Even business schools make a distinction between strategy and operations and managers are urged to become more strategic if they want to progress.
However both kinds of thinking draw on socio-emotional reasoning and more so for the more adept strategists. Researchers in the USA asked managers to react to fictional strategic and tactical management dilemmas whilst measuring their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
The researchers were particularly interested in how different areas of the brain interacted. The pre-frontal cortex is the executive part of the brain and normally associated with strategic thinking ie pattern recognition, risk assessment, abstract thinking, and anticipation.
Whilst these abilities help managers solve problems the researchers found that in the best strategic thinkers there was less neural activity in that region and more in the areas of the brain associated with instinctive reactions, empathy and emotional intelligence viz the insula, anterior cingulate cortex and the superior temporal sulcus.
The conscious executive function was downplayed whilst the regions associated with unconscious emotion processing was operating more freely.
Furthermore the strongest performers’ tactical reasoning relied not only on the emotional processing part of the brain and that part used for making choices based on past decisions, but also the part of the brain used to anticipate other people’s thoughts and emotions.
So although IQ based reasoning is valuable in both strategic and tactical thinking high performers have the ability to take a more holistic approach by integrating their brain processes. Strategic thinkers may even repress rational thought to allow their emotional and intuitive processes freer reign.
Source: HBR September 2010
You may have completed a test, such as a Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) which measures comprehension, vocabulary, arithmetic and comprehension, or a test of numerical, verbal, or critical reasoning ability when you applied for a job. Most of these tests are useful as they indicate how smart you are compared to other people and correlate with how well you do at school and in your job.
Now an article in New Scientist; “The 12 pillars of wisdom” explains how there are different views about whether or not there is a “generalised intelligence” – which is based on the fact that people who do well on one particular test tend to do well across the board – or whether intelligence is actually a combination of many different and independent cognitive abilities.
Howard Gardner, not mentioned in the article, proposed, almost 30 years ago, his multiple intelligence theory (MI Theory).
Although adopted by many educationalists and teachers, as it provides a broader framework than traditionally used in schools, it has been criticised as being more about ability than intelligence.
MI Theory includes: spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and existential.
There have been additions over time from the original 7 and some of these ie inter- and intra-personal are also included in models of Emotional Intelligence (EI).
The authors, Adrian Owen and Roger Highfield, at the UK Medical Research Council’s Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, describe how they are carrying out research to find the smallest number of tests to cover the broadest range of cognitive skills that they believe contribute to intelligence. They intend to couple this with exploration of the brain’s anatomy.
The twelve pillars they refer to in their “ultimate intelligence test” are:
- visuospatial working memory,
- spatial working memory,
- focused attention,
- mental rotation,
- visuospatial working memory and strategy,
- paired associate learning,
- deductive reasoning,
- visuospatial processing,
- visual attention,
- verbal reasoning,
- verbal working memory, and
Updated 23 November 2010: Scientists have now identified over 200 genes potentially associated with academic performance in children. Those with the right combination do significantly better in numeracy, literacy, and science.
The study of 4,000 children attempted to find the genetic combination that influences reasoning skills and general intelligence. Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London believe their work will help predict academic potential based on a genetic test.
They believe intelligence is controlled by a network of thousands of genes rather than a few powerful ones. They checked the million or so more common ones and looked for variations which occurred most often in the children who tested with either a low or high level of achievement.
Although some aspects of human physiology such as hair or eye colour, multiple sclerosis and breast cancer, are controlled by only a few genes, more recent research suggests that for most aspects it is far more complex than that. Height for example is influenced by 300 genes but even that they only account for 15% of the variation in height.
Scientists attempts to develop profiling methods, so they can predict academic potential and devise methods of helping children who might otherwise be disadvantaged, is not as easy as originally thought despite massive computing power now being available to them for their analyses.
It is still difficult apparently to name even one gene that is clearly associated with normal intelligence in healthy adults although there are 300 known to be associated with mental retardation. So it seems that having your DNA profile available at birth is still not going to book you a place at Oxbridge just yet.
Updated 26 April 2011: Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania say that they have found that high IQ scores are a result of high intelligence plus motivation whereas low IQ scores could be because of the lack of either intelligence or motivation (published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
They say that students offered incentives can improve their IQ scores and suggest that people with high IQs may be not only more intelligent but also more competitive.
IQ is often used as a predictor of success later in life but it may be that it is the competitive element that makes the difference rather than the actual level of intelligence.
Herman Melville famously said; “The eyes are the gateway to the soul”.
More importantly perhaps they are the key to establishing rapport (see “Leaders, NVC, and Charisma”) and also, along with voice pitch, for determining “turn-taking” in conversations.
On analysis what happened was that because Mrs Thatcher was constantly dropping her voice at the end of sentences (she had moved on from the shrill delivery she had when she was Secretary of State for Education & Science and known as “milk snatcher Thatcher” and had been coached to cultivate a more “intensive care” voice), Day thought she had finished and moved in with another question before she had finished making her point.
Day obviously wasn’t watching her eyes just listening to her voice, and probably the producer’s voice in his ear-piece. So he probably had enough on his plate in terms of cognitive demand.
Breaking eye contact ie looking at the person, then looking away and then back again, signals that we now want to speak. If the other person is looking at you they will hopefully pick up on it and stop speaking to allow you to have your turn.
NB Avoiding eye contact can also mean people think you are shifty even though, in some cultures, it is not thought appropriate to look people in the eye.
The other benefit of breaking eye contact is to allow us to concentrate. I used to work for a boss who, whenever he asked me a question would then close his eyes and blink rapidly. It was most disconcerting at the time until I had another boss who, rather than read my reports (often quite long political policy documents), preferred me to read them out loud to him whilst he leaned back in his chair with his eyes closed. He said it helped him to concentrate.
Now, according to an article in the Observer magazine 24/10/10, researchers at the University of Stirling have found that 5-year olds doing mental arithmetic performed better when told not to look at the examiner but at the floor.
Children are drawn to faces; even babies prefer to look at a picture of an upright face rather than an inverted one. But focussing on faces takes brain power and can be distracting when carrying out other mental tasks – hence the need to break eye contact.
So when teachers said to you, as you looked to the heavens for inspiration; “the answers not up there”, how wrong could they be!
It may not be about selfish genes and economic man after all. According to primatology professor Frans de Waal, the success of Homo sapiens is due primarily to our capacity for empathy and our urge to understand and appreciate others.
Robin McKie interviewed him in The Observer about his book; “The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society“. De Waal says that, like most mammals but particularly primates, we possess an innate sensitivity to the emotional status of other members of our species. He believes that empathy developed with the evolution of the maternal instinct as mothers need to understand when their offspring are in danger.
That might also explain why women seem to be more empathetic than men and the hormone oxytocin, which increases bonding between people, may also be a key component. The ability to understand another’s emotions and share them – what he calls emotional contagion (and which may be due to possession of so-called mirror neurones) – is common in all higher mammals. (See “Emotional Intelligence and Empathy”).
He thinks this emotional perspective appears at the age of two and correlates to the development of self-awareness. The more self-aware the animal the more empathetic it appears to be.
And it is this ability to be empathetic that enables us to care for the sick and elderly and survive in overcrowded cities (compared for example to rats which in experiments on overcrowding attacked each other).
Robin McKie interviewed him in The Observer about his book; “The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society“.
Ever wondered how much empathy you have? Psychological tests developed by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Sally Wheelwright, and their team at the University of Cambridge, England, can give you insight into the way your brain functions. Specifically, you can discover if you are more prone to empathize or systemize. Click empathy v systemising and instant feedback.
Looking through my library of books on personal and organisational development I came across my copy of The 4 agreements: Practical guide to Personal Freedom (Toltec wisdom), and remembered when I first read it 10 years ago.
I had completed my NLP training and was interested in shamanic belief systems including Hawaiian Huna (now being used to assist soldiers with PTSD as part of a UK version of the wounded warrior programme).
Then I came across this book and I was so impressed with it I wrote my first review, and the first review for the book, on Amazon; ” … my initial reading confirmed that here was a powerful tool for anyone wanting a framework for personal change. Even before I’d finished reading it I used the four agreements as a model to contract with a group of new headteachers on a personal development workshop. The model was really well received and provided a robust underpinning for everything we did so successfully that weekend.” 50 other reviewers have since added to this with over 80% giving it a 5 star rating.
In The Four Agreements shamanic teacher and healer Don Michael Ruiz exposes self-limiting beliefs and presents a simple, yet effective code of personal conduct learned from his Toltec ancestors. The four agreements are these:
- Be impeccable with your word – Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid speaking against yourself or gossiping about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
- Don’t take anything personally – Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be a victim.
- Don’t make assumptions – Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
- Always do your best – Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.
Although he is drawing on Toltec esoteric tradition his ideas are recognisable in modern therapy or coaching. He talks about domestication (=socialisation) and belief systems, about self-limiting beliefs and self-criticism (the inner judge), and about being a victim.
He likens the belief system, judge, and victim to having a parasite sucking away your energy. He also uses modern analogies. For example he likens gossip mongers to computer hackers who install a virus in your head which makes the gossip contagious.
And the role of the shamanic warrior – and this is true throughout the American continent from Canada to Argentina (and probably in parts of Asia too) – is to fight all this. The decision to adopt the 4 agreements is a declaration of war to regain your freedom from the parasite. To be free to be yourself and express yourself.
But breaking old agreements is like breaking from an addiction that we have been domesticated to accept, possibly since childhood, so it is hard work. You can start by first facing all your fears one by one. Secondly, by stopping feeding the parasite and fuelling the emotions that come from fear through gaining control of our emotions. (There is a story I remember about a native American shaman who was asked to help someone who said he had two dogs on his shoulders. One was telling him good things and the other one bad things. The shaman simply asked him which one he was feeding.)
To become a warrior you must have awareness and self-control: and you will recognise these skills as competencies in the emotional intelligence model. Yet the Toltecs pre-dated the Aztecs and were around at the time of the Norman conquest here in Britain. And there are earlier ideas too. Lao Tzu, the chinese contemporary of Confucius and who wrote the Tao said:
- Knowing others is intelligence
- Knowing yourself is true wisdom
- Mastering others is strength
- Mastering yourself is true power
It seems there are some universal truths about how humans can learn to be the best they can be which have been around for a very long time..
The idea that it’s all down-hill from your mid-twenties is being re-appraised.
Short-term memory and reasoning may decline with old age but long-term memory, vocabulary, emotional intelligence and social skills, can all get better according to researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and reported in The Sunday Times; “Silver set rides wave of greater brain power” (27/6/2010).
Older people are more efficient at problem-solving than the young as they can draw on previous experience and older people also make more rational decisions. Researchers at the University of California studied people aged between 60 and 100 and found that they were less dependent on dopamine, the feel-good hormone sometimes associated with addictive behaviour, and therefore were less influenced by emotions or impulsivity.
This may explain why leaders and senior people in many professions and organisations are in their 50s and 60s. Two-thirds of FTSE 100 CEOs are aged over 50 and judges want to be able to work until they are 70.
A report from the Department of Work & Pensions: “Attitudes to Age in Britain 2004-2008” found that 48% of people found age discrimination a serious issue and more common, with 1 in 4 experiencing it, than any other form of discrimination. Stereotypically older people are seen as warmer and more moral but less competent whereas younger people are seen as exactly the opposite. The survey also showed that older people welcome flexibility and are keen to learn as well as to contribute their skills and experience. However they are less optimistic than younger people and more realistic.
The physical demands on older workers need to be considered as well as health issues like impaired vision, muscle strength, balance and flexibility, Research from America, where 25% of 65-74 year olds are still working, shows that employers want the brainpower, experience and knowledge of older workers but not the risk of injuries or sickness absence.
Workers need to exercise their mental and physical faculties to keep healthy and motivated. There is growing evidence that mental and physical exercise can boost brain power. Three 40 minute walks a week can improve memory and reasoning while mental stimulation can improve problem-solving and reaction times.
See also “Practice makes perfect, probably”
Updated 10 August 2010: The Ministry of Justice is proposing that people over the age of 70 should be allowed to sit on juries, although perhaps with an opt-out clause for those who didn’t feel up to it. Judges, who like magistrates and tribunal members have to retire at 70, have strongly opposed the idea.
Although it might save money, as most elderly jurors won’t need compensation for lost earnings, judges say older jurors could be more susceptible to illness and disability which could disrupt proceedings.
Couldn’t just be sour grapes could it?
Updated 13 October 2010: The Helsinki Times recently reported on a story in the Finnish financial newspaper Talous Sanomat which cast doubts on whether increased life expectancy automatically meant that people should work longer.
This debate has the Confederation of Finnish Industries arguing for a retirement age of 70 because of increasing life expectancy and the belief that people should work to that age. On the other hand the National Institute for Health and Welfare is urging caution because of the variations in health and the ability to work amongst older people.
Experts say only a small percentage of 70-year olds would be in good enough shape for paid employment as many 70-year olds suffer from memory lapses, muscle weakness, heart problems, and diabetes.
And one of the most popular stories now reflecting a cornerstone of emotional intelligence is the experiment carried out by Walter Mischel at Standford University in the 1960s using marshmallows to measure self-control.
David Schenk, a writer on genetics, claims that the case for genetic predisposition is overstated and that if you practise hard enough you can even become a genius. In the same article he cites the marshmallow experiment as an example of how children can learn to develop self-discipline.
Another similar story that caught my eye appeared in the international edition of USA Today (one of the few “English” newspapers you can get on Eastern European airlines). The headline said “The secret of school success. Want your kids to master books? First they need to master themselves. Fortunately new research is finding that self-control can be taught.”
The story was about programmes teaching self-regulation in American schools and at the heart of it was a description of the famous marshmallow experiment run by Walter Mischel in the 1960s. The story also criticises some modern parenting methods as undermining the development of self-regulation.
Then in November 2009 both the Observer and the Sunday Times picked up on the findings of a Demos think-tank report. The Sunday Times headline was “Bad parents kill prospects of working class”. It reported on an increase in social mobility between the end of WW2 and the 1970s followed by a period of stagnation up to 2000.
The report identified three traits that were most important for children to improve their social lot. These were: the ability to concentrate and stick with tasks, self-regulation – whether someone can control emotions and bounce back from disappointment, and empathy – the ability to be sensitive to other people.
The report went on to say that the best form of parenting to inculcate these characteristics was “tough love” ie setting clear rules and boundaries, instilled by discussion and affection. And the marshmallow experiment was cited as a predictor of success in life. The report also described disengaged and emotionally callous children and also suggested expanding the role of Health Visitors to provide supportive parenting.
The Observer took a similar tack with “Tough love breeds smart children”. This article contained a number of statistics and found that among the 9,000 families it tracked for the survey only 13% used a tough love approach combining discipline and warmth.
Although the research found that it was the style of parenting, rather than income or social background that developed the 3 character traits referred to above, this approach was more common in wealthy families and where parents were married. The parents’ level of education was also an important factor as was breastfeeding until 6 months.
The report also claimed that these soft skills, or character capabilities, had become increasingly important in life and were now 33 times more important in determining income for those who turned 30 in 2000 than for those 12 years older.
And in advance of a report from the think tank Demos the Times published a piece about the importance of self-control and empathy in children and included a description of Mischel’s now famous marshmallow test.
Mischel has been monitoring the lives of dozens of his subjects since he started the marshmallow experiments at a nursery on the campus of Stanford University, California, in the 1960s. His findings have proved so compelling that 40 of his original subjects, now in their forties, are preparing to undergo scans in the hope of answering a perplexing human question: why are some of us better than others at resisting temptation?
“Brain imaging provides a very exciting and important new tool,” said Mischel, who now works at Columbia University in New York. According to the article in the Times he believes that by examining the differences between the brains of subjects who turned out to be good at controlling their impulses and those who wolfed down the marshmallow the moment it was offered, researchers hope to come up with new ways of teaching the benefits of delayed gratification.