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Three things a skeptic should know about neuroscience

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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?

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    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 January 27, 2022

    12 Reasons Why You Should Consider Working in Singapore

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    12 Reasons Why You Should Consider Working in Singapore

    Nine out of 10 foreign workers are satisfied with working in Singapore, a recent governmental survey reports. Being ranked best for numerous criteria from best intellectual property protection laws to the easiest country to do business in, Singapore also receives a bunch of accolades for the overall quality of life, top education standards and efficient medical system, ranking the nation as the healthiest in the world. So, what exactly makes the City of Lions such an impeccable place to start your career or relocate your business? Here are just 12 reasons why you should consider doing it!

    1. Singapore ranks second as the most globalized economy in the world

    The Global Competitiveness Report 2014 – 2015 named Singapore as the world’s second prospering economy. By defining “competitiveness” as the set of institutions, policies and factors that determine the level of productivity of a country, the report claims to be the most authoritative assessment of the country’s prosperity and well-being. What does that mean for you and me? High wages, low unemployment rate, excellent work conditions and nourishing business development and investment climate.

    2. Salaries are extremely lucrative

    As the economy is booming, Singapore companies are hungry to acquire overseas specialists, offering top salaries and lucrative benefit packages to attract highly-skilled workers and talents. With a median salary of 3.500$ per month, software engineers can earn up to 72.000$ annually, whereas general practitioners usually receive around 80.000$ per year, according to PayScale. Elementary school teachers earn around 34.000$ per year and working as a waitress part time will bring you around 1100$ per month.

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    3. Progressive personal tax system

    Calculating and paying taxes in Singapore is extremely easy and usually takes around 30 seconds to submit your online tax return. If you already obtained a residence permit, your personal taxes in Singapore range from 0% if you earn less than S$ 22.000 per year to 20% for incomes above S$ 320,000. Non-residents are expected to pay a flat rate of 15% from all income gained in Singapore. In addition, all of your earnings gained overseas and brought to the country are not subjected to any taxes.

    4. Getting a work/residence permit is really easy…

    With a population of only five million, and dropping fertility rates, Singapore is highly interested in acquiring new residence and labor force to boost the country’s economy to soaring heights. If you already have a job offer secured, applying for a work permit would take only a few clicks on the governmental website and you will know the outcome within just one day. No lines, no paper bureaucracy and no huge list of supportive documents or blankly stated requirements. Their entire procedure is even simpler if you are a business owner wishing to relocate your business to Singapore, or a start-up entrepreneur wishing to develop your company within the island. You are likely to receive your work permit for a longer term, plus the renewal process is fast and simple. Residence permits are usually issued along with your work permit for the same period of time.

    5. …And the same with permanent residence status

    If you have lived and worked in Singapore for over a year and enjoyed your experience, you can start considering applying for a permanent resident card. Again, the whole process can be done online without much hassle or paperwork involved. Among the factors of a successful outcome, expats name young age (below 50), educational background (degrees obtained in Singaporean universities will earn you extra points), the industry you work in (again extra points to those who are involved in scientific research and working with innovative technologies), and your ability to speak one of the four languages. The processing time does take up to six months.

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    6. The adaptation process goes easy

    As English in the main working language you won’t experience the dreaded language barrier. The local society is an absolute melting pot of Chinese, Malay, Indian and British cultures with 42% of population being foreigners. There is a huge amount of expat communities and meet-ups, restaurants serving awesome foods from all over the world, and imported goods you are used to buying back at home. As expats say, “Singaporeans are generally very comfortable with diversity and have been very welcoming to foreigners” with rare case of racism or religion discrimination occurring. There are numerous international and English schools available, along with pre-school daycare centers, so your kids won’t experience much troubles either when changing environments.

    7. Top notch higher education

    If at any stage you feel like lacking relevant educational background or certain skills to get a promotion, you should consider getting a degree in one of the six Singapore universities. National University of Singapore currently ranks number one in Asia and 22nd in the world offering degrees in Arts, Law, Medicine, Computer Sciences, Public Policy and nearly any other profession in demand. Tuition fees for undergraduate programs range from S$ 28.600 to S$ 129,200 for medical degrees. However, all students (foreign or resident) can apply for governmental grants and tuition aid, cutting down the costs by 50%, as currently around 20% of government spendings go into education. If you are aiming at a top executive position, getting an MBA in Singapore will cost you S$ 58,000 full-time or part-time.

    8. It takes three days to open a business

    Being ranked #1 for the ease of doing businesses by World Bank consequently for seven (!!!) years, starting your business in Singapore is easy and fast indeed. The whole process is done online and your registration will be deemed completed within a few hours after you pay a registration fee of the S$65. Afterwards, you can either refer for further assistance to ACRA (Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority) offering you a huge selection of agencies and providers to handle all your business needs – from business start-up services to preparing all the documents for your annual returns.

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    9. Singapore is rated #1 as the best labor force in the world

    As your business grows and you feel it is time to expand, hiring new professional team won’t be much of a struggle. With expats and work migrants flooding the market, local labors are known for their effectiveness, strong work ethics and superb educational profiles. Filling in top executives and managerial positing will not be a problem either as the share of high-skilled professionals with relevant background rose from 27% in 2003 to 31% in 2013. Moreover, 25% of residents reported to have worked for the same company for 10 years, which means less personnel changes and headhunting.

    10. Low crime rates and zero corruption

    Currently ranked the 5th least corrupted country in the world, Singapore surpassed a long chain of reforms and law enforcement practices on the road to a bribe-free society. The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau has kept an eye on matters since 1952 and tries all cases according to strict Singapore laws with long-term jail sentences and huge fines up to S$ 100,000. Same goes towards any sort of crimes–even minor offenses are treated with extreme severity. Think: three months of jail and three hard cane strokes for painting graffiti on a war memorial. When living and working in Singapore you don’t need to worry about your belongings getting stolen, nor your life threatened. Besides, you don’t need to have any sort of “special connections” to do business and get through all the legal and bureaucratic procedures.

    11. You can become a millionaire in less than 10 years

    According to a recent report issued by Boston Consulting Group, over one half of wealthy Singaporeans accumulated the majority of their wealth in less than 10 years. That’s the quickest growing rate in the world. Now, Singapore boasts one of the highest millionaires’ density in the world with 8.8% of the population having assets over one million US dollars. The phenomenon exists due to the ease of doing businesses in Singapore, advantageous location with easy access to nearby booming markets of India, Indonesia and Malaysia and quick implementation of progressive new technologies.

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    12. Absolute political stability

    Obviously, your business and you as an employee do not exist in a vacuum and are highly dependent on governmental policies and law-making. The Singaporean government is known for conducting open and fair policy towards constantly introducing new laws, tax relieves, and regulations to enhance the countries’ business environment even more. With the People Action’s Party forming the majority in Parliament since 1965, Singapore has a very stable and orderly government indeed.

    Featured photo credit: Larry Teo via unsplash.com

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