Thursday, June 18, 2009

Brain power

I sometimes think that for a classic heart guy I am far too fascinated by the workings of the brain. But let’s face it, it’s the two working together that inspire great leaps of imagination. I feel, therefore I think. Today, neuroscientists are leading the charge to unravel our emotional lives via the electric impulses they can measure. What a perfect word ‘impulses’ is for the emotionally-led brain to be driven by.

Recently I was on a panel with Malcolm Gladwell, the high priest of unraveling the mysteries of science and a great storyteller. Now, thanks to a colleague Laurence Green, I’ve just come across a couple of books by a young (at 27, very young) scientist who might give Malcolm a run for his money, Jonah Lehrer.

Lehrer has been a regular writer for Wired for a while now and has also published in Malcolm’s bailiwick The New Yorker . His first book, Proust Was a Neuroscientist, tracked how creative insight connects with scientific breakthrough. Think of the great French chef, Auguste Escoffier, who like the inimitable Ferran Adria today at El Bulli, used his profound knowledge of how flavors respond to one another to transform the complex chemistry of cooking. Or Marcel Proust, the French writer who helped define the way memory works through his monumental novel Remembrance of Things Past. Or Paul Cezanne recalibrating the way we see by playing around with the classic laws of perspective.

Now Lehrer has tackled another theme even closer to my heart in How We Decide. Here he explores how emotions play their part in creating and shaping the brain’s responses as we make our thousands of decisions every day. If you’ve read my book, Lovemarks: the Future Beyond Brands, you may have noticed the fingerprints of Antonio Damasio all over it, and this brilliant neuroscientist features high in Jonah Lehrer’s pantheon too.

Lehrer is a great storyteller with a great story to tell – the story of the emotional brain. The tale of a radar operator who took action when the blip on his screen looked like an aircraft but felt like a missile, or the pilot who landed a DC-10 without hydraulics and with instinct.

Lehrer concludes with a simple rule of thumb. We all know it and we all know we should follow it, but as we get more experienced and more educated it gets harder to do. If it doesn’t feel right, or it feels too good to be true, it probably is. Let’s make How We Decide compulsory reading for anyone who wants to work in a company that has had a public bailout. Test them on the book’s principles, insist they come up with real world examples from their personal experience, and maybe we’ll end up with a smarter bunch at the top than we currently have.


Cyndi N said...

Great Food for Thought!
However, being a 'heart' person myself, it has always fascinated me that the first organ the ancient Egyptians removed and disposed of, in the process of mummification, was the BRAIN.
It was deemed unimportant.

Cyndi N

Chris Simon said...

I think science and pop cognitive is how the world decides anyway. Our human reason is often wrong and decision making forever complex. Communication industries have suggested otherwise with fairly strict left-brain and right-brain teachings, particularly of their own infrastructure. I strongly believe millions of copywriters might have made better planners and vice versa. And, perhaps, a few thousand planners that are better art directors. A few thousand web designers that are brilliant writers or musicians. The combinations continue.

If we consider that for two decades, millions of people with rational and irrational patterns are involved with billions of keywords and pages; the combination of math with beautiful art merged at a time when hybrids of right and left became the most challenging and still are.

If communication teachings had started changing twenty years ago, rather than only in the last eight or so, I bet there would be more art directors with healthy sprinklings of neuroscience about them. Or sales derived from beautiful art that actually understood something of the genetics, evolution and function it had been aimed at.

You know what I mean, guvnor?

ssfmoulton said...

Interesting post. I too am facinated by the Brain and have recently read 2 amazing books. The first is by world-renowned neuro-surgeon Dr. Keith Black, "Brain Surgeon" who says that the soul is in the brain not in the heart! And a second book by a neuro-scientist, Jill Bolte Taylor, "My Stoke of Insights" who had a stroke at 37 and lost the functions of her left brain but was able with only her right brain to observe her stoke and understand the center of inner, peace, compassion and grace...the right brain! I too am a heart person and after reading these two books had to shift my thinking regarding where the "soul", the seat of our inpiration, creativity and inner peace really resides.