our nervous systems and just put ourselves there. This in some respects upends the entire twentieth- century projects of psychology, psychotherapy, and psychiatry. Now we can just say, don’t worry about clawing your way into happier places, just take the steps to get there.
There are a number of critical areas of society that can benefit from understanding these things. Specifically education, healthcare, senior care. It feels like the interior world in general, at least in the developed West, is in crisis. Suicides now outpace war and natural disasters combined as the number one killer of people. So the ability to feel our best and perform our best feels to be essential, both for our own interior well-being and also to be able to tackle the global problems we have. And we were not going to try to patent or trademark that which we feel belongs to everybody in the first place. It feels like it’s a human birthright.
PMAG: Who are you partnering with to take flow to the masses?
JW: We have lots of interesting research projects. We’re partnering with Deloitte on business and innovation research. We’re partnering with one of Canada’s top neuroscientists, Ryan Darcy, and doing a program with flow and trauma relief for first responders. We’re also rolling out projects for seniors, one in North America and now in one of China’s largest senior living centers. We have another great project happening in Minnesota using the flow profile with middle schoolers to help orient them to pursue the things they are most passionate about.
Our goal is always to provide pro bono help and support for anybody in the civil sector—on the condition that when they’ve done their project they write it up in a way that is useful and shareable for other people in their sector.
PMAG: Why will the world be a better place when more of us learn how to be in flow?
JW: Flow states and generally non-ordinary states tend to provide two things to us. One is the sense of our highest and best selves, which is often both healing and inspiring. The other is a very clear insight into the work we still need to do. What we call it is a combination of exostosis, the peak experience, plus catharsis, the healing. This gives us both the inspiration and the mending we need to go back into our lives and shoulder our burdens and continue marching up the mountain, with a bit more spring in our step and a bit more confidence in the direction we’re heading.
Jamie Wheal, Executive Director of Flow Genome Project and co-author of “Stealing Fire”, is a leading expert on the neurophysiology of peak performance. He leads a team of the world’s top scientists, athletes, and artists dedicated to mapping the genome of the peak-performance state known as Flow.