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Posts tagged ‘IPNB’

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

the devil and email

How often have you written an e-mail and when you clicked “Send” immediately wished for an “undo” button? How often have you received an e-mail and spent minutes, hours, or days steaming with frustration?

The good news about e-mail is that it is a quick way to communicate at a distance without interrupting someone’s schedule. The bad news about e-mail is that since it’s not face-to-face, it can – and often does – produce unintended results.

When we meet people face-to-face, communication is primarily nonverbal: 53% face, 38% voice, 7% words (Mehrabian). Nonverbal cues include social context, facial expressions, tone of voice, body posture, and gestures. We use these cues to send and receive information. When we e-mail, we’re starting with only 7% of what is needed for effective communication. But danger lurks beyond the lack of nonverbal communication.

“When the brain receives insufficient data about others’ feelings, it just makes stuff up (Meng).” Our brain fills in the blanks, making assumptions about emotions and context. And not only do our brains make up the missing pieces, our brains automatically assume those made-up “facts” are reality. The problem grows larger when we recall that our brains are more likely to feel threatened rather than assuming the best.

If your boss comes into your office, sits down, relaxes by leaning back in the chair, and with twinkling eyes and a smile says, “Well, that could have gone better ….” You know that your boss isn’t anxious or upset by the nonverbal cues offered. However, if you received an e-mail with the same words in the subject line, your brain would immediately try to choose from fight, flight, or freeze. Even if your boss had no intention of attacking, your e-mailed response has the potential to increase the miscommunication. And the cycle escalates. Meng says, “I am not sure if the devil invented e-mail, but I am sure it made his job easier.”

Remember that the e-mail needs to contain information including context and emotional state, along with facts and beliefs.

Remember that if you are unclear, leaving room for questions about what you wish to communicate, the recipient’s brain will fill in the blanks.

To increase the likelihood that your e-mail will communicate effectively, keep the brain in mind:

  1. Choose a subject line carefully. Be concise and specific.
  2. Include language that clarifies the facts, your feelings, and what you believe about the subject.
  3. Use the SCARF model for social brain-behavior (The brain treats these five domains as essential to personal survival.):
    1. Status – Acknowledge actions and behaviors that are already supporting the desired actions and results.
    2. Certainty – Be clear about your expectations and needs including: who, when, what, where, and how.
    3. Autonomy – Allow the recipient to exert as much control as possible over required action items or requests; ask for their opinions and feelings on the subject matter.
    4. Relatedness – Be gracious; create a connection.
    5. Fairness – Be consistent and transparent.

Finally, as you review the e-mail, put yourself in the shoes of the recipient. Imagine that you don’t know the situation, that you don’t know the emotional context, that your brain will fill-in-the-blanks negatively. Then revise as needed.

Using e-mail effectively allows recipients to increase their connection with you and align with your goals. The impacts of increasing status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness include building connections, more easily resolving technical issues, and willing engagement. Hopefully these tips will make the devil’s job a little more difficult.

What strategies do you use to be specific in email communication?

Further reading:
Mehrabian, A. (1972). Nonverbal communication. Aldine-Atherton, Chicago, IL.
Meng, C. (2012). Search inside yourself. HarperCollins, New York, NY.
Rock, D. 2010. Your Brian at Work. Harper. New York, NY.
Siegel, D. (2010) Mindsight: The Science of Personal Transformation. Random House, New York, NY

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?
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

Together alone

I am guilty of contributing to the rise of what Susan Cain calls the New Groupthink. I have clients do exercises in “table groups.” I conduct brainstorming sessions. I observe companies creating tiny, open “collaborative” workspaces. They build on the concept with flexible workspaces – the kind where the employee gets a rolling cart and choses a new space each day.

Are these suddenly outdated? No. Research shows that people are happy in a workplace where they have friends, a trusting atmosphere, and a free exchange of ideas. But, research supports the other side of the equation too: the need for personal space to work in quiet and solitude.

Privacy and uninterrupted time allow for learning and creating new ideas. The freedom of space and time allows our brains to quiet and focus on the one task at hand. IPNB tells us that autonomy motivates and stimulates creative thinking. Cain quotes organizational psychologist, Adrian Furnham. “If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.” Companies who offer employees private space benefit from increased quality and quantity of work.

The counterintuitive evidence in the research is that people who collaborate remotely outperform other teams. While more research is needed, the hypothesis is that the electronic distance allows us to be “together alone.”

There is a balance: a need for interaction and idea exchange – and – a need for privacy and uninterrupted time to think. I’m considering how I structure my engagements, classroom, and work time.

What ideas does this stir for you?
(Note: Blogs fit into the “together alone” category!)

Read the full article: The Rise of the New Groupthink
Creating a space for critical thinking

Resource: Oblique Strategies

In one of those journeys that can only happen on the web, where link-leads-to-link, I discovered Oblique Strategies. The idea of Oblique Strategies is that disruption increases creativity. Disrupting the patterns we live and work by, allows our brains to take notice and generate something different. To break the pattern or shift your brainstorming session, try one of the prompts: “Emphasize differences” – “Use an old idea” – “What mistakes did you make the last time?” – “A line has two sides”- “What are you really thinking about just now?”

The original Oblique Strategies appeared on a card deck. These have since been translated to the web, iPod, etc. Try a prompt today!

Resource: Organization Development Processes

Improving your brainstorming sessions

The quickest way to improve brainstorming sessions is to put away anything with a keyboard.

Why? research in neurobiology demonstrates that using our hands to write and draw transforms experience. Manipulating a writing instrument activates multiple neural pathways: visual, spatial, sensory, and motor including both sides of our brain as we process graphical and factual data with multiple senses. Drawing on a flip chart or paper with colored markers to draw images alongside the text activates additional neural pathways. Employing a writing instrument, creates attention and focus as we form letters and pictures, looking at where the instrument touches the paper. Even the hand we’re not writing with is active in keeping the paper aligned.

[With a typewriter …] the word no longer passes through the hand as it writes and acts authentically but through the mechanized pressure of the hand. The typewriter snatches script from the essential realm of the hand – and this means the hand is removed from the essential realm. The word becomes something ‘typed.’ … Mechanized writing deprives the hand of dignity in the realm of the written word and degrades the word into a mere means for the traffic of communication. Besides, mechanized writing offers the advantage of covering up one’s handwriting and therewith one’s character. – Martin Heidegger

Writing with pen, pencil, or marker is an embodied experience that increases learning and generative thought processes. What impacts of this research can you imagine for writers? Educators? Trainers? Strategists? Designers?

For inspiring ideas on going analog in brainstorming, check out Duarte’s photos and blog post about advanced stickynoting.

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

The naked presenter

At first glance, Garr Reynolds’ new book, The naked presenter, is another entry in the “how to deliver presentation” genre. But as I read through the book, I found myself making notes. The notes were not about how to improve my presentations, but about how I approach change management.

As an organization development practitioner, I spend my time working with change management. This morphs through training – to teach something new, facilitation – where knowledge and ideas are exchanged,  and, communication – designed to inform, motivate, and effect behavior change. Reynolds writes about all of this and more. He integrates information from interpersonal neurobiology, personal observation of his surroundings, and jazz musicians.

He does write about making effective presentations and improving public speaking skills. But the most important idea I encountered in the book is that “lessons are everywhere.” It is up to each of us to inquire into everyone and everything we encounter, asking how it impacts who we are and what old and new lessons we take away.

Each of us has many opportunities to connect with others. Knowing who we are and what matters is the foundation. Knowing why we are speaking, along with how and what we are communicating, allows us to build and effect change.

If you like to walk around the neighborhood block backward, seeing the roof lines and landscape from a new perspective, I recommend reading this book and watching for patterns that reach far beyond presentation design.

Meeting of the minds

Flint Hills - Storm at Sunset

I like “clicking” with people in conversations – where it’s almost as if our brains are playing leap-frog. It’s fun being in sync. Now, new research from Uri Hasson of Princeton, highlighted in this month’s Harvard Business Review, demonstrates that successful communication results in a biological “meeting of the minds.”

With speaker and listener connected to functional MRI (fMRI) machines, the researchers demonstrated that the speaker’s brain and listener’s brain scans displayed widespread overlap or mirroring. Using follow-up comprehension assessments, they showed that neural mirroring increased as comprehension increased. When listener’s comprehension was highest, the listener’s brain activity appeared slightly before the speaker’s activity – meaning active listeners were able to anticipate what would be communicated next.

While this study was done without face-to-face communication (the subjects were inside of scanners), the researchers propose that face-to-face communication would create even stronger neural coupling. This due to the fact that mirror neurons discharge both when performing an action and when observing an action. Interestingly, neural coupling does not occur when hearing foreign languages spoken.

Speaking and listening are a shared function of two brains. Since reading these articles, I’ve been reconsidering effective communication. How do we work to intentionally use language patterns and words that are most likely to create neural mirroring and increase comprehension? In an organization or educational setting, how important is an agenda or pre-work for laying a common foundation for enhancing communication?

How does this impact your ideas about communication? What are the practical things that help you to be “in sync” in a conversation?

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