Book Review: Your Brain at Work by David Rock (with Additional Notes)

About the author: DAVID ROCK is founder and CEO of Results Coaching Systems, an international coaching organization. He works with Fortune 500 companies to embed integrated coaching systems into their corporate cultures. Dr. Rock is the author of Personal Best, Quiet Leadership and Coaching With the Brain in Mind. In addition to founding the Nuero Leadership Institute and Summit, Dr. Rock is a guest lecturer at universities in five countries including Oxford University’s Business School.

Main Idea of this book:

Despite all the advances in technology, the human brain still remains the greatest business asset anyone owns. The secret to delivering better performance in any setting is to first understand how you think and then get better at directing the way you think in the future. If you understand how your brain operates in more detail, you’re then equipped to improve your performance. The five building blocks of brain mastery are: 1. If you learn how to work with your brain rather than against it, you’ll make better decisions and solve problems more effectively. 2. The key to mastering your brain is to use your inbuilt “director” – your ability to notice and change your thinking processes. 3. When you realize the brain is built to minimize danger and maximize reward, you’ll know how to stay cool under pressure. 4.  When you learn to see the world from the brain’s perspective, you’ll be better prepared to collaborate with and influence others. 5. You will become better at facilitating change in others when you stop focusing on problems and start being more solutions focused. “It may be that understanding the brain is one of the best ways of improving performance in any setting, especially for teams of people working together. For thousands of years philosophers have said that to ‘know yourself’ was the key to a healthy and successful life. Perhaps what is emerging from this new research about the brain is a new way of thinking about ‘self-awareness.’ Only in this case, the ‘self’ is the functioning of your own brain. Your capacity to change yourself, change others, and even change the world, may boil down to how well you know your brain, and your capacity to intervene in otherwise automatic processes.” – David Rock, Author

5 Building Blocks of Brain Mastery

1. Work with your brain instead of against it.

Today, more people than ever before are paid to think instead of performing routine physical tasks. That’s fine but the human brain has biological limits on how long it can make decisions and solve new problems. Paradoxically, the key to improving performance in this area is to understand those limits and work with them rather than against them. The real secret to achieving and then sustaining high performance doesn’t lie in an investment in the latest computers, smart phones or buying the car of the future. To achieve more, master your brain and structure your work to align with the way the human brain likes to work. Advances in neuroscience have made this possible to achieve. Probably the six key problems of the modern day workplace are: 1. The blizzard of e-mail overload 2. Dealing with highly complex problems 3. The competing deadlines of multiple projects 4. Finding ways to say no to distractions 5. Meeting the pressure to perform 6. Progressing past mental roadblocks In each of these areas, neuroscience offers some worthwhile helps and clues about the way forward:

1. The blizzard of e-mail overload

It’s now known making decisions and solving problems uses the prefrontal cortex part of the brain. A good metaphor for this brain region is to think of it as a stage in a small theater. Actors – that is, thoughts or memories or images – can come onto the stage and interact with each other, be combined into new combinations and so forth. We now know:
  •  The brain’s mental stage is very small – you can only think about three or four actors at any one time.
  •  Lighting this mental stage takes lots of energy and chews up metabolic fuel rapidly. You do your best thinking only for a short period and then performance drops off.
  • One of the most energy-sapping mental activities is prioritizing. This is hard work for most people.
With these facts in mind, a more brain friendly approach to the challenge of facing a blizzard of e-mails each morning and throughout the workday would be:
  • Take the time and effort to prioritize first. Figure out which of your planned activities will be most energy-consuming and which will will generate the most benefits. Do this first thing in the morning when you get to the office.
  • Schedule whichever attention-rich activities promise the greatest benefits for when you have a fresh and alert mind – most likely first thing in the morning or right after a decent break. Also plan a specific time when you will respond to the day’s e-mails so you can stop worrying about it.
  • Once you start working on a priority project, turn off your phone and computer so you can concentrate.
  • Schedule blocks of time for different modes of thinking rather than assuming you can do attention-rich activities all day long. You cannot.
  • Create visual images for complex ideas and use those to store information externally for later attention. Don’t try and crowd the stage of your brain by trying to remember too much.

2. Dealing with highly complex problems

Sometimes, a project may be so complex it hurts you to think about it. Neuroscience has shown the reason for this phenomena is you’re trying to bring too many players onto your mental stage at once. It’s now known:
  •  The optimal number of ideas you can hold in your mind at any one time is four. The less you hold, the better.
  •  New ideas take up more room on the stage than ideas you’re very familiar with.
  •  When making a decision, it’s better to decide between two choices rather than three or more.
With these facts about the brain in mind, a more brain friendly way to deal with complex issues would be to:
  • Try and simplify complex new ideas initially by approximating or by focusing on just one or two salient points until familiarity grows.
  • Try and group information into chunks of similar items. The brain likes doing that. Perhaps break a big project down into four or so manageable chunks. With a bit of luck, patterns or commonalities may become obvious – or you may be able to adapt approaches which have been applied elsewhere.
  • Keep practicing at getting your most important actors on stage first while you’re fresh. Don’t let the ones which are loudest commandeer all your mental capacities. Choose the most productive ones first.

3. Competing deadlines of multiple projects

Everyone is familiar with the workplace challenge of juggling five “must do” projects at once. Some people even pride themselves on being multitaskers – something neuroscience has proven decisively cannot happen. At best, multitaskers become skilled at swapping quickly between thinking about one project and then another, but that shuffling on stage and offstage of competing ideas always takes up more mental energy than is acknowledged. Neuroscience has also shown:
  • When you switch between mental tasks, the possibilities of making mistakes rises. You can inadvertently take an issue from one project and mix it with another.
  •  If you absolutely have to be accurate about what you’re doing – like in a life or death situation – then you’d better focus on one thing at a time.
  •  The only feasible time when you can give the illusion of multitasking successfully is when you’re executing two well known and embedded routines which do not require much of your mental capacity to perform.
A brain science-based approach to dealing with the demand to juggle multiple projects at once is:
  • If you catch yourself trying to do two (or more) tasks at once, make a conscious decision to slow down instead and complete one task properly before moving on to the next. Don’t kid yourself into thinking you can multitask.
  • If there’s no way around it and you’re forced to multitask, pair an activity which requires clear thinking with another activity which involves automatic, embedded routines that you can do without conscious thinking.
  • Work hard to get all your decisions and thinking processes into a logical order. This will help you eliminate having a long list of decisions waiting to get made.

4. Finding ways to say no to distractions

Humans get distracted easily. The technologies of today are always-on and there are plenty of external distractions but internal distractions can be just as draining. We’re all genetically programmed to take notice of a rustle in the bushes because that might turn out to be life-threatening in a worst-case scenario. Neuroscience has shown:
  •  Thinking about ourselves is a common source of distraction, especially in adolescence.
  •  Distractions burn up our limited supplies of mental energy.
So what can you do about distractions?
  • If you have a very difficult task, remove all distractions completely so you can clear your mind and focus. This common sense idea genuinely boosts productivity.
  • Cut off distractions which do arise quickly before they gain momentum. Engaging in a physical act like phoning a supplier for your project can help you get back on track.

5. Meeting the pressure to perform

Mind science researchers have known there is a genuine “sweet spot” for peak performance for more than a hundred years now. They have found one of the key determinants of being in the zone is a person’s stress levels. If there’s no stress, casual performance results. If there’s too much stress, people won’t perform well at all. An optimal level of stress improves alertness and generates high performance. This same line of research has also found:
  • Stress and mental faculty arousal levels are highly individual. The point at which something is either engaging or stressful varies widey from person to person. We’re all wired differently in this area.
  • When you get into the zone of high performance, you’re engaged and energized and can be exceptionally productive.
So how can you get into the zone more frequently?
  • Start by being aware of your levels of alertness and interest throughout the day. Try and identify what triggers your entry into the zone so you can try and recreate those conditions again in the future.
  • Experiment with levels of stress and calibrate what amount of stress is helpful and what amount is too much. Learn what gets you motivated and what you find unhelpful.
  • Learn by trial and error what amount of “urgency” boosts your performance levels. Some people don’t feel motivated until an important deadline looms, others find too much urgency muddles their thinking processes. Figure out what works for you so you can then dial up more performance as and when required in the future.

6. Progressing past mental roadblocks

Neuroscience has established that cognitive impasses can and do arise. An impasse is a roadblock to your desired mental path or to a connection you’d like to make but cannot. Everyone experiences impasses from time to time, especially when you’re striving to be creative – and since around 50 percent of most work tasks today require creative inputs, this has the potential to be a major problem. Some other key neuroscience findings in this regard:
  •  It’s astonishingly easy for the human brain to become fixated on the same set of solutions to a problem everyone else uses. This is termed the “impasse phenomena.”
  •  One way to resolve an impasse is to let the brain idle a while. This both reduces activation of the wrong answers and allows some loose new connections to come to the surface as well.
  •  The more happy and relaxed you are, the more frequently fresh insights will come to you.
With these facts available to us, the things you can try whenever you come up against a mental brick wall are:
  • First try and take the pressure off. See if you can get an extension of the deadline, take a break and do something very different or something which relaxes your mind.
  • Next attempt to quiet your mind. See if there are some subtle ideas and connections which have always been there but you’ve been too busy to notice in the past.
  • Then try and look for fresh connections. Rather than drilling down into the nitty-gritty details, look for high-level patterns. This exercise may suggest some fresh directions to explore when you’re at a figurative standstill.
  • Try and simplify the challenge at hand back to its most basic elements. See whether doing this generates some novel insights which suggest new directions to head.
  • To try and increase your insight, use the ARIA model. ARIA stands for Awareness, Reflection, Insight and Action. Awareness means you think about the problem without trying to focus on it exclusively. Reflection involves examining your thinking processes for any flaws. Insights can then come in a flash when two previously unconnected ideas come together. It’s vital that you then get into action making the right things happen.
A is for Awareness, R is for Reflection, I is for Insight & A is for Action

2. Learn how to drive your mind’s director

The brain has an inbuilt character – a director – who stands apart from your active thinking processes. This director can take note of what’s happening and make decisions about how your brain will respond. To increase your effectiveness, activate your director. The more active your director subsequently becomes, the more control you’ll have over the way you think and act. “My proposition is that understanding your brain increases your effectiveness at work. This happens because with knowledge of your brain, you make different decisions moment to moment. There is a character I am calling your director. The director is a metaphor for the part of your awareness that can stand outside of experience. This director can watch the show of your life, make decisions about how your brain will respond, and even sometimes alter the script.” – David Rock Cognitive scientists first recognized in the 1970s there was an executive function in the brain. They came up with the technical term of “mindfulness” to describe this. Others have used terms like “self-awareness”, “meta-awareness” or “knowing yourself.” A distinguishing biological characteristic of the human race is we all have the capacity to step aside from our first-hand experiences and observe what we are thinking about at any given moment. The existence and operation of the director has nothing to do with spirituality, religion or any type of meditation. It’s a state of mind you already have the capacity to activate at any time and which becomes stronger the more often you activate it. Everyone has a director but actual levels of mindfulness vary significantly from one person to the next. “Self awareness is the capacity to step outside your own skin and look at yourself with as close to an objective eye as you possibly can. In many cases it means having a third-person perspective on yourself: imagine seeing yourself through the eyes of another individual. In this interaction it would be like me becoming the camera, looking at myself, observing what my answer was. Becoming self-aware, having a meta-perspective on ourselves, is really like interacting with another person. This is a fundamental thing that social neuroscience is trying to understand.” – Kevin Ochsner, Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, Columbia University Your director develops a “narrative” – a story line where various internal characters interact with each other. The brain uses this narrative to weave together the giant tapestry of information you have available into meaningful collections of facts and data. What then emerges from all this mental activity are “brain maps” which are sometimes called “networks” or “circuits.” Brain maps develop over time and with experience. Thus, an experienced lawyer would have brain maps for thousands of legal cases whereas an aboriginal tracker in outback Australia is more likely to have in place brain maps for finding water. Everyone has a “default map” which becomes active when you’re not really thinking about anything in particular. Your default map or default network is involved in planning, daydreaming and ruminating among other things. You also use your default map when you think about your history and your plans for the future. This default map processes any information you take in and adds interpretations. For example, when you’re sitting by a lake relaxing and a cool breeze springs up, your brain map reminds you this is a sign summer will be over soon and winter is approaching. You then start thinking about your favorite ski fields and the fact your ski suit needs a good dry-clean to get ready. “The default network is active for most of your waking moments and doesn’t take much effort to operate. There’s nothing wrong with this network; the point here is you don’t want to limit yourself to experiencing the world only through this network.” – David Rock What’s interesting about understanding narratives and brain maps is this: Director >>  Interpret the world through your narrative circuitry using your default map and others Director >> Experience the world directly through your senses and the input your senses are getting Your director can consciously and deliberately choose whether you experience the world through your brain maps or whether you take note of your direct experiences. You can choose whether you respond to events using solely the real time sensory input you’re getting right now or whether you’re instead looking at things more subjectively. When you make this conscious decision – meaning when you choose to activate your director – you change the functioning of your brain. The frequency with which you activate this director can then have a long-term impact on your brain. Note activating your internal director is hard to do, especially when there’s a lot going on around you or when you’re feeling pressure to perform. It’s easy to get so caught up in responding to the day-to-daydemands of a career that you might go for years without activating the director in a productive way. “Mindfulness is a habit, it’s something the more one does, the more likely one is to be in that mode with less and less effort. It’s a skill that can be learned. It’s accessing something we already have. Mindfulness isn’t difficult. What’s difficult is to remember to be mindful.” – John Teasdale, mind science researcher “One of the best ways of having your director handy is practicing using your director regularly. A number of studies now show that people who practice activating their director do change the structure of their brain. You can practice activating your director while you are eating, walking, talking, doing just about anything, with the exception of drinking a beer in the sun, which works only for a limited time before your director leaves to go party. (The neuroscience of all that will have to wait for another book.) Having a director close to the stage keeps your actors in line. As your director notices your brain’s quirks in real time, you get better at putting words to experiences which makes you faster at identifying subtle patterns as they occur. This skill increases your ability to make subtle changes.” – David Rock

3. Learn how to stay cool under pressure

Your brain is much more than a logic-processing machine. Every moment of your life, your brain is figuring out whether the world around you is dangerous or helpful and sending you signals through your emotions. Use your director to regulate your emotions and you’ll not only be able to stay cool under pressure but you’ll also become far more effective in what is, after all, a chaotic world. The human brain has an overriding organization principle – it will do everything possible to minimize danger (an “away” response) and maximize reward (a “toward” response). Generally speaking, the away response tends to be faster, stronger and longer lasting than the toward response. Three factors which commonly arise in work situations which can derail your brain from working effectively are: 1. Stress or Drama 2. Uncertainity 3. Expectations Neuroscience has provided some interesting clues and suggestions about how to address each of these potential derailers in productive ways.

1. Stress or drama

Researchers have found emotional experiences are connected to an internal brain network called the “limbic system”. The limbic system is large and links your personal emotional connections to thoughts, objects, people and events. The limbic system can be aroused easily and generally prefers to default to an away response based around minimizing danger. When it comes to your emotions:
  •  If you try and suppress them once they’ve kicked in, they will only grow stronger.
  •  Suppressing an emotion will also reduce your memory of current events significantly.
  •  Other people will also feel uncomfortable when it becomes obvious you’re trying to suppress a strong emotion.
With these facts in plain view, a brain friendly way to deal with emotions which may be generated by highly stressful situations at work will be:
  • Try stepping back and using your director to label an emotion when you first start to feel it. Labeling an emotion reduces arousal of your limbic system making it more manageable. If you actively use your director to observe your emotional state, you will become less likely to do and say things you regret later on.
  • Watch out for triggers which increase your emotional anxieties and work out ways you can reduce these factors before they kick in. Successful people learn how to harness pressure and use it to spur them to greater levels of personal performance. That’s a pretty good outcome to aim for.

2. Uncertainty

As already noted, the brain automatically seeks rewards and tries to move towards them. Certainty and autonomy are rewards for the brain. Uncertainty and reduced autonomy are viewed by the brain as threats. Therefore, strong emotions (or put into nueroscience terminology an increased arousal of the limbic system) will generally be associated with both rewards and threats. Some key findings in this area of research are:
  • The emotions which are generated around certainty and autonomy are so powerful merely noticing them and labeling them may not be enough to head them off. In that case, reappraisal is a better tool which can be used.
  • Reappraisals come in different varieties and strengths. You can reinterpret something and say to yourself: “You know, at first I saw this as a threat but now I see this as an opportunity to achieve something different and maybe better.” Or you can tell yourself it’s entirely “normal” to feel a little anxiety when facing a new situation. You might also deliberately choose to take the other person’s point of view and walk in their shoes and see things from their point of view.
The whole point is reappraisals are a key tool for staying cool under pressure. Some ideas on how to put this knowledge to beneficial effect are:
  • Watch for whenever feelings of growing uncertainty or reduced autonomy arise. Get skilled at noticing the first inklings of these feelings and as a first line of defense look for ways you can create more choices or a great degree of autonomy.
  • When you do feel strong emotions, get busy and active reappraising things in a better light. Find ways you can reinterpret events, reorganize and recalibrate your values, normalize an event or change your perspective.
  • Get into the habit of reappraising your own experiences on a regular basis to manage your internal stress levels. Be prepared to use this technique whenever you feel performance anxiety by reminding yourself: “That’s just my brain doing it’s own thing. I know how to address that.”
“As you learn more about your brain, you begin to see that many of your foibles and mistakes come down to the way your brain is built. You can’t think about a complex work situation and walk around the house at the same time. You can’t learn to do anything new and complex – such as learn to ride the subway in Japan without an interpreter – without your limbic system firing up from uncertainty, and in this state you’re going to make mistakes. It’s not you; it’s your brain.” – David Rock “There’s a famous finding in the psychological literature showing that six months later, someone who has become a paraplegic is just as happy as someone who’s won the lottery. It seems clear people are doing something to find what’s positive in even the most dire of circumstances. The one thing you can always do is control your interpretation of the meaning of the situation, and that’s fundamentally what reappraisal is all about. Our emotional responses ultimately flow out of our appraisals of the world, and if we shift those appraisals, we shift our emotional responses.” – Kevin Oschler, Columbia University

3. Expectations

Expectations arise whenever the brain becomes aware of a possible reward which lies in the immediate future. The brain loves to think about this topic, so much so in fact expectations can alter the data your brain perceives. It’s very common for people with high expectations to fit any incoming data around those expectations and to totally ignore anything that doesn’t fit. A branch of neuroscience called neurochemistry has even been able to show expectations change brain functioning. There is a chemical in the brain called dopamine which is linked to how you feel and your ability to think and learn. When you expect a reward, your dopamine level rises. If for any reason that reward is not forthcoming, dopamine falls rapidly. Science has shown the right level of expectations can have an equivalent effect as a clinical dose of morphine. Other findings in this area of research are:
  •  Exceeded expectations generate an increase in the production of dopamine which the brain views as a reward.
  •  Unmet expectations generate a large drop in dopamine level which in turn generates a downward spiral in the brain.
  •  A general feeling of expecting good things to happen in the future is the foundation building block of feeling happy most of the time.
Applying these findings to a business context,
  • In any situation, strive to become keenly aware of what your expectations of the possible result are. Ask yourself: “What do I honestly see as the best case scenario here?”
  • Once you’ve got your expectations out in the open, get into the habit of setting them a bit lower. Tell yourself you need to be realistic about what can happen in the real world to derail the best laid plans. Use logic to lower those expectations and get them to just the right level.
  • To keep yourself in a positive frame of mind, find practical ways you can keep coming out slightly ahead of your lowered expectations, even if those extras are in small ways. If you’ve kept your expectations low, you’ll be okay if you don’t get the reward and absolutely thrilled if you do. That will keep you on an even keel through the ups and downs of business.
  • Whenever your positive expectation is not being met, avoid getting down about the situation by reminding yourself it’s your brain that’s fudging your dopamine levels which is causing those feelings. Just knowing what’s going on beneath the surface can make you feel better. You can then do small things which will create an upward spiral.
“Great athletes know how to manage their expectations. They don’t get overexcited about possibly winning, as this ruins their concentration. And if they are worried about losing, they try not to expect that, either. Managing your expectations in any way requires, as with labeling and reappraisal, a strong director. When you can stop and notice your own mental state, you have the capacity to make choices about different ways of thinking. Great athletes observe the flow of their attention and make subtle changes to where their attention goes. Their director might notice expectations getting too aroused, and choose to dampen excitement, pushing the brain to stay focused on the moment instead.” – David Rock

4. Learn how to see the world from the brain’s perspective

Today, very few people work in isolation. To perform well, you’ve got to become adept at collaborating with others. If you understand some of the basic social needs of the brain, you’ll be better able to avoid some of the conflicts which frequently derail collaborative projects as a whole. The brain craves social connections and needs to feel safe among friends so if you can achieve that, you’re well on your way to success in working in with others. The problems that arise when people try and work together in project teams generally come in three forms: 1. Need to feel safe among friends 2. Need for a sense of fairness 3. Need for a sense of status Neuroscience has also generated some interesting ideas with regards to addressing the brain’s inbuilt social needs:
1. Need to feel safe among friends
One of brain science’s more surprising findings in recent years has been to show that the brain needs social connections just as intensely as the body craves food and water. The brain is much more of a social animal than was previously realized. Not only do social issues matter to the human brain but researchers have also found:
  • Safe connections with other people are vital for health and as a foundation for good collaboration. You need to work hard at creating worthwhile social connections in order to facilitate collaboration.
  • The brain is very quick to classify everyone you connect with socially as a friend or foe. The default setting for the brain is foe if there is an absence of positive cues being given.
With this in mind, a few things you might want to try are:
  • Whenever and wherever you meet someone new, take a few minutes to try and connect with that person on a human level as soon as possible. If you can find some common ground, this will reduce and possibly even eliminate your mind’s automatic threat response.
  • Befriend the people you want to collaborate with more in the future. Share personal experiences with them.
  • Signal to others in your network you want to connect at a human level rather than keeping things formal. Make it easier for them to relax around you.
2. Need for a sense of fairness
Every person on the planet wants to be treated fairly. This is an integral way the human brain is hardwired. Neuroscientists have even identified the region of the brain which deals with fairness issues in some detail. For many people, fairness can be more rewarding than money per se. Thus, when collaborating with others, it’s absolutely imperative that you’re perceived to be treating them fairly. Without this, you don’t have a prayer. To use this universal quest for fairness to best effect, especially when collaborating with others, some suggestions are:
  • Always strive to be candid, open and transparent when dealing with others on your team. A feeling of unfairness is easy to trigger so create a level playing field for all.
  • Find practical ways you can work to increase fairness in your community. You might volunteer, donate resources or give money to community groups who are working to help the disadvantaged. Get into action.
  • Be prepared for an intense emotional response whenever you discuss fairness with members of your team. Everyone will react the same way so be prepared for passionate input on this topic whether you want it or not.
3. Need for a sense of status
Status is the third major driver of social behavior. People will go to extreme lengths to protect and hopefully increase their status. Neuroscience has shown the human brain manages status using pretty much the same circuits as those used to manage all other basic survival needs. Researchers in this field have shown definitively:
  • Whenever you feel like your status in the world is on the way up, your reward circuits are activated and you feel great. This is why people spend so much time trying to boost their status at work.
  • Similarly, when you feel like your status is on the wane, your threat circuitry in the brain will become activated. In that frame of mind, even the mere act of talking with your boss or someone of a much higher status level will come across like a threat.
  • When everyone in the team is working towards increasing their individual status, there is a corresponding decrease in social relatedness.
Understanding the importance of status in this way generates a few suggestions on how you might use this knowledge to maximum effect: Be sensitive to and watch out for situations where members of your team might feel like their status is being threatened. Alleviate those concerns by sharing stories which illustrate your own humanity or your past mistakes. If you’re competitive by nature, play against yourself. Pay attention to the incremental improvements you’re making and reward yourself. Even small incremental improvements can generate very positive feelings within your brain. This is also nonthreatening to anyone else. Give people lots of ongoing positive feedback. This will reduce any perceived threats to status. Status is actually one of the five major social domains which are all treated by the brain as primary rewards or threats. The five domains of social experience which the brain treats the same as survival issues are represented in the SCARF model: S – Status C – Certainity A – Autonomy R – Relatedness F – Fairness Getting to know these five elements in more detail and depth can be extraordinarily helpful in business and in life. If you can find ways to increase several of the SCARF elements at the same time, people will walk through walls to be part of your team. By knowing the model, you have the key to making better decisions which will not only make you feel better personally but also significantly boost what your team achieves. “Think about what it feels like when you interact with someone who makes you notice what’s good about yourself (raising your status), who is clear with his expectations of you (increasing certainty), who lets you make decisions (increasing autonomy), who connects with you on a human level (increasing relatedness), and who treats you fairly. You feel calmer, happier, more confident, more connected, and smarter. You are able to process richer streams of information about the world, which feels like the world has gotten bigger. Because this experience feels so good, you want to spend time with this person and help them any way you can.” – David Rock “If you want to collaborate well with others you have to understand what kind of state others are in. Our brain seems to make sense of other people through shared circuits. When you witness someone else taking an action, it activates the same circuits in your motor cortex. Someone picks up a glass; your brain does the same. It’s through this capacity that you get this intuitive understanding of other people’s goals.” – Christina Keysers, neuron researcher “I love to learn but I hate to be taught.” – Sir Winston Churchill 5. Stop focusing on other people’s problems and come up with solutions Making any kind of change is hard and facilitating change in others is harder still. The brain is actually quite skilled in being able to change to match evolving external factors but it can also be changed by a shift in attention as well. If you can shift the other person’s attention from a threat state to focusing on a shared goal you can increase their performance. Don’t give constructive feedback – focus on solutions. The human brain is constantly changing in response to corresponding changes in external factors. If someone comes to you with a problem in a project you’re both collaborating on together, your natural inclination will be to start by giving them some “constructive” feedback. The problem with doing that is giving feedback or even making suggestions on potential ways forward is pretty much guaranteed to create an intense threat response in the other person. Their performance won’t improve because now they become fixated on the threat you’re posing rather than trying to move the project forward. A more productive way forward will be to get the other person to focus on their own internal thoughts and give themselves feedback. Put another way, if you can get the other person to activate their own director and look at their own internal thought processes, you stand a much better chance of getting that person back on track. Ideally, you want to trigger their reward seeking circuits instead. External feedback won’t achieve that – only internal or self generated feedback will do the trick. So how do you help people to change?
  • Start by accurately observing people’s emotional state before you even try starting to change them. Simply put, don’t try and influence people while they are in a strong Away state where they feel threatened. If you’re giving feedback to try and help them, desist. It will not get the other person in the right frame of mind.
  • Next, keep in mind the five elements of the SCARF model. Use this model to move people to the Toward emotional state before you attempt to make any changes: S – look for ways you can offer increases in status C – try and enhance certainty by reducing fear in some way A – enhance autonomy by letting them decide more R – build in more opportunities to relate to others F – increase the fairness levels everyone feels
  • Remind yourself people will either be paying attention to you or to their fears. They won’t be able to do both at the same time. Now you have their attention, get them to create the right new connections within their brain. A common strategy here is to tell a story that appeals to their emotions. Another approach is to ask people the right questions which gives them a gap to close. (What delighted our customers in the past and how can we do that more often?) Or a third approach is to establish goals they buy into 100 percent. Use whichever approach will best get people making the right new mental connections.
  • Once you’ve got everyone moving in the right direction, you then have to get people to pay repeated attention to the new circuits being built in their brains. The brain pays attention to lots of different things all the time so you have to keep reinforcing the changes you’re after. One of the best ways to do this is to get people to collaborate on some project that builds on that different thinking. Create systems and processes which require your team to talk about the project regularly. Hold a weekly meeting where anyone can share their fresh ideas and everyone has the opportunity to share their thoughts. Generating new brain circuits requires and demands repetition.
“All this points to the need not just to have a strong director yourself, but also to become better at noticing where other people’s attention goes. To change a culture, start by paying attention to everyone’s attention, and work out how to focus their attention in new ways. Or better yet, work out ways that other people can activate their own director, to focus their attention in new ways, and thus rewire their own brains. Learning how to change a culture means learning how to facilitate self-directed nueroplasticity. The more that people can refocus their own attention, the more they can work in synchrony, resonating with the same idea at the same time, just like an orchestra, or a single brain. Perhaps this is what happens when we create change in the world.” – David Rock “Being able to notice your own thinking process itself is central to knowing and changing your brain. Having a strong director gives you the ability to notice what is happening each moment, instead of acting unconsciously. With a good director you have the capacity to make choices, and these choices change your brain in terms of the neural, mental, and physical behaviors that follow. It is hoped that you have found some innovative ways to build up your own director that suits your lifestyle.” – David Rock]]>

One comment

  1. Great review dear friend, I just did read this book and trying to implement them in day to day life. What is your next book going to be?

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