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Posts tagged ‘Interpersonal Neurobiology’

multitasking or multiswitching?

“Wrong!” I want to shout every time I read that multitasking is a myth. I can write a blog post, answer email, keep an eye on my incoming text messages, and have a mid-morning snack.

What I’m doing is asking my brain to constantly make switches. Ready, set, go. Start writing. Switch, read email. Switch, take a drink. Switch, compose answer. Switch, take a bite. Switch, read a snippet from an article. Switch, write some more. Switch, quickly read and respond to a text message. Switch, … .

Our brains are amazing organs. Every time I automatically make a switch, my brain has to seek a stored memory and reaction, then re-route seeing, hearing, thinking, muscle action, and coordinate a response.

“See? I can multitask.” I want to believe that I am organized, quick, and efficient. I can do it all. But after years of multitasking, it is starting to sink in: I’m not multitasking – I’m “multiswitching.” The fact is, when I switch my attention, I become less organized, quick, and efficient. This is a hard lesson, one I didn’t want to believe in spite of a convincing, growing body of research: when we divide our attention we waste time and lower our work quality.

How did I learn this lesson? I sat in my reading chair one day and picked up a book. I’d been eagerly awaiting this book and had bought it in paper not as an e-book. I started reading. Less than three pages later I was answering a text message. Then my email “pinged,” and I was off to my desk. The next afternoon, I had to start over from the beginning. The same thing happened. I stared from my desk at my reading chair that is less than four feet away. Had I lost the ability to read a book? I looked at the pile of four books, all partly read. It was clear that the answer was, “Yes.”

I began an experiment. I set a timer for 10 minutes. Could I stay focused for 10 minutes on my book? I looked up many times, but I made it. 20 minutes? After several days, I found I could sit and read again, even become absorbed in my book.

I still “multiswitch” much of the time. But I continue to create experiments, working to regain my ability to focus on one person, one task, one thing at a time.

What experiment will you try to move beyond “multiswitching?”

*Image credit: Unknown creator, Shambhala Sun, May 2014

Freud, Kandinsky, and Mahler meet in a coffee shop

“People” who give advice about writing blogs say that an entry should always be short – terse and concise. But, I’ve been processing information about neuroscience, creativity, history, art, and education – asking how this all fits with organization development. This reflecting process doesn’t fit neatly onto one computer screen. If you’re interested in the same, I invite you to read on and add to the conversation … .

Mixing together at coffee shops, museums, and parties, Freud, Kandinsky, and Mahler were some of the scientists, painters, writers, and musicians who lived in Vienna, Austria at the opening of the 20th century. It was an exciting place and time. Biology, anatomy, chemistry, and physics stirred together giving birth to neuroscience. Painters, musicians, and writers experimented under the influence of new ideas from scientists and philosophers.

While I think of Freud as one of the fathers of psychoanalysis, Freud began his career studying anatomy. He was part of the group of scientists at the University of Vienna medical school who studied the brain, deconstructing one cell at a time – and anticipated the neuron doctrine. Another, Santiago Ramón y Cajal was a painter and anatomy specialist who ultimately theorized that neurons are the brain’s building blocks. Biology, neurology, fine art, and human behavior intersected.

Is it important that Ramón y Cajal was a painter? Eric Kandel, In Search of Memory, writes, “He brought to his task an uncanny ability to infer the properties of living nerve cells from static images of dead nerve cells. This leap of the imagination, perhaps derived from his artistic bent, enabled him to capture and describe in vivid terms and in beautiful drawings the essential nature of any observation he made (p. 61).” The suggestion made by Kandel and others is that Ramón y Cajal used his cross-disciplinary skills to make discoveries.

The connections formed across disciplines in Vienna included interactions with musicians like Mahler who were bridging from Mozart and Beethovan to a new school of composers. It included interactions with the expressionist and early abstract painters including Klimt and Kandinsky in Vienna and Cézanne and Picasso elsewhere in Europe. Klimt in particular interacted with scientists and artists; he was influenced by Darwin and the research coming from London’s Royal Society. For example, Klimt’s paintings, Adele Bloch-Bauer’s Portrait and The Kiss include geometric, cell structures hidden within the figure.

These artists and musicians were using the ideas of deconstruction to experiment with perspective, time, and form. Eric Kandel, The Age of Insight, reconnects these: “Visual perception begins in the retina as an information-processing system that deconstructs the form of objects and faces and then turns the critical components of those images into a neural code; this code is reflected in a pattern of action potentials in the brain (p. 219).”

Kandel asks if there is a common set of neurological skills underlying all of this creativity? While not implying that scientists, artists, philosophers, and musicians can swap places, his argument is that creative insight is universal. He suggests that creativity depends “on abilities like constructing metaphor, reinterpreting data, connecting unrelated ideas, resolving contradictions, and eliminating arbitrariness (TAoI, p. 458).” While “arbitrariness” is different for a quantum physicist and a painter, Aha! moments arise from similar strategies: planning, then relaxation, and even dreaming.

Research in neuroscience demonstrates that “the brain is a creativity machine. It searches for patterns amid chaos and ambiguity and it constructs models of the complex reality around us. This search for order and pattern is at the heart of the artistic and the scientific enterprise alike (TAoI, p.498).”

As I consider organizations, I observe a necessity for knowledge of science, philosophy, art, and, even, music. Organizations need external knowledge of logic and analysis along with internal knowledge of human behavior. They need strategy, engineering, and planning along with emotion and perception that allow creativity and adaptability. They need to creatively construct and destruct. The music flowing through the headset of the engineer and project manager can shift neural pathways. All of this works together, generating Aha! moments.

Recently a student asked which business books and magazines she should be reading in order to grow in understanding of organization development. Along with the usual suspects like Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Wired, I asked her if she had a membership at the local art museum, plans to attend concerts with friends, and a hobby that engaged her emotions and mind.

I close this reflection with a quote from biologist Stephen Jay Gould:

I want the sciences and humanities to become the greatest of pals, to recognize a deep kinship and necessary connection in pursuit of human decency and achievement, but to keep their ineluctably different aims and logics separate as they ply their joint projects and learn from each other. Let them be two musketeers –both for one and one for both– but not the graded stages of a single and grand consilient unity (p. 197).

What generates Aha! moments in your life? Do you engage with others who have broad interests?
How can organizations intentionally embrace science and the humanities?

Gould, S. J. (2003). The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister’s Pox. Harmony Books, New York.
Kandel, E. R. (2012). The Age of Insight. Random House, New York.
Kandel, E. R. (2006). In Search of Memory. Random House, New York.

Can imagination be taught?
Creativity
Brain Pickings: The Age of Insight

persistance of memory – What have you learned today?

My Aunt Elizabeth and I were talking last night about the fact that each of us remembers different shared experiences. What she recalls easily – I do not, and visa versa.  I remember my Uncle Don taking us for a drive on Interstate 80 in Nebraska before it was paved. We drove down the paved ramp at Beaver Crossing onto the eastbound lanes, then covered only in gravel. We cruised with the convertible top down at 20 m.p.h to the next exit at Milford. What makes that memory so strong for me? Are memories personal or are they constructed through the stories we tell?

Neuroscience is still exploring how memories are made and persist. Yi Zuo of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and her colleagues assessed how dendrites (branches between neurons) form in mice based on three different types of activities, compared to a control group that did nothing out of the ordinary. Her results: dendrites appear, grow, persist, and disappear in response to training and learning.

 “I think it is a very active process,” Zuo says. “The neurons work very hard to form clusters, to place spines close to one another. Even after a short training period on the first day, a mouse makes a lot of new spines—they might make double what they make in an ordinary day, but these spines are not clustered. Only after repeated training are they clustered.” Previous work in her lab demonstrated that new neural connections form within an hour of the training session.

As human beings, memories are created because our brains are constantly open to change. Memories grow and persist when we are actively experiencing, discovering, learning, and telling our stories. Life-long learning is essential.

What are you actively learning and discovering? What memories have shaped you or your organization?

The Biology of Learning
Spine Tuning: Finding Physical Evidence of How Practice Rewires the Brain

Communication that clicks

People sit next to each other in a room. If someone says the word “cat”, everyone’s brain circuits dedicated to the knowledge of cats activate – even though there is no cat in the room.

We know that speaking and listening is a mutual activity. Research in Interpersonal Neurobiology has been demonstrating these connections for a decade. But what do we know about more everyday conversations, ones that we might have in a meeting, the break room, or at the dinner table?

We know when we are “clicking” with a person or an audience. And we know when things are falling flat. How can we increase the chances of connecting effectively?

You are invited to read our new short article: “Communication that Clicks

Bibliography for the Biology of Learning

Recently I had the privilege of leading a seminar on the Biology of Learning. My goal was to bring multiple disciplines to bear on the question of the intersection of the research into interpersonal neurobiology and education and organization development. With my background in cell biology and organization development, this is an intersection that I find fascinating. Below is the bibliography that I used for this seminar. I hope those interested in IPNB and education will find this resource useful.

The Biology of Learning 

Buxton, B. 2007. Sketching User Experiences. San Francisco, CA: Elsevier.

Cozolino, L. 2006. The Neuroscience of Human Relationship. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Doidge, N. 2007. The Brain that Changes Itself. 2007. New York, NY: Viking.

Gardner, F. L. & Moore, Z. E. The Psychology of Enhancing Human Performance. New York, NY: Springer.

Geake, J. G. 2009. The Brain at School: Educational Neuroscience in the Classroom. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Iacoboni, M. 2008. Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect with Others. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Johnson, S. & Taylor, K. (Eds.) 2006. The Neuroscience of Adult Learning. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Kegan, R. & Lahey, L. L. 2009. Immunity to Change. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Press.

Kegan, R. 1994. In Over Our Heads. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Press.

Kelley, T. 2005. The Ten Faces of Innovation. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Medina, J. M. 2008. Brain Rules. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.

Pink, D. H. 2009. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

Rock, D. 2010. Your Brian at Work. New York, NY. Harper.

Schwartz, J. M. & Begley, S. 2003. The Mind & The Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force. New York, NY: Harper.

Siegel, D. J. 2010. Mindsight. New York, NY: Bantam.

Siegel, D. J. 2007. The Mindful Brain. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. 2005. Understanding by Design (2nd Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

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