In recent years, a number of books have discussed recent research in neurological science and its relevance to traditional theories about knowledge and how we process it. Among the many revelations, Charles Jacobs notes in the Introduction to this book, “perhaps the most surprising discovery has come from mapping the path information travels from our sense organs to our awareness of the world we live in. Not only are the perceptual areas of the brain involved, so are the areas responsible for our memories, our feelings, our beliefs, and our aspirations. Our minds aren’t objectively recording our experience of the world; they’re creating it, and the creation is influenced by everything elder going on in the brain. Each of us lives in a mental state of our own making…Rather than sharing the same world, we all inhabit a world that is uniquely our own.”
Jacobs asserts that “much of what is taken for granted as the right way to manage is actually the opposite of what we want to do,” that the world we experience exists only in our heads, our thinking is never objective, and our emotions lead to better decisions than our logic. Given that, what specifically does he recommend to his reader?
1. Leverage the mind to stop doing what doesn’t work (and never will) so that it can concentrate on doing what does work. There should be continuous improvement of what is most important.
2. Stop offering feedback to direct reports. It is usually ignored and often resented. Instead, ask questions, listen intently to responses, and then repeat them back in your own words.
3. Workers appreciate recognition much more than they do rewards. In fact, rewards frequently diminish rather than increase their motivation.
4. Eliminate preoccupation with short-term goals because they are distractions; focus on achieving long-term objectives.
5. Anticipate the future by identifying — and preparing for – the most likely contingencies. That will help to make better decisions, and to influence other people to do what must be done in preparation for a future that is never predictable but nonetheless.
The lessons of brain science have far reaching ramifications, but with immediate practical applications.
6. Consciously use natural selection as a “lens” through which to view your experience. “All of a sudden, you’ll see things differently. You’ll start to realize how much of what you do is a function of your relationships with others and how much of what they do is a function of their relationships with you.” Using it as a lens will also serve as an alert to how much we’re a product of our environment and how wee can shape it to our advantage.
Jacobs makes a compelling argument that humans cannot possibly have the direct knowledge of the physical world they think they do. All that can be known is the representation of it in the brain in the form of ideas, “so the world we experience is mental, not physical.” We all see it differently. Therefore, the challenge for transformational leaders is to change how others think, to rewire their minds, and one of the most effective ways to do that is “to package the right kind of ideas into a story and to effectively communicate it to the organization.”