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  • >>David Rock: When I'm not talking about the brain, I'm working with senior executives

  • from many large organizations and many technical people. I find my day job is kind of translating

  • what might be thought of as soft skills for a technical audience to, to understand how

  • to optimize processing.

  • So that's enough about me.

  • I want to talk about these four surprises.

  • The rational is overrated; massively overrated.

  • The emotions, we got emotions backward.

  • Social issues are primary; literally primary.

  • And attention actually changes the brain.

  • We're gonna spent most time on the probably the first and second and a bit, and a bit

  • on the third.

  • I'm gonna stop after each and see if you have questions or comments. And if I go too fast,

  • you can slow me down. If you want me to speed up, it's Google. I can speed up as well. Just

  • say: "get to the point." We can do whatever you like.

  • All right.

  • The rational is overrated. What do I mean by that? Let's do, give you a little, a little

  • metaphor.

  • When you're trying to hold information in mind; you try and actually hold information,

  • you're gonna start using your prefrontal cortex, PFC for short. I shorten it so it takes less

  • space in your PFC.

  • When you try to hold information in mind which is to understand, decide, recall, memorize,

  • inhibit; when you try to do that, you've gotta use your prefrontal cortex, which is a very

  • limited region of the brain.

  • Those of you who drove to work today, you didn't really use your prefrontal cortex to

  • drive here. You're using deeper regions that you can use without thinking. Like you can

  • drive without having to think about where you're going, if you've gone somewhere a lot.

  • If you're actually consciously thinking, you've got to use your prefrontal cortex. And this

  • is where the trouble begins.

  • Let me do a little experiment. What's - just call back, call an answer

  • out - what's one plus one?

  • >>Voices in audience: Two.

  • >>David Rock: No prefrontal cortex, right? No effort.

  • What's ten plus ten.

  • >>Voices in audience: Twenty.

  • >>David Rock: No prefrontal cortex.

  • What's 56 plus 175?

  • [pause]

  • [laughter]

  • >>David Rock: Laughter. No one wants to do it.

  • [laughter]

  • Okay. Do you get that - like why don't you want to do it? Why don't you wanna do it?

  • Because you've got to put in a bit of effort. You've gotta actually stop other things you

  • might be thinking about because when you use this process it becomes a serial process;

  • you can do one thing at a time.

  • You've gotta use effort and did you sense like a little bit of like a "Uh, oh. Don't

  • take me there." Like "I'm not going there?"

  • It's a subtle threat. The reason it's a subtle threat to have to think, is we evolved at

  • a time when resources - metabolic resources - were really limited; war and famine; we

  • lived to 20 at best; and so we're, we're kind of rewarded for minimizing mental resources.

  • It's very easy, in this country in particular, to make an absolute fortune basically helping

  • people put in less and less effort into any particular thing. Have you noticed that?

  • It's really difficult to kind of do the opposite. And in many ways Google exists because it

  • helps people find things with less effort, as well.

  • Okay. And you can measure that in milliseconds.

  • So using this cortex in, when you have to do an addition, we sort, we sort of avoid

  • it. We go: "I don't really wanna do that." It's a threat response. And that threat response

  • does something. So we kind of don't do it very much. And this is a bit of a, bit of

  • a challenge.

  • Now let me give you the metaphor to understand it.

  • If the amount of information you can hold in your prefrontal cortex at one time - sometimes

  • it's called working memory and it has other titles - if the amount of information you

  • can hold in this region is equivalent to say a cubic foot; a cubic foot, then the amount

  • of information that the rest of your brain holds is equivalent to about the Milky Way.

  • [laughter]

  • So they're kind of different. Do you get that sense? Right.

  • It's a little, disambiguous to say, but they're really massively different and this explains

  • a tremendous number of life's experiences. 'Cause what we do is we, we firstly try to

  • avoid using this region of the brain. We do things that we know how to do well, rather

  • than doing something differently.

  • And anything that we do do a few times, we quickly start to embed the pattern so we don't

  • have to think about it. And essentially when you're tryin' to make someone think, like

  • tryin' to change a pattern or change a system or install some software or do anything, you're

  • gonna get this threat response, because people are gonna have to think and we, they're attuned

  • not to.

  • So it explains a tremendous amount. But this is, this rational resource is what people

  • put so much kind of credence into. We've really got to be rational and Spock, Spock was all

  • about really being deeply rational. It turns out that rational is really, really overrated.

  • And it's overrated in two ways: firstly, what you can do with it; and secondly, it's actually

  • not how we solve most problems. The rational is not how we solve most problems, which I'll

  • come back to.

  • But there's some studies showing that every time you do a little math puzzle like that

  • or any conscious decision, you actually use up a limited bucket of resources.

  • Every time you make a decision, solve a problem, your blood glucose goes down and you performance

  • on the next task goes down. So it's a really of limited resource that depletes very quickly.

  • And you can actually start to look at this and, and sort of pull apart three types of

  • thinking that we do. And start to treat this resource of your, your prefrontal resource,

  • as something that you've got to kind of manage.

  • So Level 1 thinking is, is basically stuff like one plus one. You don't have to think.

  • And isn't it fun deleting emails? Does anyone else get joy deleting emails?

  • [laughter]

  • It's wonderful, isn't it? It's like: "Ah." You know I fly a lot and one of the things

  • I love to do when I'm flying, if I really can't do anything else, is delete. And one

  • time I was on a long flight. I saw the bottom of my email inbox.

  • [laughter]

  • Isn't that incredible? Just like never happens.

  • Anyway so you can do that without thinking.

  • Level 2: scheduling a meeting. You've got to hold things in mind: what time; where;

  • who; when. Maybe five seconds, ten seconds.

  • We're at writing a pitch; writing some coding; building a plan; building a strategy; that

  • takes a lot of glucose and it takes a lot of effort energy.

  • Now what many people do, they get to work, they do number one and then number two first,

  • and then they've got very little energy left for number three. And their brain actually

  • becomes tired and noisy. And I'll talk about the noisy in a moment.

  • And they become really, really ineffective. So the sort intuitive approach that we have

  • to tackling our day is wrong from the brain's perspective.

  • So this is one of the first things, the rational is overrated. It would be really rational

  • to get to work, start working on emails and work through. That's really rational. That's

  • not how your brain really wants to work.

  • Now, there's kind of a question that I pose to people often, and it's sort of one of the

  • questions in the book which is: if you truly respected attention as a limited resource,

  • what would you do differently?

  • If you really accepted that you've probably only got a few hours of really quality deep

  • processing time, Level 3 activity, what would you do differently, if you really like thought

  • about that? And it's, it's quite an important conversation to, to have, I believe, in an

  • organization that's processing a lot mentally.

  • Now, here's the challenge though: most problems we solve are not solved rationally. And in

  • the lab we see that the PFC not only isn't the source of the solution, but it's actually

  • the source of not finding the solution.

  • The prefrontal cortex rational resources actually stop you solving problems a lot of the time.

  • And in the lab we see that about 60 percent of problems that people solve, they actually

  • can't explain how they solved them. It's just, you have that experience all the time. You,

  • you, you walking to work and suddenly you get an idea. Where'd that idea come from?

  • You weren't working on anything. Where did it come from?

  • You're in the shower; you're on the treadmill; you're doing something and suddenly you have

  • this, this answer coming to you. Why couldn't you have that when you wanted to? You know

  • that feeling? Why couldn't you have solved that problem when you; well you can if you

  • understand your brain a bit better.

  • And it turns out that the very thing that you normally use to solve problems, is the

  • inhibitor of solutions if the problems are complex. It's the inhibitor. Your prefrontal

  • cortex is the inhibitor.

  • And there's a whole framework around this that I won't go into too far, but there's

  • a study of insight now - about the last five years there's been a study of insight and

  • this was published in my last book that a few people here have been reading called Quiet

  • Leadership - and you can actually now understand how insights occur.

  • And I'll give you just the Cliffs Notes, kind of the most valuable piece: and that is that

  • in order for insight to happen, you actually have to stop thinking. You have to stop any

  • form of, of, of conscious mental deliberate process to have these insights.

  • And the, there's a couple of complex reasons for that, but let me give you a demonstration

  • of it first, and let's see, kind of how you go with this.

  • This is a simple puzzle - you've basically got five words there: "Time flies like an

  • arrow." And they, it normally means time moves swiftly in one direction. Time goes straight

  • ahead; time goes forward.

  • Can anyone think of a different interpretation of those five words? Like quite a substantially

  • different interpretation? Anyone think of one? Over here.

  • >>Voice in audience: If you are keeping track of flies, fruit flies, and you are trying

  • to time them using [unintelligible].

  • >>David Rock: Very good. So that was a record for that answer. So you guys have very good

  • hiring processes, because of

  • [laughter]

  • people never get so quickly to an answer like that. Anyone else get one?

  • Yeah. Over here.

  • >>Voice in audience: Some, some type of fly called a time fly [unintelligible]

  • >>David Rock: Very good. Okay. Anyone else get one? Absolutely.

  • So what does it require to come up with these different solutions? What does it require

  • mentally?

  • You've got to kind of dampen down this solution in your brain. You've got to consciously

  • - it's pretty easy to do with just five words - much harder to do with a complex project.

  • But you've got to actually dampen down the existing solution and go, and go: "I'm gonna

  • think about this fresh. I'm gonna unlock the word time in this sort of structure it is;

  • in the sentence structure. I'm gonna reimagine it." Okay? And I'll give you, I'll give you

  • five of them.

  • Check the speed of flies the way you would time an arrow.

  • Check the speed of flies only if they are similar to an arrow.

  • Check the speed of flies the way an arrow would.

  • Time flies (a type of fly) are fond of arrows, which you got.

  • And there's some more if you get subtle, but many people have tremendous difficulty with

  • this, because they're not experienced at dampening down their own thinking. And clearly you guys

  • have developed great cognitive control; you know when it's time to kind of stop thinking

  • one way and try thinking another way. It's a very, very important capacity for maximizing

  • internal processing.

  • So insight involves stopping thinking about the problem, and allowing a completely different

  • solution to come through.

  • And this is a summary of Mark Beeman's research on insight and they see an Alpha wave which

  • is, you can see the purple line up there - the Alpha wave is the brain going into idle

  • just for a couple of seconds. The good news is it's not two months; it's two seconds.

  • But when you put the brain into idle it's like putting a car into neutral, and things

  • just kind of can come through.

  • The basic signs of this is a little complex to explain in a short time, but essentially

  • a thought like if I say: "Picture an elephant." If I say: "picture an elephant" that's gonna

  • be a connection between millions if not billions of neurons. And the electrical activity given

  • off as that circuit creates, is quite high. It's kind of a lot, it's like a high amplitude

  • electrical activity on an EEG.

  • But if you're trying to solve a problem, the solution that your brain comes up with in

  • your unconscious - it's your unconscious that solves it, not your conscious mind. The solution

  • might involve a circuit between only a few thousand or a few tens of hundreds of neurons,

  • and so there's a lot less electrical activity.

  • And electrical activity means arousal, and it means dopamine, and you need to be able

  • to notice spikes of dopamine to be able to notice information.

  • So put all that together you basically get the fact that if you're operating really with

  • a loud brain all the time, you're not able to see the subtle signals. And it's like you

  • don't kind of hear a quiet cell phone at a loud party, if it's really, really loud.

  • So the ability to have these insights very much comes from this ability to quieten down

  • your overall mental activity at any time. And people who can do that, people who have

  • strong cognitive control, which you can tell on a scanner before you give them a task;

  • those people have a lot more insights.

  • The other thing that I can tell you about insights that's kind of surprising is basically,

  • and, an answer to the question of where they come from. Where they come from is weak associations.

  • If you wanna have insights you've got to practice detecting weak associations.

  • And there's a story about this which is a true story; it involves a monk so, but it's

  • not an apochryphal story; it's a real story with a monk.

  • This monk went into Mark Beeman's lab to test out kind of what happens when he has insights.

  • And he went into the machine and he, he tried to solve problems with insight and he didn't

  • really solve any. And that was very unusual.

  • And Mark said to the guy: "What, what are you doing? What strategy are using?" And the

  • monk said: "I'm really focusing on the problem." And Mark said: "Right. Don't focus on the

  • problem. Focus on being unfocused. Focus on letting anything come into your attention

  • on being actually completely unfocused." And what happened was the monk became an insight

  • machine.

  • And this ability to detect weak associations is really, really important. And there's a

  • very, very strong correlate between this and anxiety and happiness. The more anxious you

  • are, the less of these weak connections you notice. And the more happy you are, the more

  • of these weak associations that you notice.

  • And we think it's because you literally open up your field of view when you're happy, and

  • you close down your field of view when you're unhappy. And that occurs internally and externally.

  • So the table tennis table and the pool table and all that stuff where you just kind of

  • goof off and just have some fun, that turns out to actually be very useful for complex

  • problem solving.

  • If you can shift yourself from anxiety to happiness, you'll get a pretty substantial

  • shift in the total number of problems you'll solve from insight.

  • So that may be explaining a few things that you already know, but to, to kind of summarize

  • this idea, we, we, we significantly over emphasize the rational. And it turns out that our rational

  • resources are very limited; a few hours a day. And our rational resources are not used

  • to solve most problems.

  • And so, just, I'll just pose a question to you before we go on. A question to you is:

  • what does this explain that you already do and what does it suggest maybe you do differently?

  • That's a kind of a question I pose for you, or you can pose a question for me. We'll just

  • see if anyone has any questions or comments before we go on to the second one.

  • Over here. From a neuroscientist. Fantastic. I get a immediate threat