Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Workby David Rock
Improving the performance of your employees involves one of the hardest challenges in the known universe: changing the way they think. In constant demand as a coach, speaker, and consultant to companies around the world, David Rock has proven that the secret to leading people (and living and working with them) is found in the space between their ears. "If
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Improving the performance of your employees involves one of the hardest challenges in the known universe: changing the way they think. In constant demand as a coach, speaker, and consultant to companies around the world, David Rock has proven that the secret to leading people (and living and working with them) is found in the space between their ears. "If people are being paid to think," he writes, "isn't it time the business world found out what the thing doing the work, the brain, is all about?" Supported by the latest groundbreaking research, Quiet Leadership provides a brain-based approach that will help busy leaders, executives, and managers improve their own and their colleagues' performance. Rock offers a practical, six-step guide to making permanent workplace performance change by unleashing higher productivity, new levels of morale, and greater job satisfaction.
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Quiet LeadershipSix Steps to Transforming Performance at Work
By David Rock
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright ©2006 David Rock
All right reserved.
The Brain Is a Connection Machine
Your brain craves patterns and
searches for them endlessly.
Thomas B. Czerner (2001)
Scientists have discovered that our brain is a connection machine. Or to be more specific, the underlying functionality of our brain is one of finding associations, connections, and links between bits of information.1 Our thoughts, memories, skills, and attributes are vast sets of connections or "maps"2 joined together via complex chemical and physical pathways. I will call these connections maps from here on as it's a short, memorable word; however you can replace this word with circuits, wiring, or neural pathway if you prefer.
To give you a sense of the complexity of these maps, imagine a topographic map of one square mile of forest, on a sheet of paper one foot square. Add in the specific details of all the animals living there, from the microbes to major mammals, and the complete specifications of every plant, fungus, and bacteria. Include in the details of each object its size, shape, color, smell, texture, and a history of its interactions with every other object, and theninclude a snapshot of this information for every moment in time going back forty years. That should give you a sense of how rich these maps are. As it turns out, our brains are made up of maps, and maps of maps, and maps of maps of . . . you get my drift. These sets of maps are created through a process of the brain making over a million new connections every second between different points. Quite something.
So every thought, skill, and attribute we have is a complex map of connections between pieces of information stored in many parts of the brain. For example, the idea of a "car" is a complex, ever changing map of connections between our cognitive or high-level thinking center, our deeper motor skills center where our hardwired activities are held, and many other regions in the brain. The map for car for you might include links to the name and shape of every car you remember, the memory of your driving test including the look of panic on your instructor's face when you nearly sideswiped that truck, the sound of your car when it is running smoothly, your understanding of how an engine works, the history of cars, and even remembering where you left your keys.
Consider what happens when we are trying to think. When we process any new idea we create a map of that idea in our mind, and then compare it subconsciously in a fraction of a second to our existing maps. If we can find solid enough links between the new idea and our current maps, if we can find the connections, we create a new map that becomes a part of the layout of our brain; this new map literally becomes part of who we are.
Our brains like to create order out of the chaos of data coming into them, to make links between information so that our lives make more sense. We feel more comfortable surrounded by order, we feel better inside symmetry, where we can see how everything is connected. Thus we are constantly making links between maps to form new metamaps. A field called Gestalt psychology3 has done significant research on how we look at situations and make meaning out of them.
One respected theory for why our brain likes to make everything fit together is that our maps help us predict the outcome of situations more easily. In On Intelligence,4 Jeff Hawkins, founder of Palm Computing, puts forward that our predictive abilities are the attributes that differentiate us most from the rest of the animal kingdom. The first time we use a new computer we're confused as to where the shortcut buttons are: after a few days we have a mental map for how to hit them, and could do so with our eyes closed. The more hardwired our maps are for repetitive tasks, the more we've freed up our working memory for higher-level tasks.
Let's get back to what happens when we create new mental maps. You can tell when you are going through this process yourself because you will probably stop speaking and start picturing concepts in your own mind. You can tell when other people are going through this process: their eyes become glazed, they reflect, and they often look up or away into the distance. When we are processing complex ideas we tap into our visual center: we see ideas as flashes in our mind's eye.
We've all had the feeling of that sudden "aha" moment. It's a moment when various ideas that were not linked before come together to form a new idea. It feels like we've seen something new. This is the moment of creation of a new map. There is a big release of energy when this new map forms, even though energy was required up front to connect the dots. There's a tale told about Archimedes, who after an insight about how to solve a scientific challenge, leaped out of the bath and ran through the streets naked shouting "Eureka!"5 Such is the impact that insights can have on us.
When we create a new map we feel motivated to do something, and our face and voice change. When you watch for it, you can see that the act of creating a new map is a specific event. It's possible to pinpoint the exact moment it occurs. This is the moment of breakthrough, a moment when we see an answer to a challenge or problem. We'll explore the anatomy of these aha moments further in the chapter called Dance Toward Insight, where we'll go into exactly what happens in the brain during the few seconds before, while, and after we generate a new idea.
Excerpted from Quiet Leadership by David Rock Copyright ©2006 by David Rock. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
David Rock is a consultant and leadership coach who advises corporations around the world. The author of Coaching with the Brain in Mind, Quiet Leadership, and Personal Best, he is the CEO of Results Coaching Systems, a leading global consulting and coaching organization. He is on the advisory board of the international business school CIMBA and the cofounder of the NeuroLeadership Institute and Summit. He lives in Sydney, Australia, and New York City.
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