Steven Kotler is the author and/or co-author of several of my favorite books. Specifically:
I’ve read each of the above mentioned books several times. They are dense, well-researched, and very well-written. I can always tell when I’m reading a Steven Kotler book. His way of couching TONS of research from disparate fields and wittiness within entertaining and highly animated stories always makes for a thrilling reading experience.
Another strength of Kotler’s work is that he’s always dealing with the cutting-edge of the world’s most pivotal problems/opportunities. When reading his work, you feel like you’re having the curtain pulled-back of the future; like you’re being let-in on a secret. You feel cool reading his books.
I’m one year from completing my Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology, wherein I’ve spent nearly a decade learning much of what Kotler talks about in his books. Very rarely do I see someone write mainstream books with such a grasp of the scientific literature as Kotler does. I’m sometimes surprised by some of the lines of research he taps into, which no one talks or knows about outside of academics.
Moreover, I’ve spent the past five years consuming several hundred books on entrepreneurship and technology. One thing is for sure: Kotler knows what he’s talking about. Each and every one of his books reflects the accurate position of the cutting-edge and also points very clearly toward where things are going, whether you like or agree with what he’s saying or not.
As someone who reads and writes for a living, I can personally attest that Steven Kotler is a rare gem in the sea of many, many voices.
In his most recent book, Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work, Kotler goes several steps beyond his work in SUPERMAN, which is all about “hacking flow-states.”
The following are three things I learned from Kotler’s new book, which were of particular interest to me:
1. Going from “Self-Authoring” to “Self-Transforming” States of Consciousness
In all of my research, I had yet to do a deep dive into Robert Kegan's work. Similar to Kegan’s work, Kotler’s latest book is really about heightening one’s level of consciousness, and in having somewhat radical or unusual conscious “experiences.”
Kegan’s work describes the three-stage progression people can make in their states of consciousness:
1. Socialized-mind: wherein a person is dependent on others, and makes their decisions based on what they think others want them to do.
2. Self-authoring mind: wherein a person is independent, and makes their decisions to further their own agenda. They see only what they want to see.
3. Self-transforming mind: wherein a person is interdependent, and is constantly seeking out more information to further their need to find meaning, make a difference, and be of service. At this stage, there is no fixation with particular beliefs, agenda, or position. They are willing to compare and contrast their views with other views, and make adjustments to their own when they find something better. To quote F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."
Ironically, I wrote an article last week about the “2 Mental Shifts Highly Successful People Make.” In the article, I describe the first shift as going from dependent to independent, and the second shift as going from independent to interdependent. In that article, I describe several reasons many successful people—most successful people, that is—get stuck at being independent.
Now, I have Kegan’s work to dive deeper into, and in the context of all of Kotler’s recent research. Thanks for that Steven!
2. Group Flow and “The Hive Mind”
Kotler’s book begins with a story about a group of Navy SEALS on a highly intensive and dangerous assignment. He explains that, at a certain point, the group began to harmonize into a state of pure-unity. Flow can be tapped individually, but at a group or team-level, the possibilities are even more fascinating.
This section and the ideas reminded me of one of my favorite books, Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. In Ender’s Game, a superior and alien species, the “buggers”—which Earth sees as an enemy—move, think, and communicate as bees do, as a “Hive Mind.” They all follow the instructions of The Queen, or in other words, the Queen’s thinking is immediately manifest in the actions of the entire hive.
Ender, a young boy in the book, is a genius-child trained to destroy buggers. By the end of the book, Ender has so internalized his enemy that, as the leader of an army of independent thinkers from Earth, he was able to experience “The Hive Mind.” Exactly what was needed to kill the buggers. Interestingly, Ender’s character experiences immense empathy, even love, for the buggers. As Ender tells his sister, Valentine, “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.”
Empathy, it turns out, is reflected in higher levels of consciousness, as described heavily in Kotler’s book.
Kotler also delves into recent research showing the back-and-forth relationship our mind has with our body. Really, what the research is showing is that the mind and body are one. What you do with your body influences your psychological state, and vise versa.
Dr. Candace Pert, in her book, Your Body Is Your Subconscious Mind, explains the same thing. Our emotions do not exclusively reside in our brains, but rather, throughout our entire body.
Thanks for another great book, Steven. I and many others will continue following your work.