The Leading Brain: A book review by Bob Morris

The Leading Brain: Powerful Science-Based Strategies for Achieving Peak Performance
Friederike Fabricius and Hands Hagemann
TarcherPerigee/Penguin Random House (February 2017).

Here are several science-based strategies that can drive peak performance

Although by no means an authority in the multiple dimensions of neuroscience, I am committed to increasing my understanding of what the brain is and does…and especially my understanding of what more it can do if given the chance. For that and other reasons, I am deeply grateful to Friederike Fabritius and Hands Hagemann for the abundance of information, insights, and counsel they provide as they examine “powerful science-based strategies for achieving peak performance.” Readers will also cherish their brilliant use of a section that concludes each of the chapters. This material will help to facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of “Key Points.”

For example, in Chapter 4, “Manage Habits”:

o Our brains prefer the path of least resistance. In order to trailblazer a new neural pathway, the brain must be convinced that all that extra effort is worth it.

o Establishing good habits and getting rid of bad ones involve the same basic skills: goal stetting and motivation, getting started, and staying on track.

o Goals that look good on paper have no guarantee of being achieved. In order to be successful, your goal must be emotionally relevant.

o People who don’t have an emotional stake in the process are unlikely to change. Unless they can anticipate meaningful reward or threat, they might go through the emotions but fail to make the necessary effort that change requires.

o The biggest obstacle to getting started is procrastination. The way to outsmart the brain’s natural aversion to change is to use kaizen, which involves taking very small steps. That enables you to steadily make progress without stetting off your brain’s evolutionary alarm bells.

o If you want to make a change that lasts, good intentions aren’t enough. You need to attach your new routine to a trigger. These trigger/routine combinations are technically referred to as implementation intentions but are better known as “if/thens” or “when/ thens.”

In this context, I agree with Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Also with Samuel Johnson: “The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”

And then at the conclusion of Chapter 5, “Unleash Your Unconscious”:

o Your unconscious runs the show. Even when you make what seems to be a conscious decision, your unconscious brain does most of the deciding. These are the key points:

o When given limited time and limited information, experts often make better decisions. The tight restrictions force the brain to tap into the power, speed, and calculating capacity of the basal ganglia, where acquired expertise is stored.

o Intuitive decisions made by experts are often superior to rational conclusions arrived at through conscious calculation.

o Unlike their expert colleagues, less experienced leaders typically need more time, require more information, and usually will have to do a lot of the processing, with the help of the slower and less capacious PFC.

o The fact that experts frequently make their best calls unconsciously can make it difficult to explain how they arrived at them. Forcing an expert to supply an after-the-fact justification for an intuitive decision may lead to hesitation and second-guessing that could underline the original action.

o To optimize the conditions for rational processing, find a quiet corner, minimize distractions, and concentrate on the problem, solving it logically step by step.

o If the problem you have is a creative one, your overall mood, your level of focus, and the atmosphere around you can all play a role in triggering a sudden flash of creative insight.

o Research has shown that a sunny disposition can increase the likelihood of an “a ha!” moment. So if you’re confronted with a creative conundrum, try to make sure that you or the problem-solving team are in a good mood.

For years, I have viewed the mind as being what the brain does and strategies as “hammers” that drive tactics, “nails.” What Friederike Fabritius and Hans Hagemann explain so well are the nature and extent of how the humans process information both consciously and unconcsciously as well as both rationally and emotionally. Obviously, no brief commentary such as mine could possibly do full justice to the scope and depth of their coverage but I hope I have at least indicated why I think so highly of them and their work.

* * *

I urge those who share that high regard to check out these resources: Guy Claxton’s Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less; Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow; and Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, co-authored by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. If you really want to put some white caps on your gray matter, check out Gerald Edelman’s Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On the Matter of the Mind.

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