psychology

Your Brain at Work

Would you have a great empire? Rule over yourself.

–Publilius Syrus

Leading a business (or even just a team) is rightly called “knowledge work” and for most people it requires far more mental effort than physical effort. But even though what we think and feel produces most of that mental effort, we rarely spend enough time thinking about how we think and feel.

For example, in the context of how our species evolved, some of our brain’s most primitive responses (i.e., the “fight or flight” response) are supposed to take over when there’s danger, the same way the nerves in our spine will pull our hand away from a hot stove before our brain even knows something is wrong. But that’s cold comfort when a confrontation with a co-worker or a critical word from a board member leaves us feeling (and behaving) like we’re literally fighting for our lives.

David Rock’s Your Brain at Work is no substitute for formal training in neuroscience, but it offers accessible and practical explanations of some of the ways that our brain’s evolutionary heritage ends up at odds with the demands of the modern workplace:

I am not a neuroscientist. I am a business consultant. I help organizations such as Accenture, EDS, Ericsson, and NASA improve their people’s performance. Over the course of a decade of this work, I’ve discovered, somewhat by accident, that teaching employees about their brains made a big difference to their performance, and often to their lives, too. When I couldn’t find a book that explained the most useful discoveries about the brain in simple language for people at work, I decided to write one.

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