The Leading Brain

"The Leading Brain is the best integration of neuroscience and leadership that I have ever seen."

Dr. Jonathan Schooler Neuroscientist and Professor UC Santa Barbara
The Leading Brain
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Powerful science-based strategies for achieving peak performance

Neuroscience has revolutionized our understanding of the mind and brain. These new insights will elevate the ways we learn, lead and collaborate to the next level. Learn for your business.

THE REVOLUTION IS HERE

There’s a revolution going on, and yet most businesses seem completely oblivious.

EVERYTHING IS CHANGING

Dazzling new technologies and surprising revelations have radically altered the way we understand our brains. Tools like functional MRI and optogenetics enable scientists to non-invasively observe and manipulate the brain’s regions in real time. Meanwhile, recent discoveries about neuroplasticity, mirror neurons, and oxytocin have exploded long-held myths about our basic limits and motivations. In other words, the game has fundamentally changed. Are your company’s leaders still operating under old rules and outdated assumptions?

LEADERSHIP AND NEUROSCIENCE ARE CONVERGING

Using their ample experience in both neuropsychology and management consulting, internationally recognized experts Dr. Hans W. Hagemann and Friederike Fabritius have distilled the wisdom gleaned from hundreds of their seminars down to a single text. They’ve adapted the popular multi-day presentations they’ve delivered to tens of thousands of leaders all over the world and transformed them into a clear, insightful, and highly entertaining new book.

USE THE BRAIN TO GAIN A COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE

Aimed primarily at business executives, but applicable everywhere from down in the mailroom to up in the corner office, The Leading Brain: How the latest breakthroughs in neuroscience can empower leaders to create a better working world will show you how to effectively capitalize on the latest advancements in cognitive science. You’ll learn how to regulate your emotions, sharpen your focus, and how to break old habits and develop new ones. You’ll discover brain-based ways to learn more efficiently, make better decisions, cultivate trust, form teams that are truly diverse, and improve both individual and group performance.

BE A LEADING BRAIN

The Leading Brain translates cutting-edge developments in brain science into solid strategies, tips, and techniques for training yourself and your team to perform with increased efficiency, heightened satisfaction, and resounding success!

Do you Know?

  • What commonplace behavior has been shown to decrease your IQ by as much as 15 points?
  • When this happens, people typically take 50 percent longer to complete a task and make up to 50 percent more errors. When what happens?
  • Skipping one of these has been found to result in a 30 percent reduction in cognitive skill. Skipping one what?

Early Endorsements

Authors

The Leading Brain
Hans W. Hagemann

Hans W. Hagemann

Hans W. Hagemann, PhD, is Managing Partner and co-founder of the global management consultancy Munich Leadership Group (MLG) specializing in brain-based leadership. He supports leaders and teams who are facing complex business challenges. Hans is an expert in creating environments that foster high performance and ignite innovation.

He has accompanied outstanding leaders and teams through all kinds of challenges, led seminars, coaching sessions and multi-part workshops spanning over several years with a host of international corporations and their subsidiaries in more than 40 countries. Hans counts Allianz Global Investors, Bayer, BMW, EY, Expedia, Montblanc, Siemens, and ThyssenKrupp among his clients.

With his company MLG, he has conducted more than 5500 workshops on four continents in the past two decades. To support the fast-growing U.S. business, MLG opened an office in Palo Alto, California in 2010. The Shanghai, China, office followed in 2012.

Hans spends a lot of his time in the Silicon Valley studying and utilizing leadership and innovation success patterns. He is one of the founding members of the German Silicon Valley Innovators (GSVI), an institution that makes first-hand Silicon Valley experience accessible for opinion leaders in large corporations.

Through his work, Hans has become highly familiar with the real-life challenges business leaders face in a dynamic and highly competitive environment. His PhD in psychology and his studies in business administration as well as his extensive practical experience provide the necessary tools to help his clients overcome tough challenges.

Business leaders appreciate his approach, as the following feedback shows:

* The combination of business know-how and psychological expertise is exactly what companies need during difficult change processes. Our collaboration with Munich Leadership Group is very successful. I am impressed with what an important contribution Munich Leadership Group support makes to our day-to-day operations.
Dr. Frank Berlin, Head of Corporate Improvement Programs, HKM GmbH

* We worked with Munich Leadership Group to create a new basis for a significant portion of our executive development. We appreciate their outstanding conceptual expertise combined with the ability to implement leadership training in perfect alignment with our ideals.
Bettina Hoermann, Management Development, ProSiebenSat.1 Media AG

* Munich Leadership Group is our first choice for complex leadership development tasks. With their extensive know-how and, above all, their strong intuition, the consultants work with us to develop tailored and creative solutions that are pragmatic and successful.
Munich Leadership Group has an outstanding reputation at our company.
Ulrich Walker, PhD, CFO, Festo AG

Before founding the Munich Leadership Group in 1994, Hans worked as a management consultant at Graessle & Partner and as a marketing specialist at Procter & Gamble and at the Lintas Advertising Agency. He is married with three children.

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Friederike Fabritius

Friederike Fabritius  is a neuroscientist and an Associate Partner of the Munich Leadership Group. As an executive coach and leadership specialist, she has extensive expertise working with top executives from multinational corporations such as Bayer, Audi, Montblanc, EY, and ThyssenKrupp. Many of her clients have described her seminars as “life-changing” and “highly applicable”. Friederike is also a sought-after keynote speaker and has addressed large audiences at corporate events at Siemens and Thyssen Krupp.

A neuroscientist by education, Friederike focuses on developing new methods and practices for leadership training and development based on solid scientific findings. She is also an expert in learning systems that draw on the brain’s inherent capabilities to acquire and retain new information effectively. Friederike herself has used these methods to learn six languages that she now speaks fluently. She has first-hand experience with all the modern brain research techniques to explore the human brain such as fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), EEG (Electroencephalography), CT (Computed Tomography), and TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation).

Friederike holds a M.S. in neuropsychology from the University of Milan-Bicocca  (“summa cum laude”) where she worked on language processing in the human brain. Friederike is a certified Co-Active Coach ® as well as a neurofeedback therapist.

Friederike started her career at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, conducting basic research in neurophysiology with renowned neuroscientist Wolf Singer who became her mentor and collaborator. During that time, she met many of the world’s most distinguished brain researchers such as Jonathan Schooler to discuss highly significant research topics including consciousness, decision making, neuroplasticity, mindfulness, intuition, creativity, empathy, and trust.

In 2007, she continued her career as a management consultant at McKinsey before joining the Munich Leadership Group in 2010 where she has since supported many clients in reaching their full potential and delivering peak performance at critical moments. Friederike is married with three children.

Read an interview

with the author Friederike Fabritius The Leading Brain

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The best way to handle emotional outbursts is to outsmart them

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By Friederike Fabritius and Hans W. Hagemann

Emotional outbursts can occur at the most mind-bogglingly inappropriate times. In 2006, during the World Cup soccer final between France and Italy, close to a billion fans watched in disbelief as Zinedine Zidane, one of the most beloved players in French soccer history, seemed to implode before their very eyes.

After ninety minutes of fierce play from both sides, the score was tied at 1-1. Zidane and Italy’s feisty center fullback Marco Materazzi had accounted for the game’s only goals. What happened next was both controversial and devastating. Two-thirds of the way through extra time, as the two men jogged by each other, they both stopped briefly and Materazzi tugged at Zidane’s jersey. Although Zidane seemed at first to be walking away from the confrontation, he suddenly turned to face Materazzi and threw himself at him with full force, knocking him to the ground with a violent head butt to his chest.

Fans all over the world watched in utter disbelief. The act was so brazen and breathtakingly unsportsmanlike that officials felt they had no choice. Zinedine Zidane ousted from the match.

Deprived of its leader as well as one of its most skillful penalty shot kickers, France lost in the shootout round, and Italy emerged as the 2006 World Cup champion. Although soccer is a game of great complexity and a certain amount of luck, it could be reasonably argued that a few-second lapse in one man’s emotional regulation cost his country a world championship.

What went wrong

You may not play soccer, and we hope you’ve never have butted someone with your head, but if you’re like most of us, you can probably remember at least one emotional outburst when once you calmed down you asked yourself, “What in the world was I thinking?!” This question may sound rhetorical, but it has a simple, scientific answer.

You weren’t thinking. You were reacting. Emotional outbursts occur when the more civilized, conscious region of your brain is hijacked by a more powerful, primitive, and largely unconscious part. It’s just one more skirmish in a constant battle between your rational prefrontal cortex and your emotional limbic system. When your body perceives what it conceives as a threat, your limbic system responds so quickly that your prefrontal cortex doesn’t have a chance to convince you when it’s something that isn’t worth getting upset about. Most of us are at least vaguely aware of this battle in our brain, but few of us are capable of consistently controlling our reactions, a process known as emotional regulation.

Here’s how to make it worse

What’s the most commonly used approach to emotional regulation? Psychologists call it cognitive inhibition, but the rest of us probably know it better as suppressing your feelings or holding things back. Not only does this not work; it can actually make matters worse. Attempting to suppress your emotions pits one of the smartest but weakest parts of your brain against one of the most primitive and powerful. It’s like a wrestling match between Albert Einstein and Hulk Hogan. No one would argue over who was the most intelligent, but there’d also be no real disagreement as to who would win the bout.

The not-so-ancient art of Cognitive Jujitsu

If suppressing your emotions doesn’t work, then what does? The answer comes from an unlikely source. The Japanese martial art of jujitsu rests on a simple but powerful idea. When confronted with a stronger opponent, if you attempt to overpower him, you will almost certainly lose. But if you can find a way to neutralize your opponent’s strength or even use it against him, you have a good chance of winning. The principle of jujitsu can also be used to resolve a conflict between those two rival regions of the brain: your powerful limbic system and your weaker but wilier prefrontal cortex. If you attempt to counteract stress by fighting it directly, you will fail. Instead of attempting to suppress your stress, it’s far more efficient—and effective—to redirect it. We call this Cognitive Jujitsu.

All the right moves

Even when you understand the philosophy of jujitsu, you still need to spend time learning and practicing some moves. The same applies with Cognitive Jujitsu. If you’re facing the prospect of an impending emotional outburst, theory isn’t enough. You need to have some techniques at hand that can quickly defuse your potentially destructive response before it’s too late. Two of the best moves we know of are emotional labeling and cognitive reappraisal.

Emotional labeling is exactly what it sounds like. It means applying a name to your reaction. If you’re feeling insulted, threatened, frightened, or outraged, whatever, take time out to identify that emotion. If that suggestion sounds dumb, redundant, or even dangerous, it helps to understand what happens in the brain when you put your feelings into words. When you’re feeling over-stressed or emotional, you’re allowing your cave man brain to run the show. Labeling helps you to regain control by sapping some of your limbic system’s strength and redirecting that energy to your more sensible prefrontal cortex. In Zidane’s case, his Italian opponent allegedly made some offensive comments about the French player’s sister. Wars have started for less, so it may almost be understandable that he reacted by trying to use his head as a battering ram. But if he’d taken a moment to acknowledge to himself that he was feeling insulted, humiliated, or just plain pissed off, a colossal, internationally televised outburst could’ve been averted.

The other handy move is called cognitive reappraisal. If the name sounds unnecessarily complicated, the old saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” may help, because that’s basically what it means. By the time your brain triggers a threat response, there’s usually nothing you can do to stop it—at least not directly. What you can do is to influence how you interpret that response. If Zidane had used cognitive reappraisal, if had seen the Italian player’s trash talk as a sign of desperation or even weakness, he might’ve concluded that Materazzi was only attempting to start a war of words because he was worried about losing the battle for the ball. That simple realization might’ve been enough to calm him down and redirect the energy toward increasing his confidence instead of inflaming his anger. In short, Cognitive Jujitsu could’ve helped France to win the World Cup.

Zinedine Zidane was perhaps the greatest soccer player that France has ever known. Yet, for millions of fans, the first thing that now springs to mind whenever they think of him is that single ugly incident. Had he used emotional labeling or cognitive reappraisal instead of losing his temper, that incident might not have happened at all, and the outcome of the game could’ve been dramatically different. Ironically, the very thing that led to Zidane’s international infamy could have readily rescued him from an unwelcome emotional outburst: his head.

March 2, 2017

The DNA of Peak Performance

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By Friederike Fabritius and Hans W. Hagemann

Why do some people find it easy to work at their peak, while others feel the goal is frustratingly elusive? The answer may lie in your DNA.

Although peak performance relies on a host of factors, including the scope of an assignment and especially the environment you’re working in, there are three crucial neurochemicals that combine to help you perform at your best: dopamine, noradrenaline, and acetylcholine. We call these three the DNA of Peak Performance

D is for Dopamine

Of the three neurochemicals that make up the DNA of Peak Performance, dopamine is the best known and most notorious, probably because of its association with excitement, novelty, and risk.

That attention is well deserved. Dopamine is the fun neurochemical, the life of the peak performance party. It seeks sensation and anticipates gratification. Dopamine provides a drug-like reward that makes you hungry for more. Unfortunately, as with many drugs, the high wears off and you often need more the next time to get the same effect. This explains the enthusiasm you may feel when you start a new project and why the thrill isn’t usually as strong after you’ve been working on it for a while.

The best way to introduce dopamine into your workday isn’t always simple, but it’s remarkably straightforward. It’s probably no coincidence that the things we find most rewarding are usually the things we are good at. So seek out tasks that are already in line with your strengths and then strive to devise ways to keep them both rewarding and new.

N is for Noradrenaline

Of course, “new” can also mean challenging, too. Noradrenaline is released when the brain responds to a potential threat, whether it’s large, like a hungry lion, or small, like an unwelcome e-mail. Tasks that are strange or unfamiliar can also trigger a threat response. When that threat is overwhelming, your brain’s reasoning capabilities shut down. On the other hand, when a task is too simple or routine to elicit even the slightest resistance, your performance can suffer, too. The best performance comes when you strike a balance between humdrum and hysterical, when you tackle a task that you know you can achieve, but that takes you just a little out of your comfort zone. We call this being “slightly over-challenged.”

Seasoned peak performers recognize the need to stay on their toes. If you are feeling too comfortable or your work has become too easy and predictable, it’s time to seek new adventures. Other people might be satisfied with your performance, but if you’re feeling bored or as though you’re operating on autopilot, it’s important to keep the noradrenaline flowing by challenging yourself. That’s one of the reasons why professional musicians are constantly changing their repertoire even when their audiences might be quite content to hear the standard tunes played over and over again. They need to remain challenged in order to perform at their best and stay focused.

A is for Acetylcholine

Acetylcholine is the neurochemical that sharpens that focus. If the task you tackle is both rewarding and challenging, focus will often come naturally. Yet most of us operate in a world that’s overflowing with distractions. Telephones, e-mails, texts, and our colleagues are all competing for our attention. Although mistakenly perceived as a boon to productivity, multitasking is a sworn enemy of peak performance. If you have difficulties resisting the siren song of your electronic devices and focusing your attention on a single task, consider scheduling what we call a “meeting of one.” Set aside dedicated time for yourself, where distractions are actually eliminated instead of simply ignored and where interruptions are as unwelcome as they would be in a high-level meeting.

DNA isn’t destiny

Although you can use tricks and techniques to incrementally raise and lower your levels of dopamine, noradrenaline, and acetylcholine, keep in mind that DNA isn’t destiny. The best way to encourage optimum levels of all three is by playing to your strengths and by working in the right place. If you are constantly feeling either bored or overwhelmed, then you may need to make a fundamental change to the kind of tasks you handle or the way in which you are working. Adjusting your hours, altering your work environment, or reallocating responsibilities with coworkers can all help. With the right work environment and the right mix of these three neurochemicals, it should be easier to achieve the consistently satisfying level of performance that many of us seek but so few of us find.

February 27, 2017

How to cultivate trust without risking your life

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by Friederike Fabritius and Hans W. Hagemann

When compared to other adventure sports like rock climbing or hang gliding, sailing is considered relatively safe. Yet sailing isn’t foolproof. Nor are the dangers non-existent. On a warm and cloudless day, a group of coworkers went off together on what they thought was going to be a relaxed, recreational sailing excursion. But when a sudden “freakish” gale swamped their vessel and brought them uncomfortably close to death, the whole experience radically changed their lives in a way that none of them could have predicted.

What builds trust and credibility? The answers may surprise you. A classic study done back in the 1960s found that otherwise competent people are viewed as more appealing (and more human) when they make a simple blunder, such as spilling their coffee. Some of the evidence is even older. In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin explains how he defrosted the chilly disposition of a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly by asking to borrow a rare book from him. Instead of making Franklin feel further indebted to someone who already didn’t seem to like him, it planted the seeds of friendship between the two men that lasted throughout both of their lives. Psychologists were able to prove that Franklin’s observation wasn’t simply an isolated anecdote by replicating the situation under more stringent conditions. In a study conducted by Jon Jecker and David Landy, a lecturer who asked students to lend him money was perceived as more likeable by the students he asked for a loan than he was by the students he didn’t trouble for some temporary financial aid[I].

The tie that binds these disparate episodes is vulnerability. As strange as it sounds, in social situations, weakness can sometimes be a strength. Demonstrating your human frailties or asking for help stimulates a deep evolutionary impulse in others to cooperate. Although we’re bombarded by stories of loose cannons and lone wolves, these examples are the exception rather than the rule. The truth is that humans are fundamentally social creatures. The engine behind this social impulse is a powerful neuropeptide called oxytocin. Sometimes known as the “cuddle hormone,” oxytocin makes it feel good to stick together. Released in the brain, it promotes bonding between a mother and child, between sexual partners, and between members of a group who might otherwise view each other with suspicion, contempt, or outright hostility.

That’s why when confronted by a threat, rather than choosing to go it alone, most people instinctively seek out social support from other members of their group. The danger triggers the release of oxytocin for good reason: There is strength – and survival – in numbers. Oxytocin tears down the walls of estrangement and suspicion and builds up bonding and trust in its place.

How can you strengthen the bonds of teams and encourage trust among coworkers? One thing is clear about trust. It can’t be imposed or decreed. It can only be cultivated and encouraged. Obviously it would be more than a little sadistic to knowingly send employees off on a dangerous journey (although it’s true that soldiers, police officers, and fire fighters do this, but that’s part of the job description). Even deliberately spilling coffee can prove risky in certain situations.

What you can do that is both ethical and safe is to place a group of employees in a difficult situation where cooperation is not just desirable, it’s essential. Find a task or project that is ambitious but still achievable. The more surprising and unexpected the assignment the better. On the individual level, when we are compelled to operate just outside our comfort zone (we call this being “slightly over-challenged”) a trio of neurochemicals in our brain combine to elevate our performance. The same thing can happen in a team situation but with an added bonus: Faced with a challenge that is more than they can handle on their own, team members come to the sudden, instinctive realization that in order to succeed they must rely on each other. In the process, each member must confront his or her own vulnerabilities and accept the weaknesses of others.

Take it from the people on that sailboat who collaborated to overcome a potentially deadly disaster. It is one thing to appreciate the theoretical value of trust – most of us do this already – but quite another to actually experience it. The trust that allowed the coworkers to come to each other’s aid and get everyone safely back to shore not only saved their lives, but also established a bond that didn’t end at the water’s edge. It inspired them to become one of the most tight-knit and productive teams in their company’s history.


[I] http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/001872676902200407

February 18, 2017

Three recent discoveries that have changed our view of peak performance

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By Friederike Fabritius and Hans W. Hagemann

On some level, psychologists have understood the anatomy of peak performance for more than 100 years. Yet since the turn of the century, there have been some exciting new developments that have provided us with an even clearer picture of what it takes to perform at your very best.

Your unique “neural signature” may determine your style of performance

It may seem unlikely at first, but research originally designed for an Internet dating site has provided us with exciting insights into the variations of individual performance as well as the recipe for assembling top performing teams. The breakthrough began in 2006 when Rutgers University biological anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher isolated four neurochemical systems, each linked with a specific constellation of biologically based personality styles. Each of the four styles, Explorer, Builder, Director, and Negotiator, correlates with four chemical messengers: dopamine, serotonin, testosterone, and estrogen. Each of us possesses a unique combination of styles, which Fisher and the co-authors of a 2013 paper call a “neural signature.” These signatures aren’t just suitable for finding the ideal mate. They provide clues as to what it takes for individuals in the workplace to perform at their peak and aid us in forming teams that can produce the best collective results.

You can often neutralize stress just by naming it

Of course, regardless of our individual neural signatures, there is one essential characteristic that all of us share: the potential for experiencing stress. When you’re feeling stressed, the last thing you want to do is admit it, right? Wrong. In 2007, a team of psychologists at UCLA found that taking a moment to label your stress will actually improve the situation instead of exacerbating it.

Although a modest amount of stress is actually beneficial, too much stress can be a real performance killer. It activates an almond-shaped structure called the amygdala that lies deep inside the recesses of our brains. Once roused, the amygdala fires off a frantic message to your rational control center, the prefrontal cortex (or PFC), which responds by temporarily shutting down. With lights out in the PFC, the brain has more power to fuel to the famous fight or flight response but little or no energy for careful thought. This makes sense if you’re battling a bad guy or running away from a bear, but it can be bad news if you’re trying to keep it together during a contentious staff meeting or rushing to finish a report that’s already long overdue.

The next time stress arises, take a moment to label that stress. When you do, something fascinating happens in your brain. The lights in the sensible PFC get switched back on, sapping some of the power from the original stress response. That brief moment of deliberation as you hunt for a word to describe how you’re feeling (angry, intimidated, trapped, humiliated, etc.) can often be enough to take the sting out of stress.

The more you enjoy what you’re doing the better you perform

If the previous discovery about labeling the source of your stress sounded counter-intuitive, research conducted by Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert in 2010 may strike you as obvious. Yet the results of their study provide one of the most important lessons for performance. Using a clever iPhone app that polled subjects throughout the day, Killingsworth and Gilbert determined that people are happiest when they’re focused on what they’re actually doing rather than thinking about something else. When were subjects the most focused? When they were having sex or exercising. Unfortunately, the activity during which their minds were most likely to wander was work. That may not be surprising, but it’s still a problem. When your mind is elsewhere, the energy you could be devoting to the task at hand is diluted. And it follows that performance suffers as a result. This does not mean that we should all become porn stars or professional athletes. What it does show is a clear correlation between happiness and your ability to focus. If you are doing work that bores you, makes you miserable, or leaves you feeling panicked or over-stressed, you’re unlikely to be able to perform at your best.

Are we having fun yet?

Aside from the fact that they all deal with performance, these recent studies may not seem to share much in common. And yet there’s a message that underlies all three. Most tips and techniques for tweaking your level of performance are missing a fundamental point. If you aren’t engaged in work that suits your personality and you’re not part of a compatible team, if you can’t effectively deal with stress when it arises, and if you’re unable to cope with the temptation of a wandering mind, then achieving peak performance is virtually impossible. Despite what chronic multitaskers may tell you, you need to be focused to perform at your best. And you can’t truly be focused if you aren’t having fun.

February 12, 2017

The Joys of Winning the Bronze Medal?

Olympic Games

Although you may think that the gold medalists at Sochi are on top of the world, scientific evidence tells a different story. An examination of subjective contentment of Olympic medal winners showed that athletes who win the bronze medal are actually happier than those who go home with the gold. How could this be? The answer lies with two unsung but essential motivations of the social brain: comparison and fairness. Instead of lamenting a third-place finish, bronze medalists have a tendency to compare themselves with the many other Olympic participants who did not receive a medal at all. As a result, they feel like winners. In the terms of contentment, athletes who win the silver come in last among Olympic medalists. Rather than celebrating their extraordinary performances, they focus instead on the fact that they may have narrowly missed winning a gold medal. Many leaders experience this same reaction when they receive a smaller bonus than they got the year before or a smaller bonus than their colleagues. The takeaway for business is that although the traditional incentive system for employees may make sense in terms of maximizing profit, it overlooks an important truth about how our brains operate. What is most important to people can’t be measured in dollars, Euros, or even Olympic medals. It’s how much they get (in rewards and compensation) in comparison to others.

February 8, 2017

The Madness of Multitasking

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More and more people are finally getting the message that multitasking is a bad idea. But few people are aware of the brain science that explains why this widespread practice can be a productivity disaster.

Whenever you shift from one activity to another, say, writing a presentation to checking your e-mail, your brain goes through a four-step process. It makes no difference how quickly you shift your attention; the process is essentially the same. 1) To begin with, blood rushes to the anterior prefrontal cortex, which notifies the rest of your brain that you’re about to work on your presentation. 2) This all-points bulletin to your brain has two parts. First it searches for the neurons that you’ll need for a particular task and then it notifies those neurons that they’re needed. The search and notification is fast, but it still takes a few tenths of a second. 3) Then, when you decide to stop writing your presentation and check your e-mail, your brain must first disengage from the current task before moving on to the next. Strictly speaking, what we typically refer to as multitasking isn’t really multitasking. You aren’t actually doing two things at once. What you’re doing is more accurately called rapid sequential task switching. But as you’ll see, it’s not nearly rapid enough. 4) The final step is the same as the first, only this time the anterior prefrontal cortex, instead of telling your brain that you plan to write your presentation, will notify it that you intend to check e-mail. Once again, a few tenths of a second are required.[I]

The whole process of shifting from one task to another takes about half a second. That might not seem like much until you realize that look this this process is repeated every single time you shift from one task to another. Those half seconds begin to add up quickly. What’s more, each time you shift, to some extent you’re starting over. If multitasking were advertised like a soft drink, its slogan would probably be, “Now where was I?”[II]

If you remain unimpressed with the prospect of wasting time in half-second increments and aren’t all that concerned about constantly having to reorient yourself, perhaps some additional statistics will make a stronger impression.

  • People who are interrupted take an estimated 50 percent longer to complete a task and have been found to make up to 50 percent more errors.[III]
  • Constantly texting or checking e-mailing – a mainstay of multitaskers – has been shown to reduce your IQ by as much as 15 points.[IV]

Granted, some interruptions are unavoidable. But the thing about multitasking is that it’s interruption by choice not by chance. Why would you knowingly reduce your efficiency, deliberately increase your odds of making mistakes, and intentionally make yourself less intelligent?

Maybe now that you’ve read this, you no longer will.


[I] Medina, John. Brain Rules. Seattle: Pear Press, 2008. pp. 86-87.
[II] Medina, 87.
[III] Medina, 87
[IV] Rock, David. Your Brain At Work, New York: Harper Collins, 2005., p. 36

January 30, 2017

How ‘bout a hug?

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Whereas smiles can cheer you up and a powerful pose can increase your feelings of confidence, a simple gesture can have an almost miraculous effect on calming you down. Giving or receiving a hug can trigger a huge release of oxytocin, which is popularly known as “the cuddle hormone.” In fact, physical contact in general releases oxytocin, which has been found in studies to be more effective than even soothing words to reduce levels of stress. In one study, husbands accompanied their wives to a stressful test. One group offered words of encouragement. The others simply massaged their wives’ shoulders. The latter group saw a decline in stress levels associated with testing. The former did not.

Granted, in some circles, hugging your business colleagues or massaging their shoulders may be frowned upon – and in some situations can even trigger a threat response from the recipient. (Just ask German Chancellor Angela Merkel who in 2006 received an unsolicited and clearly unwanted backrub from U.S. President George W. Bush!) Luckily, there are other more socially acceptable ways to get your oxytocin fix. Cuddling with a pet or a partner can release oxytocin and although its effects may not be quite as dramatic, so can simply shaking hands with a client or colleague.

Because our brain operates according to a negativity bias, our initial response when meeting someone new is to treat that person as a foe instead of a friend until we’re led to believe otherwise. You may not perceive this stranger as your enemy but your brain does. Like so many of our reactions, this one is evolutionarily based, deeply ingrained, and largely unconscious. This trips the threat circuit and stress ensues. Handshake to the rescue! This custom not only has a historical purpose — proof that you’re not holding a weapon – but also a neurological one, to reduce the threat response and generate a greater sense of connection by releasing a modest squirt of oxytocin.

January 18, 2017

The power of posture

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A study done at two prestigious business schools found that posture has a greater effect than even a promotion on your overall behavior. Subjects who assumed a so-called “expansive posture” – spreading out by crossing their legs instead of keeping them together and by draping an arm over the back of a chair instead of placing their hands under their legs – were found to exhibit a greater sense of confidence and power than subjects who sat more submissively but had been granted a superior role.

The results were so decisive that they surprised even those who conducted the study. “Going into the research, we figured role would make a big difference,” said Li Huang, a PhD candidate at the Kellogg School of Management. “But shockingly, the effect of posture dominated the effect of role in each and every study.”

January 9, 2017

The Lazy Brain

brain

If there is one single rule of neuroscience that should influence your understanding both of yourself and of your team, it is this. Your brain seeks to follow the most efficient and least resource-intensive route possible. In fact, although it could certainly be characterized as an awe-inspiring calculation machine, your brain could also be viewed as a bit of a couch potato. It consumes an inordinate amount of your body’s energy and tries to get away with doing as little work as possible.

The conscious stuff we do is undoubtedly the most advanced. The cortex and specifically the prefrontal cortex are what distinguish us from most of the animal world. Unfortunately, it is also what makes us inefficient as creatures. No one is advocating that we revert back to the thinking patterns and procedures of our ancestors. But when the opportunity arises to tap into the more powerful and energy efficient aspects of our brain, we should take advantage of it.

In three key and somewhat related types of thinking – intuitive decisionmaking, aha moments, and overall creative thinking – our prefrontal cortex takes a back seat to other regions of the brain and consciousness gives way to unconsciousness. When it comes to pleasing both your peak performing self as well as your lazy brain, unconscious thinking is often the best course of action.

December 30, 2016

Five simple things you can do to discourage creativity

books

Although these methods aren’t foolproof, if you’re dead set on squelching any creativity in your team, these simple rules should help to give you a competitive edge.

1. Dampen the overall mood.

Bad news, fingerpointing, or even a free-floating tirade should help to start things off on the wrong foot.

2. Create a lot of stress.

Luckily, bad moods and high stress often go hand in hand. But if your team seems grumpy but still strangely relaxed, turn up the heat by reminding them that failure isn’t an option and by setting an unreasonable deadline.

3. Follow a strict set of guidelines.

A straitjacket of structure should help to keep any pesky creative urges safely under wraps. Come up with a script and stick to it!

4. Keep everyone’s eye on the ball.

Clear the meeting room of anything that seems extraneous or fun and demand that people pay close attention at all times.

5. Encourage chaos and cross-talk.

Silence may be golden but not when your goal is to torpedo creative impulses. Call for lots of chatting and insist that everyone do his or her thinking out loud.

December 28, 2016

When Positive Turns Negative

Positive Negative

There are some wildly popular self-help approaches that still aren’t supported by evidence. The best known among these is the idea of positive affirmations.

When legendary boxer Muhammad Ali proudly told the world, “I’m the king! I’m the greatest! Ain’t I beautiful? I’m too pretty to be a fighter!” he was doing more than simply reminding his audience what they already knew: that in addition to being an extraordinary boxer (at the time, Feb. 1964, he had been unbeaten in 19 pro fights) he had an epic-sized ego. Now with the benefit of hindsight and neuroscience, we realize that he was also probably helping his performance in the ring. As it happens, the outcome of this particular bout, against heavyweight champion Sonny Liston, proved to be one of the greatest upsets in boxing history.

Ali’s pronouncement followed a proud tradition of positive affirmations. In a nutshell, positive affirmations suggest that by combining an optimistic attitude with a strong positive statement you can achieve almost any goal. Examples of positive affirmations include “I am a loveable person” or “I am thin and athletic.” The best known affirmation which originated with French psychologist ?mile Cou? and dates back to the 19th century is “Every day in every way, I am getting better and better.”

The problem is that for every Muhammad Ali who used positive affirmations to help him succeed there are tens of thousands of needy and well-intentioned individuals for whom these affirmations actually make things worse! Empirical data show that these quick-fix attempts to re-direct your life only work if you already have a healthy self-esteem.In fact, when self-affirmations were used in a stressful testing situation, they actually worked against subjects who had low self-esteem and only helped those who already possessed a positive self-image. Totally the opposite of what you might expect. After all, you would think that people with a high self-opinion wouldn’t need to remind themselves, while those who are insecure could benefit from a little pep talk, even when they themselves are serving as both coach and player.

December 19, 2016

For US media inquiries, please contact our publicist Keely Platte, Penguin Random House at kplatte@penguinrandomhouse.com.

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