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The Science of Thinking Smarter

John Medina, Director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University, and author of Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, wrote a great article for us on Brain Rules: science and practice, Brain Rules-John Medinabringing brain research to daily life.

We enjoyed the book very much since it provides an excellent and engaging overview of recent brain research, so we are glad to see it reaching new corners. You may enjoy these 2 new resources:

1) A 52-minute video based on his Google talk on April 8th: click Here. Great discussion of the brain benefits of physical exercise and stress management.

2) An interview at Harvard Business Review, titled The Science of Thinking Smarter. I enjoyed some of the exchanges, such as this one (though I find the question a bit mystifying, are we assuming it is genes all that matter for leadership?):

Question: In the absence of genetic testing, do you see any merit in the sort of psychological testing some businesses use, such as the Myers-Briggs test?
Answer: Oh dear I have to admit to a certain grumpiness here. I have a very specific objection to how these tests are sometimes hyped. I’ve heard people claim that tests such as Myers-Briggs are based on “sound neurological principles” that brain science proves their validity, or even that these tests were designed with brain science in mind. The fact is that most of these tests including IQ tests were developed long before we knew very much about how the brain processes anything. That doesn’t mean that someday we won’t be able to create tests based on sound neurological principles. Research is proceeding at such leaps and bounds that anything is possible. You don’t have to hype the science. What it actually is turning up is astonishing enough.

Executive Summary: Neuroscience can show managers ways to improve productivity. A Conversation with brain expert John J. Medina by Diane Coutu

“Advances in neurobiology have demonstrated that the brain is so sensitive to external experiences that it can be rewired through exposure to cultural influences. Experiments have shown that in some people, parts of the brain light up only when they are presented with an image of Bill Clinton. In others, it’s Jennifer Aniston. Or Halle Berry. What other stimuli could rewire the brain? Is there a Boeing brain? A Goldman Sachs brain?

No one really knows yet, says Medina, a developmental molecular biologist, who has spent much of his career exploring the mysteries of neuroscience with laypeople. As tempting as it is to try to translate the growing advances to the workplace, he warns, it’s just too early to tell how the revolution in neurobiology is going to affect the way executives run their organizations. “If we understood how the brain knew how to pick up a glass of water and drink it, that would represent a major achievement, he says.

Still, neuroscientists are learning much that can be put to practical use. For instance, exercise is good for the brain, and long-term stress is harmful, inevitably hurting productivity in the workplace. Stressed people don’t do math very well, they don’t process language very efficiently, and their ability to remember in both the short and long terms declines. In fact, the brain wasn’t built to remember with anything like analytic precision and shouldn’t be counted on to do so. True memory is a very rare thing on this planet, Medina says. That’s because the brain isn’t really interested in reality; it’s interested in survival.

What’s more, and contrary to what many twentieth-century educators believed, the brain can keep learning at any age. “We are lifelong learners, Medina says. “That’s very good news indeed.”

Article: The Science of Thinking Smarter.

Now, I have to add that neuroscience (and cognitive science in general) can show managers many more ways to improve productivity than those outlined in the interview, but it is a superb start.

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4 Responses

  1. I just read and reviewed Medina’s book, and I agree it is a great resource. It is critical that a bridge exists between neuroscience and education. I think books like these are a great start!

  2. puglyfeet says:

    Just watched Dr. Medina’s Google Talk — very good.

  3. Bob Bates says:

    I found his comment on Myers-Briggs interesting. Myers-Briggs actually only has a 50% re-take reliability which might give some credence to Dr. Medina’s comments. I’ve worked at companies that give it to most employees but it never seems to get put into action. I give my clients a much more valid test – The Kolbe Index A which measures instinct and conation. It’s retake reliability is over 80%. Very empowering and not based on personality. It would be interesting to get Dr. Medina’s feedback on the Kolbe A.

  4. Alvaro says:

    Angela and “puglyfeet”: glad to hear from you, and to see you enjoyed those great resources.

    Bob: the first step for some of us to take a look at that, or any other test, is to review serious published literature. Can you send some specific references? More important than reliability is validity-what is it supposed to measure?

    Thank you!

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