Category Archives: Uncategorized

Top Brain Myths #8: Downhill after 40?

8. It’s all downhill after 40 (or 50 or 60 or 70).
Smithsonian: It’s true, some cognitive skills do decline as you get older. Children are better at learning new languages than adults—and never play a game of concentration against a 10-year-old unless you’re prepared to be humiliated. Young adults are faster than older adults to judge whether two objects are the same or different; they can more easily memorize a list of random words, and they are faster to count backward by sevens.

But plenty of mental skills improve with age. Vocabulary, for instance—older people know more words and understand subtle linguistic distinctions. Given a biographical sketch of a stranger, they’re better judges of character. They score higher on tests of social wisdom, such as how to settle a conflict. And people get better and better over time at regulating their own emotions and finding meaning in their lives.

RCG: One of the things that happens as we get older is we lose our patience more quickly. When a baby isn’t successful the first time she tries to walk, we don’t say, “Oh, well, I guess she isn’t meant to walk! I guess we’ll just have to carry her around.” We let the baby try and try again until she makes all the necessary connections and gets it right. As adults, however, we don’t give ourselves enough time or opportunities to get better.

The really cool concept here is that people can learn right up until the moment they die. There is no reason to feel stuck or locked-in, although we often do. Beginning with the assumption that everyone can learn, however, produces much better results than assuming the opposite.

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Happy Memorial Day

Remember why we pause on this day.
A fresh one-minute consultation will be posted Tuesday.

View from the outside – wasting time and energy

Omar Hamoui, founder and CEO of AdMob, was interviewed in the Sunday New York Times’ Corner Office feature this week. Hamoui is a successful Gen Xer who started started his career at Sony Pictures. Now he works at a nimble, lean company that is defining the mobile advertising arena. Here’s what he learned from his days with the big boys:

“Insecurity is incredibly damanging in a corporate environment. You end up making really poor decisions; a lot of things you do are based on fear, and eventually it will fail.

“There’s a lot of time wasted in conversations that don’t happen face-to-face. When there are backroom conversations and dealings – as opposed to direct conversations – it is less efficient and you get poorer outcomes.”

At RapidChange, we’ve found that too many people lack the self-confidence and the skills for direct communication. That’s where our Brain Tools enter the picture. They can save you time, money and focus your energies on execution rather than self-preservation.

Worth your time …

How One Company’s Turnaround Came From the Heart

By Bill Taylor, HBR

Can leadership turn around a failing company and still be true to its values? Even the most hard-charging leaders recognize that success today is not just about thinking differently from other companies. It is also, and perhaps more importantly, about caring more than other companies — about customers, about colleagues, about how the organization conducts itself in a world with endless temptations to cut corners and compromise on values.

Does This New Generation of CEOs Know What It’s Doing?

From Inc. magazine

What does it take to be a great boss? A decade ago, the rote answer might have included delegating wisely, setting crisp meeting agendas, and providing employees with great perks such as flex time. Today, in a more uncertain economic time, the rules of great leadership have changed.

Governing – or Managing – Through Fear Gets Us More Fear

By Mike Salomon for Good

Psychological research has shown that when fear is inserted into political debates, a desire to mitigate that fear and reduce the threat associated with it becomes the dominant policy response.

One-Minute Consultation: I have an open door policy, so why do I just get dumped on?

This week, Tom Jacobs offers his advice on how to make a “dump” and turn it into something both you and your colleague can benefit from.

Tom has 13 years of RapidChange experience, more than a decade of work with 3M and a well-established private practice.

Why stories make the point

Jonah Lehrer explains why stories make their points – and stick with us longer – than all the data and statistics you can throw at someone. The data is important – very important – AND you need stories to make that data real for most people.

Check out his story here.

1 Minute of Change … My boss thinks it is all my fault … what should I do?

Barbara Arney, an organizational development specialist with more than 13 years of RapidChange experience, talks about how to have that uncomfortable talk with your boss after he or she has criticized your work …

52 books in a year – the connections and the lessons

I read 52 books in 2009. That’s one a week.

It wasn’t a goal, so I really can’t say it was an accomplishment. Mostly it was an accidental gift from the Delta-Northwest airline merger. Still, there was something intimidating and exhilarating about looking back at my year in books.

Don’t worry, this won’t be a list of book reviews. I did, however, notice some interesting connections and clusters. Over the next few days, I’ll offer them up for your inspection.

Connection 1: Education reform needs to focus on the early years

NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

Whatever it Takes by Paul Tough

Spark by John Ratey

Three very different books that underscore how misguided our thinking is about education. NurtureShock describes research on how children’s brains actually develop, not how our current school systems wish they developed. Spark talks about the role physical activity plays in generating the chemicals children’s brains need to cement what they learn. And Whatever it Takes looks at the Harlem Children’s Zone and its leader Geoffrey Canada’s approach to closing the gap between middle class children (who come to pre-school knowing 8,500 words) and poor children (who come to pre-school knowing 1,500 words).

If you want to make a difference in public education, start with the learnings in these books.

Connection 2: We’re Learning A Lot About The Brain, but we’re not doing much with it

Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

Kluge by Gary Marcus

Mind Wide Open by Stephen Johnson

My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor

I read a lot of books about the brain this year, like I do every year. What struck me this year was how slowly the “mainstreaming” process has been for brain research. All these books are fun, insightful and mostly practical books. But my sense is that the people who read them are intellectually OK with what these books say; emotionally, they have problems applying those learnings into actions. In other words, the gap between what we know and what we do with that knowledge is getting wider instead of closing.

The research cited in these books should lead us to make some fundamental changes to the way we do business. We’re pursuing some of those changes here at RapidChange and we look forward to exploring others with our friends and clients as the year progresses.

Fire them or listen to them? That’s the question

On the plane from Philly to Atlanta I sat across the aisle from a business owner who spent 10 minutes before take off on the phone with a co-worker complaining about the performance and attitude of her staff. It sounded as if there was a mix of men, women, old and young. She was clearly “on her last nerve” and was going through about 10 of them, name-by-name, attribute-by-attribute. Her conclusion was she’d be better off just letting all dozen of them go and finding people with the “right attitude.”

“Don’t these folks realize they should be happy just to have a job. The last thing I want to deal with is their attitude or their suggestions,” she told her seatmate after being told to hang up her phone for the third time by the flight attendant. “This has been my business for 24 years and they act like I should be thankful to them.”

Her seatmate, a partner in a small architecture firm, then began a long sermon about how to whip people into shape, how to tamp down employees’ expectations and get people to toe the line. It was a classic “early 20th Century” approach to management that began with the premise that people are by nature stupid and lazy.

For the next hour they two of them engaged in a typical, “Ain’t it Awful” game loud enough so that the mood of the cabin brought down a few notches.

As we were all gathering our bags to get off the plane, I handed the woman my card. I had written the name of Daniel Pink’s new book, “Drive” on the back of it. I said, “You know, it will cost you a lot of money to try to replace 12 people. Before you go spending all that money and time, you may want to understand what motivates your employees. This book is a quick read. It might help you have a two-way conversation with them.”

She looked at me, accepted the card and stuffed it in her pocket – a little red-faced, either because she was mad I butted in or embarrassed that everyone on the plane had heard her problems. I figured that was end of that.

This morning, I got an email from her. She found the book in an airport bookstore, bought it and read it on her next flight.

“I don’t think I’ve done a good job of explaining to these people what motivates me,” she wrote. “I think they need to understand that first and then decide if they are motivated by the same things. In a company our size, if they are, I can work with them. If they aren’t, they probably aren’t working for the right company.”

Not exactly where I would have ended up, but a fair and appropriate response.

You have the answers. First you have to ask the right questions.

Feeling motivated to do more than survive?

What motivates you? If you’re a manager, perhaps the more important question is what motivates those you work with?

For a few centuries now, the world has behaved as if carrots and sticks were our only alternatives. Reward the good; punish the bad. If the bad don’t get better punish them more. Motivation is the “hot” topic now, especially given the tough times we’re in. Harvard professor Teresa Amabile offers new insights in a study summarized in the Jan. -Feb. Harvard Business Review. Daniel Pink writes a whole book about motivation, “Drive,” that came out this month.

Amabile says that, above everything else, people are motivated by progress. If people see forward movement, sense they are accomplishing something and can see tangible results, they are more likely to be engaged in their work.

Pink’s survey of “motivation research” gives a more nuanced lay of the land. From his consultant’s perch, Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose are the motivators of good work. In short, people want to control their lives, get good at something and be part of a group that has a greater mission than just making a profit.

The timing of these works is both wonderful and problematic. As we criss-cross the nation, autonomy, mastery and purpose are not what we hear about. Survival is the motivation we hear most.  “Purpose?” a client responded. “Surviving the next quarter, that should be purpose enough!”

The problem with survival is that sooner, rather than later, it becomes an excuse for “just good enough.” Often, your ability to “juggle” is mistaken for progress. The survival phase often lasts so long the future never arrives.

Here are some tips for clearing the motivation hurdles we see in workplaces today:

Juggling is not a long-term skill. As employees take on more, there is a sense they are working hardest at juggling responsibilities rather than completing tasks. As one mid-level manager with a manufacturing client told us, “I feel like all my projects are perpetually 70 percent finished. I really just want the time to complete one of them.” Managers need to work with employees to define the new current state as quickly as possible. The Reptilian Brain needs a sense of structure and order to allow us access to the problem-solving parts of our brain.

• Delay is not better than being wrong. There is so much more information available to “help” us make decisions that, in practice, people are overwhelmed and afraid of making bad decisions. The result is decision creep or paralysis. “It is so easy to find alternative viewpoints and to second-guess yourself,” an internet company manager told us. “They tell us we shouldn’t be afraid of failure, but who really believes that?” In this economy, waiting often means losing customers and opportunity. Leaders must provide the editing necessary for good decisions and set the example of nimbleness. Don’t be afraid to correct yourself when you find there is a better course of action. It shows that being wrong is not a permanent state.

• Winning is not the ultimate goal. Solving problems is the ultimate goal. After a few thousand years of binary thinking, we’re moving quickly into a cognitive age which defies defining progress as “right” and “wrong,” “left” and “right.” Despite the blind allegiance of media and politics to an Us vs. Them mentality, the companies and countries that are succeeding do so by focusing on finding answers for multiple customers and stakeholders. The more binary your company’s position, the more likely you will lose in the coming decade. A classic example is the American Auto Industry, which spent decades defeating the unions in court and in the workplace and yet solved almost none of its problems.

What motivation road blocks do you experience? How would you advise people to avoid them or remove them?

– Dan