Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How The Brain Works

Belle Beth Cooper has a terrific column at Fast Company today, focusing on 10 surprising findings from research on how the brain works.   I highly recommend reading the entire article.  Let's focus on a few highlights here.  Cooper cites some interesting research on multi-tasking. She writes:

Multitasking is something we’ve long been encouraged to practice, but it turns out multitasking is actually impossible. When we think we’re multitasking, we’re actually context-switching. That is, we’re quickly switching back and forth between different tasks, rather than doing them at the same time.  The book Brain Rules explains how detrimental “multitasking” can be:  "Research shows your error rate goes up 50%, and it takes you twice as long to do things."

Cooper also writes that, "Our vision trumps all other senses."  She excerpts from the book, Brain Rules again:  

Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%.  Pictures beat text as well, in part because reading is so inefficient for us. Our brain sees words as lots of tiny pictures, and we have to identify certain features in the letters to be able to read them. That takes time.

I found these two findings particularly interesting, because leaders often fail to adhere to these principles.  They find themselves multitasking very frequently.  Often they complain about how many meetings they attend, how little time they have to think, how many emails they respond to, etc.  However, they never confront the fact that multitasking may not be increasing their efficiency at all.  Instead, it may be harming their effectiveness.  Similarly, leaders often forget to communicate visually.  They give speeches, send emails, and the like... but they don't offer a good visual to tell their story.  I'm not suggesting the use of more Powerpoint!  I am thinking about the use of pictures, storyboards, and other mechanisms to communicate a vision or a strategy. 

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