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Three things a skeptic should know about neuroscience

Three things a skeptic should know about neuroscience

Below is the reaction between octane and oxygen that takes place in the internal combustion engine.  Will that help you repair a car?  Will it help you win a Grand Prix?  Perhaps not. Systems can be analyzed a number of levels from the quantum to the cosmic.  Does knowing that your cortisol is elevated help you deal with stress?  Does knowing your amygdala is activated when afraid make it easier to cope? Does knowing the “love hormone,” called oxytocin, exists make you a nicer person?

Octanecombustion

     

    Reading today’s neurohype, you might conclude that the true path to a great life is a course in neuroanatomy, or biochemistry.  And unlike much pop leadership pseudo-science, lots of what is written in the neuroscience world is reasonably accurate scientifically.  But although “true,” is it really useful?

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    Among all the ten syllable words and grandiose promises, some neuroscience is very useful. Below are three simple things I think business people should know that derive their validity from findings in neuroscience.

    1. Mindfulness rocks

    Mindfulness conjures up images of saffron robes, or new-age hippiedom. Yet, in the world of self-help aphorisms, and things gurus advise, mindfulness stands way, way above the crowd.  In contrast with its woo-woo image, there is more hard scientific evidence for its effectiveness than just about anything else in the self-help world.  

    What do I mean by effectiveness? It has been shown to improve depression, ADD, anxiety, and stress.  But maybe you are not mentally ill, so what does it do for healthy people?  It improves attention, focus, and emotion control.  More abstractly, mindfulness strengthens our metacognitive, or executive functions.  It makes you much better at observing yourself in action, and much better at self-correcting deficits in thinking, feeling and acting.

    We are all mindful some of the time.  Recall those moments of maximum clarity, focus and engagement.  If you are like me, borderline ADD, those moments are too few, rare even.

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    My brain needs training and that training is meditation.  Meditation is to mindfulness as practicing free-throws is to basketball.  To return from distraction, lack of focus, and not being present, first you have to notice, then you have to come back.  If you are like me, however, you can spend an entire morning distracted.  The faster I notice, the faster I can return to my zen-like focus and being present.  Sure, it will quickly disappear: “I wonder what is happening on Facebook.” But because I’ve practiced my free throws, I might notice more quickly, and come back more quickly.  Or, perhaps not even go there.

    Wise leaders cultivate perspective, can handle stress, react less and create more, and are generally in control of their moods.  People have often said that when you talked to Nelson Mandela, so great was his focus and attention on the moment that it felt as if you were the only person in the room.  That kind of presence is part of the mindfulness package.

    If you worry that it will take 10 years of an hour a day to “get there,” think again.  In a recent study, some mood management and focus benefits were realized after just 5 days of 20 minutes of meditation per day.

    Back in the day, we used to have smoke breaks.  Perhaps, in the 21st Century, it will become commonplace for people in workplaces to say “I’m just gonna go sit for ten minutes.”  Some companies are taking it seriously: Google runs a program, called Search Inside Yourself, that has mindfulness at its core.  It has been a small part of the dozens of leadership programs I’ve run during the last decade, most of which have been for very senior investment bankers, but based on current research, I’m giving serious thought to making it more central, perhaps even the core of the leadership work I do.

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    2. Inauthenticity stinks

    Ever listen to someone saying something enthusiastic or positive, and it just feels wrong? While we are listening to words, our brain is processing micro gestures, posture, tone, inflection, cadence and other non-verbal cues.  We now know of a structure called mirror neurons that fire in synchrony when people do things as if we were doing them ourselves.  That means that humans understand each other and relate at a deeper level than just information (word) processing.

    To communicate powerfully, to inspire and persuade, all of that must be aligned. That means you have to believe, at the deepest possible level, all you are saying. Pretending (that you are excited when dejected, or confident when afraid) works poorly. To boot, it can be hard work, under pressure, to keep the game face on.

    This finding speaks strongly to another leadership buzzword: authenticity. Although the word is misunderstood and overused, there is fundamental truth at the heart of it.  Inauthenticity smells, and the leader needs to do the internal work to align thoughts, feelings, and actions to produce an authentic presence.

    3. A tip and a tool to make you smarter

    The human brain is superb at processing, but poor at juggling numerous items in “working memory.” The more juggling you do, the less present, focused, attentive and sharp you will be when you need to be. Working memory can get clogged by to-do lists, calls, worries, and creative ideas. Tip: create the practice (or habit) of clearing out working memory and dumping all that into a safe place. Just doing this “mindsweep” thoroughly once a week can yield improvements in concentration and clarity of thought.

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    We call this “distributed cognition” and in today’s distraction-fest world, having tools at your disposal that enhance cognitive function, in this case easing the strains on working memory, is critical.

    There are two information-overload problems solved by one incredibly powerful free app: Evernote.   The first problem Evernote solves is multiple information sources: meetings, phone calls, websites, email, post-its, voice-mail, and social media.  You want an app that with one-click will save and intuitively categorize it all in a snap no matter what it is.  One click, wherever you are and it is saved, and indexed. Onto the next one.

    The second problem is that we cannot afford multiple storage systems.  If you make a note on your tablet, you don’t want to go hunting for it a few hours later when you are in a cab with just your phone.  Evernote syncs your “dumps” and all those other inputs across tablet, PC, laptop and smart phone instantly. You now can safely park that great new product idea, knowing it won’t be forgotten, and attend 100% to the moment.  You can insta-clip that website you bumped into (when you ought to be doing something else) and get back to what you were doing.

    Neuroscience is in its infancy, but a deeper understanding of the brain can help leaders in daily situations such as these without having to learn arcane neurotransmitters and the names of cortical structures.  These are just a few examples, so I am curious what students of Neuroscience and behavior would add to this list and what managers make of the usefulness of these concepts. Let us know in the comments!

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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    11 Hard Skills That Will Land You More Career Opportunities

    11 Hard Skills That Will Land You More Career Opportunities

    Are you looking to move up the career ladder? Or maybe you’re tired of having a “job” and want to start looking for a more permanent career?

    Whatever your motivation, you are going to have to learn some new and different hard skills to broaden your opportunities. After all, there’s a very famous quote that says:

    “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

    While the insanity part doesn’t really fit here, the overall message is a good one. If you are looking for a different result (career advancement, more money or even a career instead of a job), it’s up to you to make it happen. This is both the good news and bad news!

    The good news is that because it’s up to you, you have complete control over it happening. The bad news is that change is hard. Humans are creatures of habit, that’s why we develop routines, and anything that disrupts that routine causes us anxiety. And we will do almost anything to get rid of that anxiety. The overweight person will calm their anxiety by eating that doughnut, the smoker will light up a cigarette to avoid anxiety.

    What we want to do with this article is to give you the hard skills you’ll need to reduce that anxiety so you can move up that corporate ladder, make more money or have career instead of just a “job.”

    The following hard skills are essential to learn if you want to advance your career. They may not be easy to take up, but definitely worth your effort of learning:

    1. Cloud Computing

    “Simply put, cloud computing is the delivery of computing services—servers, storage, databases, networking, software, analytics, intelligence and more—over the Internet “the cloud” to offer faster innovation, flexible resources, and economies of scale. You typically pay only for cloud services you use, helping lower your operating costs, run your infrastructure more efficiently, and scale as your business needs change.” Microsoft[1]

    There are many different jobs available in the cloud computing world today. They range from architects and developers to data scientists, security pros. Each job is its own specialty and requires a high level of specification for advancement.

    This is definitely a hard skill that requires education. But if the tech world and computers are your thing you can make cloud computing a lucrative career.

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    2. Data Mining and Statistical Analysis

    Again, these are highly specialized fields. Data mining is defined as using large sets of data to look for anomalies and other patterns that can be used to predict future behavior.

    Amazon is probably the best known company to use data mining. Have you ever noticed that when you buy something at Amazon, you’ll see a little ad at the bottom that says “customers who bought this also bought…”and it lists 2-3 other items? All of that information comes from data mining, by examining the millions of sales amazon makes they can predict that if you buy item #1 there is a high likelihood that you will buy one of the other items too. T

    his not only increases sales for Amazon, but it also serves as a reminder for you that you may need these additional items for your project. This is very valuable information and has a wide range of uses. Although it has a bad reputation and evil sounding name, it is a very useful tool for maximizing productivity and sales.

    3. Data Management

    All companies today deal with a ton of data! Being able to manage that data in an efficient manor is not only highly prized, but a necessity.

    We all have these things on our desks called computers. Unless there is a need for a paper copy, almost all of our data is computerized. Meaning that, in theory it is all at our fingertips. Being able to organize that data so that it’s easily and quickly retrievable is why computers are replacing filing cabinets!

    However, just like the old fashion filing cabinet, data management on a computer is only good if it’s well organized. You want to make sure that you are keeping your data well organized so that it’s easy to find when needed. This is a skill that comes easily to some people (are you a person that makes lists? Good!) but with others it will be a skill that needs to be practices. Make sure that this is a discipline you master.

    4. Scheduling

    Being able to make and keep to a schedule is a very useful tool in both business and life. Effective scheduling means that you can prioritize projects, understand the tools needed to get the job done on time and that you are organized enough to lead people.

    An important point here is to write things down! Whether it’s in an old fashion daily or weekly organizer or in a PDA. Have a copy of your schedule available at your fingertips at all times.

    5. Financial Skills

    These are especially important when looking for that promotion. The higher up the ladder you go, the more you’ll have to deal with things like accounting, budgeting, financial planning and cash flow management.

    While you may not need to be an expert at all of these, you should have a good grasp of all of them. This is where taking a few night classes at your local community college is a good idea. You don’t need to become an expert, but brushing up on these skills will help you tremendously.

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    6. Research Skills

    These are important in all aspects of life, but especially in your work-life.

    Are you looking for that first job out of school? Nothing impresses a boss or hiring manager more than someone who has researched the company. Trust me, they deal with people walking in off the street everyday looking for a job, but managers and owners need to see the value in hiring (or promoting) you.

    So do your research and have some company specific questions ready to ask. Show that you are interested in working for that company or that position and not just “a” job or the “promotion” because you have seniority or need the money.

    If it’s a promotion that you are after, never bad mouth the previous occupant. Instead pick out an example that he/she was good at and explain how you would like to use or expand that policy and how it would enhance the policy changes you’d like to make.

    If it’s a new job you’re going for, then make sure to have some company specific questions ready to show that you have done your homework for the new position.

    7. Marketing Skills

    While marketing a companies products or services has always been a highly sought after skill. In today’s world, it can take on several different forms.

    Some of the marketing skills that are highly sought after today include, SEO, Search Engine Optimization, SEM, Search Engine Marketing and marketing campaign management. Familiarity with Google Analytics as well as Word Press are also valuable.

    While traditional marketing and branding were focused on advertising and selling. Almost all marketing efforts now a days are focused on the internet.

    8. Network Security Specialist

    Again, this is a highly skilled position that requires specialized training. But the amount of data that all companies store is significant, and if that data is leaked or stolen, it can costs them millions of dollars in both lost revenue and lawsuits.

    So, if you have an interest in network security you will find the field both lucrative and stable.

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    9. Communication Skills

    At first glance, communication skills may not look like it fits into the category of “Hard Skills” that can help you succeed. But in this ever shrinking world where companies can do business from almost anywhere, communication is more and more important.

    Are you bilingual? It really doesn’t matter what language you speak, there’s a company out there looking for someone who speaks that language.

    10. Computer Programming

    I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that computers are going to be around for a while! As both the hardware and software get more advanced, the need for computer programming is only going to increase.

    11. Graphic Design

    As of 2018, there were 4.37 million new websites launched.[2] A good number of them will fail because they just aren’t interesting enough visually. The use of templates and replicated websites is only making the problem worse.

    Part of the way Google ranks sites is through originality, this almost ensures that replicated sites will never get ranked through Google. So the more original your site is, the more likely people will visit and actually spend time there.

    That is what a good graphic designer does. Takes your basic idea and turns it into a website that people actually want to visit.

    Embrace the Anxiety That Comes with Change

    You know it’s going to be there, you know that you’ll want to give up as you’re learning these new skills but, you’ll also know that the end result is worth the journey.

    Here’s a little trick when you’re feeling overwhelmed:

    Have you ever met an ex-smoker who was sorry they quit? An ex-drinker or drug user that said life was much better before they quit? These people have gone through some of the most difficult challenges humans can go through including weeks, if not, months of intense physical withdrawal symptoms. They did it because they knew that the pain and anxiety they would experience would ultimately get them to a much better life.

    Now what was that complaint you had about attending night-school?

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    This is the part everyone hates, everyone thinks night-school, adult education and just generally giving up family and/or spare time. While those are certainly possible ways to develop the necessary skills, they aren’t the only way.

    You’ll want to check with your human resources department because depending on the company, a certain degree maybe required in order to even be considered for a position. In those cases, night-school, on-line or some other form of adult education maybe your best route.

    But as long as a degree isn’t required, then your options are wide open.

    Let’s just say that you’re a sales person interested in becoming the sales manager but, the territory you’ve been given will never produce the sales figures that would make you stand out as a good candidate for sales manager. So how about you start your own side business (don’t compete with your company), but let’s say you enjoy golf.

    In this day and age, there are plenty of places that will teach you how to sell products on-line and even set you up with your own website. So you start a site selling golf equipment and accessories (don’t worry, you won’t even have to carry inventory or worry about shipping).

    Now, when that sales manager spot opens up, you can explain that even though other salespeople had better numbers than you, it had nothing to do with your sales ability, it was more of a consequence of the territory your were given.

    And to prove it, you brought in some information about a side business, you started showing that you’re on target for a sales growth rate of 30% this year. And because you had to do all of the marketing for the business, you came up with some marketing strategies that you can bring to the new job (built-in experience).

    The Bottom Line

    We’ve put together these 11 hard skills as a way to give yourself a “leg up” on the competition. We’ve tried to make this a mixture of both skills that require a great deal of training, and also ones that you can work on and develop by yourself.

    We know that not everyone is cut out to be a cloud computing expert, but we also know that working on and having good scheduling skills will make you a much more desirable candidate for the position!

    We also don’t want you to discount the idea of a “side hustle“. Especially for people new to the workforce, having a business that you have started and run successfully shows potential employers that you have initiative, scheduling skills and ambition which can put you well ahead of your competition!

    As usual, we hope you found this article both enjoyable and informative. If you did, may we ask that you share it with your family and friends through social media. It really does help us and is greatly appreciated!

    More Skill to Help Advance Your Career

    Featured photo credit: Kyle Sterk via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Microsoft Azure: Cloud Computing
    [2] Netcraft: December 2018 Web Server Survey

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