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Bring Your Brain to Work: A book review by Bob Morris

Bring Your Brain to Work: Using Cognitive Science to Get a Job, Do It Well, and Advance Your Career
Art  Markham
Harvard Business Review Press (June 2019)

How cognitive science can help accelerate personal growth and professional development

Briefly, cognitive skills are the core skills your brain uses to think, read, learn, remember, reason, and communicate. Art Markham helps his reader to understand “how to develop your career using cognitive science. To do this effectively, you need to do two things: First, you must appreciate the three phases that define a career path: getting a job selling, excelling, and moving on. Second, you should become acquainted with the three brain systems that will help you achieve your goals: the motivational brain, the social brain, and the cognitive brain.” As a “bonus,” he also examines the jazz brain that involves a capacity to improvise with expertise.

Markham skillfully uses several reader-friendly devices. Probably the most valuable is a set of “Takeaways” that concludes chapters 2-10. Each consists of key points about “Your Brains” and “Your Tips.” This device will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of the most important material later.

Here are other passages that also caught my eye, included to suggest the scope of Markham’s coverage in Chapters 1-7:

o Making the Most of Your Career (Pages 3-5)
o Bonus Brain: The Jazz Brain (11)
o Consideration Sets and Values (23-25)
o Creating Your Consideration XSet (28-32)
o Your [Job] Application (36-42)

o The Interview (42-43)
o After the Interview (54)
o Negotiation Time: Fixing the Information Asymmetry, an dc, What Is Negotiation?(60-65)
o Reaching a Decision (71-73)
o Saying No (76-77)

o Learning as Gap Filling (83-91)
o Continuing Education (97-99)
o Communicating Effectively in Different Modes (106-109)
o Hard Conversations (117-121)
o Barriers to Productivity (130-146)

As I worked my way through Markham’s lively as well as eloquent narrative, I was again reminded of an observation by Alivin Toffler in Future Shock (1984): “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Literacy in years to come will be measured by how well developed most or (preferably all) of a person’s four brains are. As Marham explains, the motivational brain “is a set of mechanisms that get you to do something (or sometimes avoid doing something)”; the social brain “is the collection of systems that help you deal with other people”; the cognitive brain “is the elaborate set of structures that permit you to communicate, make excellent snap decisions on the basis of your experience, and engage in complex reasoning”; and the jazz brain is “our capacity to improvise…dealing with new [perhaps wholly unfamiliar] situations and revising a plan on the fly.”

The title of this remarkable book could well have been “Bring Your Brains to Work…for Better or Worse.” For you, which will it be?

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