Technological Advancements Archive

Brain Mapping

Brain Mapping

Space, the final frontier” introduced Star Trek’s original series, but assessments of our human knowledge indicate that the space between our ears is more of a frontier than the space above our heads is. That is a major reason the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has proposed that the Next Big Thing be “to solve biology’s most mysterious problem: how the brain works.” (“Only Connect” [The Economist, February 23, 2013 edition]).

The project’s scale will be on par with the public and private investment made in the Human Genome Project, thus focusing funding and federal attention. Regardless of the project’s outcome, the main point is that knowledge of our brain is sparse. In fact, analogizing it to a road map:

It is like trying to navigate America with an atlas that shows the states, the big cities and the main highways, and has a few street maps of local neighbourhoods, but displays nothing in between. (“Hard Cell” [The Economist, March 9, 2013 edition]).

The secondary point is that scientists are becoming increasingly confident that technological advancements make this doable. Combine our low knowledge base with these advancements, and a strong case exists for the greatest advancement in this decade being in understanding ourselves. This will advance management theory well beyond its classical 1950’s roots of management by objectives much as it has spawned Behavioral Economics from Traditional Economics.

Thus, rather than view individuals as rational actors with free will (more), we will move toward viewing ourselves as heavily influenced by emotions, conditions and many other biological, genetic and chemical functions. Employers making this jump early will have a distinct advantage. So, if you’re looking for a new frontier to tackle, try examining the one between your ears. No one else really knows what’s there.

 

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OZA No 292 (Emotion & Intuition as Foundation for All Decisions)One of the more contrarian perspectives that has helped me appreciate people’s decisions is that emotions and its interpretive big sister, intuition, form their foundation. Even a logical decision comes about because of a person’s emotional preference for logic.

While this does not mean logic, reason and rationales are not involved; it does mean they take a secondary, dependent role similar to the way the frame of a house is dependent upon the foundation. In our decision-making, it means we select the rationale (frame) to fit our emotional preferences (foundation), which we more commonly experience as rationalizing.

Increasingly though, as technology and research methodologies advance, science supports this. For instance, the article, “Captain Kirk’s Revenge” (The Economist, December 23, 2006 edition), discusses a person who lost his emotional functions in his brain could not make decisions even though the rational portions were in tack. However, those who lost their rational functions could still do so if their emotional ones remained.

This is understandable when we consider people need motivation to make decisions and motivation is emotional. Rationales alone won’t motivate unless they stimulate our emotions. That is why the root word of emotions is “motion.” It’s active, whereas logic, reason and rationale are inert.

We further see the progress in this perspective with the research of Roderick Gilkey, Ricardo Caceda, and Clinton Kilts. In their article, “When Emotional Reasoning Trumps IQ” (Harvard Business Review, September 2010 edition), they found that the best strategic thinkers showed “significantly less neural activity in the prefrontal cortex [rational functional area of brain] than in the areas associated with ‘gut’ responses, empathy, and emotional intelligence.”

Since we are often experiencing these emotions on an unconscious level, we could feel completely rational. Consequently, all our decisions are emotional ones. We just might not believe it.

 

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Many chemical reactions occur in our bodies. This we know, but how they affect our decisions and actions is another matter. The most commonly known (and often joked about) chemical reactions affecting our moods, decisions and actions are puberty, menstruation and menopause. Yes, I know some only affect women directly, but a women experiencing one of these chemical reactions also affects the moods, decisions and actions of the men in their lives.

In the article, “Rising to the Occasion” (The Economist, October 30, 2010 edition), the research of Patrick Markey of Villanova University and Charlotte Markey of Rutgers focuses on the another chemical reaction: the production of testosterone. Their research:

. . . suggests that males involved in a competition will experience a rise in testosterone levels if they win, and a fall if they lose.

High testosterone levels encourage aggressiveness and risk taking. Testosterone encourages men to rise to a competitive challenge even if it’s nothing but flipping a coin toss to see who wins. Yes, it’s interesting, but it goes deeper than that. It challenges the classic model of free will (more).

In other words, old school says we are what we think and we control what we think. However, what we think could be the result of chemical processes beyond our control. For example, are we becoming more aggressive and riskier because of a conscious decision to do so or because of a chemical process that kicks under the right conditions?

That means goading is actively triggering the rise of testosterone to the point where people can’t resist. Conversely, men’s testosterone lowers when they lose so they won’t pursue losing positions. All of this chemical self-regulation occurs outside our conscious control.

How much of our actions and thoughts are nothing more than the result of chemical processes?

 

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Technology has made communication tremendously convenient and fast. Consequently, communicating via computers, especially emails and varying forms of text messaging and instant messaging, has become the primary form of communication in many cases. As it turns out, this communication form has also made it easier for us to lie.

According to “Email Hides Your Lying Eyes” (Harvard Business Review, April 2012 edition), the research of Mattitiyahu Zimbler and Robert S. Feldman, of the University of Massachusetts Amherst has shown that we are five times more likely to lie using this medium than meeting people face-to-face. So, while we might be communicating more easily and faster, are we really communicating better? Are we making extra work for ourselves because we are working with more information that is inaccurate?

Our challenges compound considering the direct problems of trying to work with bosses who “manage by email” and the mediocre relationships that develop within a team when it overly relies on emails and computers for communicating. All of this just further emphasizes the importance of management by walking around and phoning bosses, employees and co-workers. Now, it’s not only important from a relational perspective but also an informational accuracy one.

The computer medium is an impersonal communication form. As Stephen Marche points out in his article, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely” (The Atlantic, May 2012 edition), we have never felt more lonely despite having more ways to communicate with one another. There remains a high premium on in-person social interactions for our own happiness.

Since this medium is impersonal, lying is easier. We’re lying to a computer screen not a person. Seeing someone’s face affects us dramatically. It not only makes us happier, but now, it makes us more honest . . . and hopefully . . . that makes us even happier!

 

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This entry is part 11 of 15 in the series Creative Innovation

Business prizes quantification; yet, ironically, it restricts creativity and innovation in two ways:

  • Encouraging electrical activity in our brains which restricts idea generation
  • Compelling people to confine their ideas to the quantifiable ones

Evangelia G. Chrysikou’s article “Put Your Creative Brain to Work” (Scientific American Mind, July/August 2012 edition, pgs: 26-27) summarizes the body of research to date by saying “idea generation is associated with a state of lower cognitive control” and

. . . generating novel applications for objects also seems to benefit from less filtering of knowledge and experiences, which enables people to consider a greater variety of possible answers.

Essentially, high cognitive control of our brain emits different electrical waves (beta) than low cognitive control (alpha) does. In Heidi K. Gardner’s article, “Coming Through When It Matters Most” (Harvard Business Review, April 2012 edition), we find quantification correlates to people’s need for certainty and conservatism by writing:

In high pressure situations . . . [people] support their responses with hard, usually quantitative, evidence instead of anecdotes and comparisons . . . Enthusiasm for innovation and improvisation gives way to concern for strict professionalism and covering all the basis.

My previous post, “Knowledge States”, helps us see the restrictive nature of quantification by the amount of knowledge we filter from the problem when we do so. This is partially why altering our normal problem-solving process (i.e. don’t worry about quantifying the problem or aspects of it) can be such an effective problem-solving technique.

Thus, the focus on numbers not only alters us physiologically in terms of the electrical waves our brains emit but also mentally in terms of compelling us to filter out unquantifiable knowledge that might contain the solution. Let’s face reality: problems are like squirrels. Neither goes away simply because we cannot quantify them.

 

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Tony Hey in his article, “The Big Idea: The Next Scientific Revolution” (Harvard Business Review, November 2010 edition ), and Patrick Spenner and Karen Freeman in theirs, “To Keep Your Customers, Keep It Simple” (Harvard Business Review, May 2012 edition) talk about the challenges of too much information, too much choice. These become tougher when we are acquiring more information at an unprecedented rate. However, these trends also apply to everyday business activities.

For example, research is cited in Spenner’s and Freeman’s article concerning the following:

  • Too much information will tend to cause us to postpone or neglect decisions
  • People naturally tend to overthink and second-guess trivial decisions
  • The harder a decision is the more important we seem to believe it is
  • The more time we spend on a decision the more important it becomes in our minds

Now, if we combine these tendencies with the acceleration of information, we could easily have business leaders thrashing more and more with their decisions. In other words, if you believe your organization has problems making decisions now, it’s only going to get worse.

This creates an ironic paradox. While technological advancements allow us to produce and deliver products and services faster, they slow down our decision-making. This means we become even more wedded to our standard processes for longer periods, thus retarding adaptability. In short, we miss opportunities because we respond more slowly to new facts and circumstances; we can only handle decisions that fit within our standard parameters.

Therefore, the stockpile of unmade decisions will grow and clog our already overstressed decision-making processes. We will wrestle with more decisions longer than we ever did. We’ll have the information at our fingertips, but we’ll be indecisive about what to do with it.

 

For additional reading, consider “Your Brain on DDoS” by George Colombo (Twitter: @georgecolombo)

 

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This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Education Bias

Problems With Asking, "Do You Understand?"Whenever we conclude (and expect someone to change a behavior) by asking, “Do you understand?” we are exhibiting an education bias:

The belief we can change people’s behaviors through more education.

Another symptom of education bias is that more information will make a difference, especially if it’s currently unknown. However, as Patrick Spenner and Karen Freeman, managing directors at Corporate Executive Board, wrote in their article, “To Keep Your Customers, Keep It Simple” (Harvard Business Review, May 2012 edition):

The marketer’s goal is to help customers feel confident about their choice. Just providing more information doesn’t help.

In other words, we need to tap into the feeling side of an interaction, not just the thinking side. While this seems intuitive, we often sacrifice it for beliefs such as “knowledge is power” which is just a reinforcement of the idea that more information is better (i.e. more knowledge means more power). In reality, it’s how we process and implement knowledge that generates power.

Moreover, as the articles “Too Much Information” (The Economist, July 2, 2011 edition) and “You Choose – The Tyranny of Choice” (The Economist, December 18, 2010 edition) discuss: at some point more information makes us powerless. This is why Tony Hey in his article, “The Big Idea: The Next Scientific Revolution” (Harvard Business Review, November 2010 edition ), goes even further to declare the processing of information the next scientific revolution.

We can offset our education bias by remembering the two aspects of interpersonal relationships. It’s not just about “Do you understand?” or more information (thinking aspect [red]), but how people feel about their decisions or changes (feeling aspect [blue]). Change is primarily about tapping into the feeling, emotional and intuitive (blue) aspects of people and not the aspects promoted by an education bias (red).

 

 

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Managers devote tremendous energy in crafting the right message. However, it’s not just the message anymore as Alex “Sandy” Pentland writes in “The New Science of Building Great Teams,” which appeared in the April 2012 edition of the Harvard Business Review.

 

Communication Map - Not Just the Message Anymore

Communication Map – Not Just the Message Anymore

 

This relates to his preference for face-to-face communications and to my post, “Changing the Message without Changing the Message.” As technology and research methodologies advance, we are discovering that the “heart” matters more than the “head.” Pentland’s research reinforces this. He found that how we communicate is more important to success than what we communicate. Pentland also frames it more strategically by saying:

. . .we’ve found patterns of communication to be the most important predictor of a team’s success. . . . they are as significant as all the other factors – individual intelligence, personality, skill, and the substance of discussions – combined.

He goes on to translate this into a team’s energy and engagement outside of formal settings. Extrapolating, we know teams have more energy and engagement in individual relationships when they are good rather than toxic. How team members feel about one another and their team leaders will encourage energetic engagements. This means integrating relationship building and morale building techniques in a strategic way.

Referencing this discussion back to the map of the two aspects of interpersonal interactions, the content of a message represents the thinking (head) aspect while the relationships represent the feeling (heart) aspect. Thus, the way we communicate and our patterns of communications (techniques) need to integrate these too aspects; and, of the two, Pentland is emphasizing techniques with a very solid heart component (i.e. face-to-face interactions).

Thus, focusing only on the traditional objective factors of our communications (head or red approach) will make the building of dynamic teams a daunting task.

 

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How many times have you heard, “Don’t reinvent the wheel”? Why is it then that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has issued over 30,000 wheel patents since 1790? Moreover, as patent attorney, Lawrence Ebert, indicates, they’re approving about three hundred new ones a year. However, even Lawrence doesn’t tell the whole story.

You see, he only quoted figures from Patent Class 295 (Railway Wheels and Axles) and Class 301 (Land Vehicles: Wheels & Axles). He didn’t include wheels from Class D21 (Games, Toys, and Sports Equipment) which includes the following:

  • Subclass 375: Roulette wheels
  • Subclass 175-177: Steering wheels
  • Subclass 204-213: Toy wheels
  • Subclass 458: Pinwheel
  • Subclass 477: Toys with steering wheels
  • Subclass 543: Paddle wheels
  • Subclass 779: Skating wheels for roller skates and skateboards
  • Subclass 667: Fly Wheels
  • Subclass 763: Rollers
  • Subclass 563: Wheels for toy vehicles
  • Subclass 829: Ferris wheel

Furthermore, he didn’t include Class 472 which contains crank wheels such as those powering our bicycles. He also didn’t include pulleys which fall under Class 474 and various kinds of tires (Class 152) and wheels that fit around other wheels (Class D12)

Now, just imagine if no one “reinvented the wheel.” We wouldn’t have all these wonderful wheels not to mention many folks wouldn’t have jobs and businesses. In short, many people wouldn’t be making the money they’re making now. Technological advancement has come because we like to reinvent things, always making them better and more adaptable to a need.

So, when people say, “Don’t reinvent the wheel,” take them up on the challenge and show them how you can make the “wheel” better and more profitable. Don’t let their lack of creativity chain your creativity and innovativeness to the ground.

 

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If you have a son and a daughter both under college age, odds are greater that she will become CEO of a Fortune 500 company. As I was writing my book, The Feminine Influence in Business (more), in 2003 and 2004, I made this prediction to friends:

Within the next generation or two, more women will be Fortune 500 CEO’s than men.

After eight years, I’m only concerned that I was too conservative. The recent appointment of Virginia Rometty as new CEO of IBM has prompted me to revisit this prediction. However, despite what articles such as “The End of Men” and “The Rise of Women in the Creative Class” say, I believe deeper, more fundamental forces are at work:

The nature of work that is remaining for humans to do falls more within the talents, attributes and skills of women than of men.

That is because technological advancements more easily replace the logical, rational functions of humans than the intuitive, relational ones. Since men tend to be more dominant in the former and women the latter, computers will more easily replace men than women.

In this blog, we already explored the need for more relational skills to manage a more creative, innovative and adaptive workforce. Moreover, as much as we try to systematize and quantify creativity and innovation, that only takes us so far. Many times we need intuition to fill in the gaps. There is a reason why we say, “woman’s intuition” rather than “man’s intuition.”

Yes, many other forces are at work such as more women receiving advanced degrees, more diverse family options and more women in the workforce. But, underneath it all is this current: technology is producing a workplace more favorable to women than to men.

 

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