The Next Big Thing
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Brain Science @ Workplace

I enjoyed reading John Medina's recent book entitled Brain Rules (Pear Press, 2008). This book provides interesting insights into how brain science can be used to boost productivity at work and school.

Dr. Medina is a molecular biologist and the director of the Center for Brain Research at Seattle Pacific University. His book discusses 12 principles that can be applied to many aspects of the workplace, from keeping audience's attention during a presentation to the best time of the day to have meetings. I am not certain about the scientific basis for these brain rules, but they sound plausible. Here are a few examples:

Brain Rule #1 - Exercise boosts brain power. Our brains didn't evolve while sitting at a desk; instead, our brains work the best when we are moving. How can we create a workplace that requires "walking" when we need to do our best thinking?

Brain Rule # 4 - We don't pay attention to boring things. For some reason, most brains check out after 10 minutes (that's only 17% of the average meeting or presentation). Emotional arousal can help re-engage the brain. So, an effective presentation could introduce a distinctive, novel, or unusual concept every 10 minutes to maintain the audience's attention.

Also, the brain naturally focuses on concepts sequentially. While multitasking is generally praised, brain science shows that we think most effectively when we only pay attention to just one thing at a time; more than that and the error rate can go up. Have you tried scheduling interruption-free times in your calendar? Did that help you get more done?

Brain Rule # 9 - Stimulate more of the senses. Our brains seem to understand and remember events better when multiple senses are involved. Smells especially seem to help recall memories. In addition to words and images, how about enriching reports and presentations with sounds, textures, and smells? (Scratch, sniff, and remember!)

Having worked on a couple of projects dealing with the future of workplace, these brain rules gave me a few things to think about.

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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.
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