Harvard Business Review Interview - "The Science of Thinking Smarter"

The May issue of Harvard Business Review features an interview with John Medina, author of "Brain Rules." The article is called The Science of Thinking Smarter (click to read the full article on the HBR site). Below is the 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.”
Read the full interview in Harvard Business Review


Psikus said...

Dear Medina,
Congratulations for your work: very clear, comprehensive and stimulating.
And I’m just beginning to take contact with it!...
Let me put you a question: are you saying that Jean Piaget was wrong, the child is not “instinctively” motivated, primarily curious to know reality, acting upon it; but simply reacting to everything that may cause a simple damage?...
Thank you for any answer, no matters it can to menace the survival of my established thought!...

David Rock said...

It's no surprise that John says he can't see many applications of the science to business. Making a connection requires bridging two domains, which takes a little knowledge in each, more so than a lot of knowledge in one.

The people who will be able to make these connections, who will find applications of neuroscience in the workplace, will be interdisciplinary across business AND neuroscience. For example, the director of a business school who has taught himself the language of the brain and can now see how useful many findings are, when trying to get cynical business students to learn about themselves and thus become better leaders.

The business world struggles to teach individuals to be more self aware and aware of others, to be better at decision making, to stay more cool under pressure, manage their emotions, and get on better with others. Neuroscience, at least the non-reductionist arms of it, has much to offer these challenges. For more see neuroleadership.org

Anonymous said...

The information in your book The Brain Rules is fascinating! I am a "lay person" that is an avid student of the brain/ mind / body connection. I consider this information critically important for our culture and where we find ourselves in our lifestyle. It's interesting how timely these discoveries have come to the public awareness.

Alessandra said...

A question:
what effects has the stress caused by the long-lasting wars (much longer than the 30-60 seconds acceptable level) had on the evolution of our brain and its ability to handle longer periods of stress? Wars have accompanied the humam race since the beginning.