A little list for learning

Are you looking to expand your learning and development perspective?Here are a few titles to add to your learning toolkit.

I have more serious lists to share, and will, over the coming months. But this is a nice little list of books and resources that moved me in different ways--so I thought I'd share.



1. Big Questions from Little People: And Simple Answers from Great Minds

A delightful alternative to Alexa! :-) and a smart, illuminating, essential, and utterly delightful handbook for perplexed parents and their curious children. Author Gemma Elwin Harris has lovingly compiled weighty questions from precocious grade school children—queries that have long dumbfounded even intelligent adults—and she’s gathered together a notable crew of scientists, specialists, philosophers, and writers to answer them.Miles above your average general knowledge and trivia collections, this charming compendium includes responses from: Mary Roach and Phillip Pullman, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, chef Gordon Ramsay, adventurist Bear Gryllis, and linguist Noam Chomsky. Questions with no easy answers (“Do animals have feelings?”, “Why can’t I tickle myself?”, “Who is God?”) are addressed by well-known comedians, columnists, and raconteurs offering hilarious alternative answers.

2. A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader

A collection of original letters to the children of today and tomorrow about why we read and what books do for the human spirit, composed by 121 of the most interesting and inspiring humans in our world: Jane Goodall, Yo-Yo Ma, Jacqueline Woodson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Mary Oliver, Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer, Rebecca Solnit, Elizabeth Gilbert, Shonda Rhimes, Alain de Botton, James Gleick, Anne Lamott, Diane Ackerman, Judy Blume, Eve Ensler, David Byrne, Sylvia Earle, Richard Branson, Daniel Handler, Marina Abramović, Regina Spektor, Elizabeth Alexander, Adam Gopnik, Debbie Millman, Dani Shapiro, Tim Ferriss, Ann Patchett, a 98-year-old Holocaust survivor, Italy’s first woman in space, and many more immensely accomplished and largehearted artists, writers, scientists, philosophers, entrepreneurs, musicians, and adventurers whose character has been shaped by a life of reading.

3. The White Cat and the Monk

My all-time favorite poem, about a monk studying his books late into the evening and searches for truth in their pages. His cat, Pangur, leads a simple life, too, chasing prey in the darkness. As night turns to dawn, Pangur leads his companion to the truth he has been seeking. The White Cat and the Monk is a retelling of the classic Old Irish poem and a contemplative story paying tribute to the wisdom of animals and the wonders of the natural world.Written as a playful ode in the ninth century, today the poem lives partway between lamentation and celebration — it stands as counterpoint to our culture of competitive striving and ceaseless self-comparisons, but it also reminds us that the accomplishments of others aren’t to the detriment of our own; that we can remain purposeful about our pursuits while rejoicing in those of others; that we can choose to amplify each other’s felicity because there is, after all, enough to go around even in the austerest of circumstances.That is a lesson we spend our whole lifetimes learning.



4.  There Is Nothing Wrong with You Going Beyond Self Hate

...and, I would add, every other book by Cheri Huber. Self-hate is something with which everyone must reckon. This book reveals the origin of self-hate, how self-hate works, how to identify it, and how to go beyond it. It provides examples of some of the forms self-hate takes, including taking blame but not credit, holding grudges, and trying to be perfect, and explores the many facets of self-hate, including its role in addiction, the battering cycle, and the illusion of control. After addressing these factors, it illustrates how a meditation practice can be developed and practiced in efforts to free oneself from self-hating beliefs.

5. Thanks For The Feedback

A highly applicable book from the authors of Difficult Conversations, this great read is for professionals and anyone looking to improve their relationships through better communication. This means you need to take on the toughest topic of all: how you see yourself. In Thanks for the Feedback, the authors explain why receiving feedback is so crucial yet so challenging, offering a simple framework and powerful tools to help us take on life's blizzard of offhand comments, annual evaluations, and unsolicited input with curiosity and grace. They blend the latest insights from neuroscience and psychology with practical, hard-headed advice. Thanks for the Feedback is destined to become a classic in the fields of leadership, organizational behavior, and education.

6. Finite & Infinite Games

“There are at least two kinds of games,” states James P. Carse as he begins this extraordinary book. “One could be called finite; the other infinite.”Carse explores these questions with stunning elegance, teasing out of his distinctions a universe of observation and insight, noting where and why and how we play, finitely and infinitely. He surveys our world—from the finite games of the playing field and playing board to the infinite games found in culture and religion—leaving all we think we know illuminated and transformed. Along the way, Carse finds new ways of understanding everything, from how an actress portrays a role to how we engage in sex, from the nature of evil to the nature of science. Finite games, he shows, may offer wealth and status, power and glory, but infinite games offer something far more subtle and far grander.This is a beautifully written book about the struggle between two value systems. It lays the challenge of deciding for yourself which game you are playing.



7. Podcast: History of Rome

The History of Rome is a podcast tracing the history of the Roman Empire, beginning with Aeneas's arrival in Italy and ending with the exile of Romulus Augustulus, last Emperor of the Western Roman Empire. Mike Duncan is one of the foremost history podcasters in the world, with over 100 million episode downloads over his ten-year career. His award-winning series The History of Rome remains one of the most popular history podcasts on the internet. Duncan mentioned that in making the podcast, he learned “human nature has changed very little,” and that people generally respond to the same situations in the same sorts of ways. “I don’t think we’re so completely different than any Roman was.” There is a lot to be learned here.

8. Podcast: Voices in AI

Published and sponsored by GigaomVoices in AI is a new podcast that features in-depth interviews with the leading minds in artificial intelligence. It covers the gambit of viewpoints regarding this transformative technology, from beaming techno-optimism to dark dystonia despair. The format features a single guest in an hour-long one-on-one interview with host Byron Reese. Featuring today’s most prominent authors, researchers, engineers, scientists and philosophers, the podcast explores the economic, social, ethical and philosophical implications of artificial intelligence. Conversation centers on familiar terrain relating to jobs, robots, and income inequality, yet also reaches more far-flung topics such as the possibility of conscious machines, robot rights, weaponized AI, and the possible re-definition of humanity and life itself. With a topic as rich as AI, there is seldom a slow moment.

9. Podcast: In Our Time

Last but not least, In Our Time seeks In Our Time is a live BBC radio discussion series exploring the history of ideas, expertly facilitated by Melvyn Bragg. Each program covers a specific historical, philosophical, religious, cultural or scientific topic. Bragg hosts a discussion of the week's subject featuring three experts on the subject. The program is normally broadcast live and unedited beginning with a short summary of the week's topic. He guides the discussion along a generally chronological route, then either concludes the program himself or invites summation remarks from one of the specialists. At the end of each podcast, they do some outtakes as they wind down over, and this is so British, tea and coffee.



10. Best Museum Recommendation: The American Writers Museum of Chicago

No single picture does it justice, so I encourage you to visit their website. The American Writers Museum is a museum of American Literature and writing that opened in Chicago in May 2017. The museum was designed by Amaze Design of Boston and was inspired by the Dublin Writers Museum (now on my list to see).The museum pays homage to American writers both past and present and is the first of its kind in the nation--and it did not disappoint! For lovers of the written word, the

American Writers Museum should be the first stop on a trip through Chicago’s cultural playground.The American Writers Museum worked closely with 65 authors’ homes and museums around the country in order to capture their unique stories. The result is a lively, interactive showcase that shares the personal tales and literary works of some of America’s best-loved writers, ranging from Mark Twain to Dr. Seuss. Multiple galleries have been designed to engage and spur the imaginations of visitors of all ages. The museum’s sense of playfulness and purpose is evident immediately upon entering, with the branches of a tree above the entryway formed by rows of hardcover books.Read more about it here!Christine Haskell, PhD works with startups, Fortune 100s, non-profit organizations, and individual leaders and thinkers to help clients interweave results and relationships. It sounds like a simple concept, but it is not easy to pull off. Her passion and specialty is to help clients leverage their leadership development to produce bottom-line business results. She is currently working on her third manuscript focused on what master craftsmen (and women) can teach business about leadership, creativity, and growth (pending publication in 2019).

Book Shelf: Strangers in Their Own Land


  • In a “great paradox,” Conservative red-state voters often oppose government programs that could benefit them.

  • Generally, members of the American Right oppose federal programs such as welfare and Medicaid even while participating in them.

  • Louisiana, where the author interviewed people holding rightist views, is the second poorest state and one of the most polluted.

  • Louisianans’ primary motivators are “taxes, faith and honor.”

  • Right-wing voters in Lake Charles, Louisiana, match a profile of the “least resistant personality,” those most likely to accept “unfavorable land use” nearby.

  • Oil provides only about 10% of jobs in Louisiana.

  • Louisianans interviewed felt liberals “badgered” them to feel particular ways.

  • They also felt as if they followed the rules to reach the American Dream while others broke in line in front of them.

  • Rightists might vote to promote their emotional – rather than economic – self-interest.

  • President Donald Trump makes his supporters feel part of an inclusive group.

3 Key Points

  • Why highly significant yet unpredictable events, called “black swans,” areunderappreciated;

  • Why people continually see misleading patterns in data; and

  • How to embrace randomness and come to terms with black swans.


More and more, Americans feel like strangers to one another over what sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild calls “an increasingly hostile split” in attitudes. A professor emerita of sociology at the University of California at Berkeley, Hochschild traveled to Louisiana repeatedly over a five-year span starting in 2011 for field research on the American Right. She attempts to analyze and understand the emotional motivations of her new “Tea Party friends.” Conservatives might feel Hochschild failed to take their perspectives on board; liberals might see a paradox in her effort to develop empathy for people who can appear to lack empathy for themselves. Hoschchild conducts fascinating research and conclusions to US voters of any ideology and to all non-Americans who seek greater insight into the sometimes contradictory, sometimes inexplicable behavior of the US electorate.


The “Great Paradox”

Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild undertook 10 research visits to Louisiana between 2011 and 2016. She gathered 4,690 pages of transcripts from interviews with 60 research subjects. Hochschild sought to understand her subjects’ lives and their feelings to gain insight into “the emotional draw of right-wing politics.”Hochschild chose environmental pollution as the issue through which she hoped to gain broad insights into rightist points of view. She asked why Louisianans, whose state suffers pollution, tend to oppose regulations to clean it up. Generally, sociologists wonder why conservative red-state voters fail to support government programs that could help them – sometimes even if they are beneficiaries of those programs.“

My keyhole issue had taken me 4,000 feet down into the Earth. And following it down the hole was the Great Paradox: the Tea Party feared, disdained, and wanted to diminish the federal government. But they also wanted a clean and safe environment – one without earthquakes sending toxins into aquifers or worse.”Environmental protection is an example of this great paradox. Across the US, people who live in highly polluted states – often Republican-dominated – tend to vote against environmental protection measures that could improve their communities. At the county level, exposure to pollution correlates inversely with concern about pollution as an issue – even though people in these counties recognize that it poses a danger. Hochschild sought to understand why right-wing voters so regularly and passionately vote against their own interests.“The Tea Party was not so much an official political group as a culture, a way of seeing and feeling about a place and its people.”

Louisiana Poverty and Pollution

Louisiana is the second-poorest state after Mississippi. It ranks number 49th in the 50 states on an index of human development – based on measures of life expectancy, education as well as income – and 46th on public education spending per student. The federal government provides 44% of the state budget – only Mississippi relies more heavily on federal funding. Yet Louisiana also hands out a greater percentage of “taxpayer money than any other state.”In 2014, Governor Bobby Jindal awarded $1.6 billion in incentives to industry, along with decade-long tax exemptions. Louisiana slashed its state budget an equivalent amount and laid off 30,000 workers, including teachers, nurses and safety inspectors. Louisiana ranks among the most polluted states in America. Its men suffer from cancer at rates far higher than average. Yet Louisiana allocates only 2.2% of its state budget to environmental protection.“Louisiana was poor before oil came, and we’re poor today.” (Dr. Paul Templer, former head, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality)

Lake Charles

Hochschild conducted her fieldwork mostly around Lake Charles, Louisiana, about 30 miles north of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The site of the largest chemical spill in US history is a few miles to the west along the Mississippi River where, in 1994, workers discovered a leak that had released 1½ million tons of ethylene dichloride into the water.

“One has the police to protect one’s property, Rush Limbaugh to protect one’s pride and God to take care of the rest.”In 2012, at nearby Bayou Corne, the Houston-based Texas Brine company was drilling – contrary to state regulations – into an underground salt dome under the Bayou and inadvertently drilled through a side wall. The accident caused a sinkhole that by 2015 had spread to 37 acres, bubbled up with methane, released oil and toxins into the aquifer, and necessitated the relocation of an entire once close-knit community. The so-called “sacrifice zone” encompassed the homes of 350 residents, now turned into “energy refugees.”One family had farmed 40 acres on the edge of Bayou d’Inde for generations; then, industry moved to their locale. Afterward, all but one member of the family suffered cancer; only two survived. Their animals all perished after drinking bayou water. Even the cypress trees died.“When I was a kid…if someone was hungry, you fed him. You had community. You know what’s undercut all that?...Big government.” (Louisianan Mike Schaff)

Conservative Louisianans

The people Hochschild surveyed in Louisiana cared about their faith and the church, their community and traditional values. Nearly all of them attended church, some twice a week. Many voted on the basis of political candidates’ religious views rather than based on their economic policies or environmental commitment. Some Louisianans told Hochschild that they believe in “end times.” One expressed his desire that his “10 great-grandchildren” live on a healthy, thriving Earth, but admitted to recognizing that the Earth may no longer exist. Lake Charles’s churches assume roles in their congregants’ lives that the government fills for more secular people, providing playgrounds, fitness centers, summer camps, sport teams and soup kitchens. Many people believe the government undermines or destroys a sense of community.

Louisianans “are actually victims, doing emotional work and suffering damages so that we can all have the products of the petrochemical industry.” Many of those on the right felt taxes were too high and resented having to pay them. They believed their taxes often paid for benefits that went to undeserving people. Many viewed the government as greedy, incompetent and corrupt. They dramatically overestimated the portion of the population that the government employs, as well as the level of federal spending on Social Security, Medicare and welfare. In spite of their opposition to such federal programs, many Tea Party supporters participated in them. As Lousiana Mike Schaff said, “Most people I know use available government programs, since they paid for part of them. If the programs are there, why not use them?”These Louisianans are primarily motivated by their views about “taxes, faith and honor.” They derive honor from “work, region, state, family life and church,” as well as sacrifice, endurance, hard work and charity. Given their belief in accepting what you can’t change and carrying on, those studied found honor in having the necessary “moral strength” to persevere.“Louisianans are sacrificial lambs to the entire American industrial system.”

“Locally Undesirable Land Use”

Many Louisianans resign themselves to an extraordinary degree to living with unpleasant circumstances. They closely match a definition of the “least resistant personality” that a California consultancy developed for California’s Waste Management Board. According to the consultants’ report, individuals who accept rather than resist locally undesirable land use tend to hold conservative views, vote Republican, advocate for the free market, lack college education, and live in small Southern or Midwestern communities, among other traits.“That’s not the Mississippi’s water. That’s Monsanto water. Exxon water. Shell Oil water… Industry owns the Mississippi now.”

Often, these Louisianans believed the oil industry brought the state jobs and economic progress. Their opposition to government regulation seems to stem from the belief that regulation hampers industry and reduces jobs.In truth, the petrochemical industry provides only about 10% of jobs in Louisiana. Rigorous environmental protections, in fact, make a state more competitive globally. After 40 years of oil drilling, the state’s poverty rate has decreased by only one percentage point. “In 1979, 19% of Louisianans lived below the poverty line; in 2014, it was 18%.” Some Louisianans believed unfettered free-market forces could bring about safe conditions without regulation.“The Sabine River is a public river. But if you can’t drink in the river, and you can’t swim in the river…then it’s not your river. It’s the paper mill’s river.” (Louisianan Paul Ringo)


Many conservatives believe liberals are trying to make them accept left-wing rules and browbeating them to feel a certain way. One woman pointed to TV journalist Christiane Amanpour crouching beside a sickly African child. In the woman’s view, Amanpour implied the US caused the child’s plight. The woman objected to any message suggesting she was morally inferior if she didn’t feel compassion for the child. Some Louisianans thought they might feel misplaced sympathy for seemingly deserving people who might be deceiving them.“A company may be free to pollute, but that means the people aren’t free to swim.” (General Russel Honoré)

Louisianan Republicans’ Emotional Life

Many of Hochschild’s subjects agreed that the following imaginary “deep story” conveys their feelings. A deep story shows symbolically “how things feel” to people. Its intent is to provide a nonjudgmental framework for helping people who disagree to understand each other’s views.In this fictitious story, many people stand in a long line waiting to reach the American Dream, and thus gain security and honor after long hardship and suffering. That the line has stalled conveys the frustration that older workers – particularly white men without a college education – might feel. Since the 1970s, their wages have dropped 40%. The people in line feel liberals are attacking their morality and values.

“In a period of political tumult, we grasp for quick certainties. We shoehorn new information into ways we already think.”

They notice other people aren’t obeying the rules. Some cut in line. Some immigrants, women, refugees and even animals get undeserved benefits at the expense of those who play by the rules. They imagine that President Barack Obama cuts in line. The resentful, obedient people see Obama helping other line-cutters. Feeling suspicious, dishonored, disparaged and taken advantage of, they band together. In this vision, the right sees the US government as an “ally” of the line-cutters. They view the free market, on the other hand, as their ally.

“Partyism, as some call it, now beats race as the source of divisive prejudice.”

Because they cling to this mirage, Hochschild’s subjects fail to perceive the truth about corporate power and interests. Lake Charles’s conservatives support industry, Wall Street, deregulation and the free market. In reality, these interests do not align with theirs. They don’t support federal programs that could, and do, help them.

“Team Players”

Some people in Hochschild’s study group show endurance and willingness to work hard. They feel that the “team” – be it the Republican Party, a corporation or the free enterprise system – brings good things to their lives and merits their loyalty. Willing to endure the downsides of the system, these Team Players work long hours and accommodate difficult working conditions without complaining. In their view, environmentalists dwell on negative conditions that a Team Player would face with bravery, while focusing on the positive. Team Players view willingness to work as a moral quality that confers deservingness. They feel little or no sympathy for people who don’t work.“What I discovered was the profound importance of emotional self-interest.”

“Worshippers” and “Cowboys”

Other rightist Louisianans – call them Worshippers – focus on the necessity of making difficult choices. They accommodate to their situation and willingly renounce some desires for the sake of others, such as sacrificing a clean environment for economic progress. Some right wingers – Cowboys – value daring and stoicism. They believe in taking risks to create as much good as possible and then, if things go badly, accepting the outcome.


Some players choose a new team and become Rebels. While remaining members of the right wing, they align with environmental causes or political reform. One Rebel became an environmental activist after losing his home to the Bayou Corne sinkhole, but he stayed in the Tea Party. A man who’d worked dumping Pittsburgh Plate Glass’s toxic waste developed disabilities as a result of chemical exposure. The firm fired him for absenteeism. But, still, he remained an active Tea Party member and supported an anti-EPA congressional candidate.

President Donald Trump\

While many of Hochschild’s subjects respect Trump’s business accomplishments, as voters they broke about half for Trump and half against. His supporters admire his leadership. His detractors find him frightening or “mean.” Emotion is the crux of Trump’s appeal. Some right-leaning people developed certain emotions, including grief, discouragement, shame and alienation, in the face of various cultural, economic and demographic trends. They find that Trump replaces these feelings with hope, elation, and a sense of security and respect. These emotions arise partly from the unity that Trump fosters among his supporters. Trump serves as a “totem” his supporters can rally around. His persecution and expulsion of out-group members strengthens this feeling of unity.

The right-wing Louisianans’ elation also results from Trump supporters’ sense of release from rules about what they are supposed to feel. Trump allows and encourages them to feel just as they do, validating their anger, bigotry, misogyny and racism. His supporters feel righteous, superior and vindicated. Their elation grows into an “emotional self-interest.” Here, finally, Hochschild finds the answer to the great paradox: Members of the right wing seek to promote their emotional, not their economic, self-interest.

About the Author

Influential sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild’s nine books include The Second Shift, The Time Bind, The Managed Heart and The Outsourced Self. Three of her books were New York Times Notable Books of the Year.

Book Shelf: Brain Rules by John Medina


This book is partly an academic-style introduction to brain research and partly a jauntily written practical “how-to” about getting the most from your brain. John Medina has a warm, upbeat persona, and skillfully incorporates stories from his experiences to illustrate points he makes in the book. From time to time he forgets to connect the dots for readers who are new to the material, and so doesn’t always articulate the full point or parallel he is making. However, he successfully gives a broad overview of brain research and makes a conscious effort to practice the rules he preaches. He repeats information, as research says he should, and uses lively, varied examples to engage the reader. Medina summarizes his key points, and touches briefly on the real-world implications and applications of the findings he covers. 

3 Key Points

  • How researchers understand your brain;
  • How you can help your brain perform better; and
  • How schools and workplaces could improve performance and productivity by taking brain research into account.


  • Your brain may look like a big, soft walnut, but it’s really a beehive of activity.
  • Your brain believes you are still fighting for survival against a saber-toothed tiger.
  • Knowing 12 rules about brain function can help you learn better and stay smarter.
  • Your brain evolved to need exploration and exercise. You are capable of remaining able to learn forever, but physical activity is crucial.
  • No two brains are alike. Male and female brains are distinctly different.
  • People cannot give full attention to dull information.
  • To recall data short-term, “repeat to remember”; to recall it long-term, “remember to repeat.”
  • To be your smartest, sleep well and regularly.
  • Your brain needs information from all your senses, but vision is king.
  • A child’s brain doesn’t function at its best in a conventional classroom trapped in rote learning. Children learn better in a home that is emotionally stable.


Your Brain Is Complex and Amazing

Researchers are using brain scans and other techniques to learn more and more about how the human brain works. Although more is left to discover, 12 basic “rules” capture much of what science knows about the amazing computing device in your head.

1. “Exercise” – Your Brain Slows Down When You Sit Still

Physical activity is vital to keep your body and mind working well. Retired television exercise guru Jack La Lanne is a great example. For his 70th birthday, he swam across California's Long Beach Harbor pulling 70 boats with passengers onboard. His history of exercising and eating well contributed to his perennially quick wit and agile humor.

“My goal is to introduce you to 12 things we know about how the brain works.”

Anthropologists note that the first humans covered dozens of miles a day seeking food, so their brains evolved to handle regular physical activity. Because our brains “were forged in the furnace of physical activity,” if you want to use your entire IQ you must exercise. Couch potatoes lose mental facilities and physical capabilities. To regain your mental abilities, get aerobic exercise, even if you have neglected yourself. Just walking half an hour a few times a week will boost your cognitive output and reduce your risk of dementia.Children who find concentrating difficult will benefit from physical activity. Exercise makes oxygen flow more efficiently through the blood and into the cells, cleaning up toxic wastes left behind by food metabolism. When you move you're keeping your brain cells healthy. More than food or water, your brain, which consumes 20% of your body’s energy, requires oxygen to function. Exercise also makes your mental engine run cleanly. Unfortunately, modern civilization requires people to sit for long periods without moving. If schools and offices incorporated physical activity, students and staffers would get smarter, healthier and more productive.

“The need for explanation is so powerfully stitched into babies’ experiences that some scientists describe it as a drive, just as hunger and thirst and sex are drives.”

2. “Survival” – Your Brain Is an Evolutionary Triumph

The human species is weak, but brainpower helped people survive and thrive. Your brain has three parts where many survival and learning tools are hardwired: a “lizard brain” or amygdala, a “mammalian brain” and the cortex for higher reasoning. Humans have a great capacity to adapt. Over thousands of years, thanks to their powerful brains, people adjusted to changes in climate and food supply, and came to dominate the planet. Their advanced brains also allow them to “read” each other and negotiate. Your brain’s memory is an informational “database,” and you use mental “software” to improvise and solve problems. You may perform best with encouragement and be unable to perform as well near someone who threatens you. Your primitive lizard brain is always watching out for your safety.

3. “Wiring” – Brains Are “Wired” Individually

Nerve cells, known as neurons, look a bit like fried eggs that have been stepped on. The yolk holds important genetic coding. The long tentacle-shaped edges transmit and receive electrochemical messages at blinding speed. This is the cellular basis of learning. The brain’s neural connections are in constant flux. Your specific brain structure depends on your culture and other external inputs. A musician' brain has different cellular “wiring” than a scuba diver’s. As children grow, so do their brains. Key brain growth occurs up until the early 20s and changes can continue for decades. Many researchers have worked to understand intelligence and to map how the brain functions. Some believe there are multiple types of IQ. One person might be great at math while another excels at physical movement. Different parts of the brain are activated for different memories and skills, so your brain scan looks different than anyone else’s, even your twin’s. Since each brain is individual, educational programs should be customizable.

“Easily the most sophisticated information-transfer system on Earth, your brain is fully capable of taking the little black squiggles on this piece of bleached wood and deriving meaning from them.”

4. “Attention” – If It's Not Intriguing, Your Brain Isn't Interested

When you find something boring, you don't pay close attention and you can’t retain the content – so when you're giving a presentation, capture the audience’s interest as soon as you can. You want your audience to focus. Multitasking is a recipe for inefficiency and danger. In fact, multitaskers are prone to 50% more errors and take 50% longer to finish a task than people who do one thing at a time. Studies say that chatting on your cell phone while you're behind the wheel of an automobile is as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol.People remember emotional situations longer than calm ones for neurochemical reasons. During emotional events, your brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is associated with attention and rewards; it helps you cement the memories. At stressful moments, the brain doesn't pick up details. It focuses on the big picture. If you're trying to teach someone, present “the key ideas and, in a hierarchical fashion, form the details around these larger notions.” Provide information in 10-minute chunks and use entertaining hooks between those chunks.

“To accomplish this miracle, your brain sends jolts of electricity cracking through hundreds of miles of wires composed of brain cells so small that thousands...fit into the period at the end of this sentence.”

Researchers who study stroke victims have found that the left side of the brain can only pay attention to visual stimuli on the right, but the right side takes in the entire visual field. So a stroke patient will recover better if the stroke occurs in the left hemisphere of the brain.

5. “Short-term Memory” – The Case for Connection

When you can recall a piece of information immediately, it is stored in your short-term or “working” memory. To make a memory last longer, repeat it and link it to something familiar. For instance, students forget 90% of a classroom lesson in less than a month, but going over the material at regular intervals and associating one piece of data with another will improve their retention rates. Information in a list of unrelated items is harder to recall than material with meaningful connections to something familiar. Thus, people learn better when they can refer to familiar examples. To be more memorable, engage your listeners’ elaborately and substantively.

“You accomplish all this in less time than it takes to blink. Indeed, you have just done it. Yet most of us have no idea how our brain works.”

6. “Long-term Memory” – The Case for Repetition

Sound and images enhance short-term memory, but you won’t retain information in your long-term memory without a stabilizing process called “consolidation,” and subsequent recall and repetition, or “reconsolidation.” Stored memories are more malleable than you might expect. Today’s fresh memories can fade after a few years, forcing your brain to struggle to recall the specifics of events that once were clear.Studies show that “the brain might cheerily insert false information to make a coherent story.” This has disturbing implications for the value of witnesses in a court of law, among other things. If you want to retain something, be deliberate. For example, ignoring your homework and then studying all night before a test is counterproductive. You will do better by spacing out multiple study sessions.

“Some schools and workplaces emphasize a stable, rote-learned database. They ignore the improvisatory instincts drilled into us for millions of years. Creativity suffers.”

To retain specific information, you need to:

  • Think about the information within the first hour or so after you learn it.
  • Immediately speak to other people about it in great detail.
  • Have a good night’s sleep and “rehearse” the information again afterward.

“We started our evolutionary journey on an unfamiliar horizontal plane with the words ‘Eat me. I’m prey’ taped to the back of our evolutionary butts.”

7. “Sleep” – Snooze or Lose

The human body increasingly malfunctions when deprived of sleep. If you are sleepless for a few days, in addition to severe fatigue, you will experience stomach upsets, crankiness, poor memory recall, disorientation, and eventually paranoia and hallucinations. For about 80% of the time you spend asleep, your brain doesn’t really rest. Brain scans show enormous electrical activity among the neurons, even more than when you are awake. The body has a delicate control process, called the circadian cycle, which keeps you alternating between wakefulness and sleep periods.An individual’s preferred sleep timeframe varies genetically:

“Knowing where to find fruit in the jungle is cognitive child’s play compared with predicting and manipulating other people within a group setting.”

  • Early birds (called “larks” and “early chronotypes” by scientists) make up about 10% of the population.
  • Another 20% of people are late nighters (called “owls” and “late chronotypes”).
  • Everyone else falls midrange on the continuum.

Your brain slows in the afternoon, but a nap can work wonders. Napping for 45 minutes will turbo-charge your brain for six hours. Conversely, students who skip even an hour of sleep each night face a dramatic drop in academic performance. Sleep deprivation impairs “attention, executive function, immediate memory, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning ability, general math knowledge.” Wouldn’t it be great to match job schedules with people’s inherent sleep patterns? Plus, a later school day would address teenagers’ normal tendency to sleep late.

“The body seems to be clamoring to get back to its hyperactive Serengeti roots. Any nod toward this history, be it ever so small, is met with a cognitive war whoop.”

8. “Stress” – Chronic Tension Makes It Harder to Learn

A little bit of stress heightens your ability to learn, but ongoing, chronic stress damages brain function. Chronic stress can cause a phenomenon called “learned helplessness,” in which people simply give up hope and no longer engage their brains or try to solve problems.During times of stress, people experience a “fight or flight response.” The resulting blood pressure rise and racing pulse are detrimental over the long term, raising the risk of strokes and heart attacks. Chronic stress worsens your ability to work with numbers and language. When you are seriously stressed, you don’t learn as well and have difficulty concentrating, remembering and solving problems. Chronic stress can lead to acute depression.

“When couch potatoes are enrolled in an aerobic exercise program, all kinds of mental abilities begin to come back online.”

One kind of stress has serious implications for children: Kids who live in homes where parents fight constantly “have more difficulty regulating their emotions, soothing themselves, focusing their attention on others,” and are more often absent from school. Their ability to learn, study and remember is so diminished that their test scores drop. A program called “Bringing Baby Home,” by researcher John Gottman, Ph.D., teaches fresh marital communication skills to expectant couples. As a result, their newborns have healthier brain chemistry than infants who live with fighting parents.

9. “Sensory Integration” – For Best Results, Use All Your Senses

Your brain gets crucial sensory input from your eyes, ears, nose and skin. For enhanced learning, bring all your senses into play. For example, you will retain more of what you read when pictures accompany the text. The more inputs your brain has to work with, the better you will learn and recall information.

“Our schools are designed so that most real learning has to occur at home. This would be funny if it weren’t so harmful.”

You also remember things better if you first encounter them in the presence of distinctive sensory clues, like smells or sounds. That’s why Starbucks doesn’t want its employees to wear perfume, because it could conflict with the aroma of coffee in the stores.

10. “Vision” – The Eyes Have It

Expert wine testers can be fooled, and made to ignore their sense of taste and smell, if you change the color of wine they are testing. This illustrates how the brain prioritizes the sense of sight. The human vision-processing system is highly complex, and when the brain encounters blind spots it actually interpolates the visual field. Reading is a complex mental activity, because the brain processes each letter as an individual visual symbol.

“Blame it on the fact that brain scientists rarely have a conversation with teachers and business professionals.”

11. “Gender” – Your Sex Affects Your Brain

Scientists find subtle anatomical and functional differences between male and female brains. For example, women synthesize the feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin, more slowly than men. The genders respond somewhat differently to acute stress: Women often assume a caring role, while men isolate themselves. However, no given individual necessarily conforms to group statistics.

12. “Exploration” – A Sense of Wonder Promotes Learning

As infants become toddlers, they act like little scientists, constantly examining their environment, and testing cause and effect. Their brains are busy gaining data and concepts to help them navigate their circumstances. The adult brain remains flexible and plastic. People are able to learn throughout their life spans.

About the Author

John J. Medina directs the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University and teaches in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Book Shelf: Start With Why by Simon Sinek


Entrepreneur Simon Sinek “hit rock bottom” in late 2005. He had started his own consulting business in 2002, but three years later, he ran out of passion. Dead-ended, Sinek thought about what made him happy. He wondered why some leaders and companies succeeded and others do not. He realized that inspirational leaders identify a purpose and follow it. The actions they take and what they make is secondary to achieving their mission. Sinek calls this leadership process the “Golden Circle”: It starts with a vision (the “Why”), then moves to implementation (the “How”), and then conquers the product or service (the “What”). Unfortunately, many leaders have this pattern backward. They first focus on what they do and how; then they try to differentiate their product based on price, quality or features. 

3 Key Points

  • Why great leaders want to inspire their customers, rather than manipulating them into buying;
  • What inspirational leaders do to build employees’ and customers’ trust; and
  • How to hire others who share your vision.


  • Inspirational leaders start by identifying their purpose, cause or vision.
  • They follow the concentric rings of the “Golden Circle,” starting with establishing their mission with “Why” in the center, then moving outward to “How” and then “What.”
  • “Why” stems from your core purpose, the reason “you get out of bed in the morning.”
  • Your How explains the ways your product or service is unique and desirable.
  • Your What defines the obvious aspects of your product or position with your firm.
  • Less successful leaders and companies work from the outside in: What-How-Why. Successful organizations and leaders work from the inside out: Why-How-What.
  • This is because “people don’t buy What you do, they buy Why you do it.”
  • Visionary leaders rely on their gut or intuition and can identify a void in the market before their potential customers spot it.
  • Set out to do business with your ideal customers: those who share your beliefs and will recruit others to your cause.
  • New hires who share your passion are “good fits” and will be your best employees and your company’s future leaders.


Inspirational Leadership

Regardless of size or industry, great leaders know the reasons that they do whatever they do. They follow their passion and have a vision they can articulate. In the early 1900s, several Americans wanted to be the first person to fly an airplane. Samuel Pierpont Langley was an educated, well-connected Harvard math professor with wealthy friends and a $50,000 government grant. Wilbur and Orville Wright had no education, no high-end connections and limited finances. On December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers made their dream come true. They started with their reason Why – their purpose – and inspired those around them. “There are leaders and those who lead.” Those who lead are more common, but real leaders motivate and inspire you.

“Inspiring leaders and companies...think, act and communicate exactly alike. And it’s the complete opposite of everyone else.”

“Manipulation Versus Inspiration”

Most sellers manipulate rather than inspire. Businesses influence customers by leveraging price, promotions, fear, peer pressure, aspirations and novelty. Such manipulation harvests short-term transactions, but it doesn’t earn long-term customer loyalty. Businesses say their customers choose them because they offer the best products or services at the right price. In reality, companies often don’t know why their customers act as they do. Instead, managers make assumptions that they use as the foundation for decisions. Firms may conduct research, collect information and seek advice, but, even after analyzing all that data, sellers still make mistakes.

“Imagine if every organization started with Why. Decisions would be simpler. Loyalties would be greater. Trust would be a common currency.”

For example, merchandisers routinely drop their prices to entice potential customers. Once customers get accustomed to paying reduced prices, they don’t want to pay the full price, which cuts profits. Some firms offer promotions instead of cutting prices, such as “two for the price of one” or “buy X, get Y free.” Many ads and public-service announcements use fear-based messages, such as the popular 1980s commercial featuring an egg being cracked into a hot skillet: “This is your brain” (the egg); “This is your brain on drugs.”(the egg sizzling). “Any questions?” Fear is the most powerful manipulator. Peer-pressure marketing preys on fear and emotion – as when a seller tries to convince you its product is best because celebrities or experts use it.

“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it, or you can inspire it.”

Aspirational messages and innovation are more subtle forms of manipulation. While fear focuses on the negative, aspirations focus on the positive or on something you might desire. Aspirational statements include such messages as, “In six weeks, you can be rich” or “Drop 10 pounds fast.” Companies tout innovations, but in a fast-paced market, innovations don’t stay unique for long. Manipulation instills “repeat business” – that is, “when people do business with you multiple times” – but not loyalty. Customers who feel loyal “are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you.” Firms must earn such loyalty, but instead many use manipulation to gain repeat customers and must keep manipulating to maintain their business.

“Companies with a clear sense of Why...ignore their competition, whereas those with a fuzzy sense of Why are obsessed with what others are doing.”

“The Golden Circle”

Great leaders follow a pattern called the Golden Circle. Like a target, the Golden Circle starts with a small bull’s-eye with “Why” in the center, surrounded by a larger circle marked “How” and then surrounded by the biggest circle labeled “What.” Most individuals and companies can define what they do. They can usually articulate how they do it and the elements that differentiate them from their competitors. However, only a select few can identify their Why.

“The goal of business should not be to do business with anyone who simply wants what you have. It should be to focus on the people who believe what you believe.”

When it comes to marketing, most companies pursue the standard What-How-Why approach. They should reverse the order, explaining first their Why and their How, and then their What. For example, if Apple were a typical company, its ads might read: “We make great computers. They’re beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly. Want to buy one?” But, a more realistic ad for Apple might read, “[In] everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly. And we happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”

“Successful succession is more than selecting someone with an appropriate skill set – it’s...finding someone...in lockstep with the original cause around which the company was founded.”

The second message doesn’t rely on any of the usual manipulations. Apple has loyal customers who believe in the company’s philosophy. Other technology firms might make beautiful, simple products, but Apple resonates with customers because they appreciate its vision.

“When an organization defines itself by what it does, that’s all it will ever be able to do.”

Leaders who define their companies according to what they make or how they make it paint themselves into a corner. Without realizing it, they become just like everyone else and compete on price, quality, service, and the like. Each new competitor in the marketplace makes it harder for those organizations to differentiate their offerings, and the manipulation must begin anew.

“Loyalty to a company trumps pay and benefits...We don’t want to come to work to build a wall; we want to come to work to build a cathedral.”

Gut Decisions

Consumers want to do business with those they trust, so they seek companies that seem to share their values and beliefs. These sellers make shoppers feel part of something bigger than themselves. People make instinctive decisions based on emotion. Specifically, the basic, emotionally driven limbic brain makes gut decisions before the higher-level, more rational, deductive neocortex comes into play. When people make complex decisions, they tend to dismiss objective facts and figures and rely more on instinct.

“If there were no trust...no one would take risks. No risks would mean no exploration, no experimentation and no advancement of the society.”

Neuroscientist Richard Restak, who writes about the power of the limbic system in The Naked Brain, says that when people are forced to make decisions based on data alone, they take more time and usually overanalyze the situation. He believes gut decisions “tend to be faster, high-quality decisions.” Choices that aren’t rooted in emotion can lead people to doubt whether they made the right decisions, but those with reliable gut feelings seldom second-guess their choices.

“If the levels of the Golden Circle are in balance, all those who share the organization’s view of the world will be drawn to it and its products like a moth to a light bulb.”

Great leaders rely on their instincts or intuition. They can identify a void in the market before their customers detect it. In the 1970s, San Antonio businessman Rollin King decided to replicate the success of a short-distance, low-cost airline named Pacific Southwest. King had an unlikely business partner, Herb Kelleher, his divorce lawyer and friend. Pacific Southwest served California, and King and Kelleher’s new Southwest Airlines initially served only Texas by providing flights linking Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. But King and Kelleher wanted to appeal to the common person by creating an airline that was cheap, easy to use and fun. They saw their main competition as ground transportation, not other airlines. Southwest became a business legend by remaining profitable every year while other airlines struggled. United and Delta tried to follow Southwest’s model by creating their own low-cost air carriers. Both failed within four years because they didn’t following their own sense of mission or purpose.

“We do better in cultures in which we are good fits.”

Building Trust

Building trust with customers has two components: First build trust with your employees and then back your words with actions. Continental Airlines suffered trust issues in the 1980s and 1990s until the arrival of CEO Gordon Bethune. Continental ranked last in on-time arrivals and customer satisfaction and suffered from high employee turnover. Bethune did away with the locked doors on the executive suites at corporate headquarters and made himself accessible to employees. He often worked alongside them, even handling bags when necessary, and he instilled a team-oriented culture. Bethune set out to fix Continental’s abysmal on-time performance record, which was costing it $5 million a month in extra expenses. He offered every single employee $65 each month that the airline ranked in the top five for on-time performance. He sent these checks separately from regular paychecks to underscore his message.

“You don’t hire for skills; you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills.” (Herb Kelleher)

People perform at their best when they’re part of a culture that fits their values and beliefs. Great leaders find good matches and hire people who believe in the company’s cause or purpose. In 1914, Englishman Ernest Shackleton set out to cross Antarctica’s frozen terrain and reach the South Pole. Winter came early, and he and his crew became trapped in ice for 10 months. Shackleton and some of his men traveled 800 miles in small lifeboats to bring help to the rest of the crew. Nobody on his crew died or tried to overthrow his leadership. Why? Shackleton had hired the right people. His newspaper ad read, “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.” Shackleton found people perfectly suited to the job at hand; he found what every company wants and needs: “good fits.”

“Great leaders...inspire people to act...Those who truly lead...create a following of people who act not because they were swayed, but because they were inspired.”

Tipping Points and Bell Curves

In his 2002 book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell discusses “connectors” and “influencers.” He identifies a “tipping point” that occurs when ideas or behaviors spread rapidly, like a virus. Advertising and marketing executives try to build momentum for their products by reaching out to “influencers.” Gladwell had several predecessors – notably Everett M. Rogers and Geoffrey Moore. Rogers described how society embraces new ideas in his groundbreaking 1962 book, Diffusion of Innovations. Moore followed up 30 years later with Crossing the Chasm, explaining how and why people adopt new technology. The “Law of Diffusion of Innovations” follows a bell curve, in which 2.5% of people are “innovators” on one end of the curve. Then, 13.5% are “early adopters,” and the “majority” falls in the middle with 34% adopting new technology early and 34% adopting it late. Far on the other leg, 16% are “laggards.”According to Moore, innovators and early adopters push us. They are the first to try new approaches, ideas and technologies. They trust their intuition and take risks. As consumers, they’re willing to pay more or be inconvenienced to be first. Most people fall in the majority; they try something new after they know it works. Laggards are the last ones to adopt something new. They, for example, still refuse to get cellphones because their landlines work just fine. Recruit innovators and early adopters who believe in your product and mission. They will recruit others to your cause.

Finding Your True Believers

Your true believers are out there; you just have to find them. You need action-oriented people to make your vision a reality. You need people focused on how to be your implementers. Even inspiring, charismatic leaders need followers to create vehicles for moving their ideas forward. Where would Steve Jobs have been without Steve Wozniak, or Bill Gates without Paul Allen, or Walt Disney without Roy Disney? In each pair, the visionary leader defines the Why and the second person implements the How. Inspirational leaders (“Why types”) need steady “How types” to keep them grounded.In 1957, Walt Disney said he’d be in jail “with checks bouncing,” if not for his brother, Roy. Walt admitted that he never knew how much money he had in the bank, but Roy always knew. Walt was the thinker; Roy was the doer. While Walt drew cartoons and dreamed of making movies, his brother had the idea of licensing the cartoons and selling them as merchandise. Roy founded the Buena Vista Distribution Company, which became part of Disney’s film empire. When people who focus on the Why join those who carry out the How, they can change the world.Even with success, individuals and companies must stay connected to their original vision. Individuals who succeed or companies that become too large risk losing that spark. They must hold on to it, so their endeavors continue to have purpose and earn profits.

Reflecting Back

A true sense of why you do what you do comes from looking inside yourself and reflecting on your life. Ponder where you’ve been and how your purpose can lead you where you want to go. Author Simon Sinek experienced an internal shift away from his Why. Three years after starting his consulting business, he was depressed and certain he was going out of business. Someone explained to him how the brain works and taught him that buying behavior is rooted in biology. Sinek thus discovered his Why and set out to “inspire people to do the things that inspire them.”

About the Author

Simon Sinek is an optimist and adjunct member of the RAND Corporation. His book Start With Why expands on his popular TED Talk, “How great leaders inspire action.”