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.


  1. Angela Maiers on April 28, 2008 at 9:54

    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 on April 30, 2008 at 7:06

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

  3. Bob Bates on May 12, 2008 at 12:03

    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 on May 12, 2008 at 9:44

    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!

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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