By Chet Yarbrough
Your Brain at Work
By: David Rock
Narrated by : Bob Walker
David Rock (Author, business consultant, received a doctorate in the Neuroscience of Leadership from Middlesex University in the UK)
“Your Brain at Work” was originally released 2009 and revised in 2020. This review is based on the 2009 edition. David Rock is a business-management consultant and co-founder of an institute called NeuroLeadership Institute. Rock brings together neuroscientists and leadership experts to reveal works of the human brain that improve business management skills.
What Rock suggests is that human neurological activity is at the heart of effective business management. The expressed objective of Rock’s recommendations is to produce more effective and efficient businesses. His method for explaining this process is a case study of a husband and wife who represent two kinds of managers. One is a self-employed, and cybernetic systems designer. The other is a mid-level manager, recently promoted to manage a business division.
The first manager is a solely-owned business entrepreneur. The second is a division manager within a larger business. The first is a line manager. The second is a staff manager.
Rock shows there are crossovers in their management skills but their goals are different. Though Rock does not mention it, the first person’s job is zero-sum with profit as a measure of success. The second manager is within a larger organization where effectiveness and efficiency, rather than profit, are measures of success. Both are intent on being good managers but profits are of incidental importance to a staff manager. Both managers desire positive results. Rock suggests both can train their minds to use similar management methods to achieve their different business objectives.
Rock argues that both managers must better understand how their minds work to mitigate bad business decisions.
There are an estimated 100 million cortical columns in the neo-cortex that transmit information to different parts of the brain through neurons in each column.
The example Rock gives for the entrepreneur is in the sales pitch and planning for automating billing and sales for 200 stores. The entrepreneur is given an opportunity to bid a job that requires cybernetic and management skill. The entrepreneur has done similar jobs but none quite as large as this one.
When the request for bid is received, the entrepreneur underestimates the complexity of the proposal. The entrepreneur rushes to prepare a proposal after procrastinating for 4 days with only 30 minutes left to complete a proposal before meeting with the buyers. In the rush, the entrepreneur runs into printer problems, typos, and miscellaneous minor problems that conflict with mindfulness required to complete and present the proposal.
Rock goes into the mechanics of thought to explain how stressors distort self-awareness and make one lose sight of reasoned performance.
The entrepreneur is nearly late for the meeting which is another stressor that affects the sales presentation. When the customer asks if a deadline can be met, the entrepreneur hesitates because of the stressors accompanying lack of mindful preparation. The entrepreneur’s thoughts are momentarily derailed because of an inability to recall a former memory, a similar client experience that had a tight deadline that the entrepreneur met.
The entrepreneur’s thoughts and actions did not come from quiet self-understanding but from fear of losing a sale. Rock introduces the idea of a mind’s “director” that tells one to relax and remember relevant experiences that give confidence to sellers and measured acceptance by buyers. Rock emphasizes the importance of mind preparation before arriving at an important meeting. He goes on to explain how to train one’s mind to be calm to thoughtfully review what is laying dormant in one’s recollections. A good manager should practice mindfulness.
A similar story is created for the newly promoted staff manager. Many people in this newly formed division were fellow workers of this newly promoted manager.
The promoted manager has ideas based on personal knowledge of some of the employees about who should get particular jobs to make the new project a success. With little self-reflection, the promoted manager assigns a job to one of the employees without preparing everyone for their new roles.
Rock suggests first meetings should be designed to allow people to reacquaint themselves with each other in a new management arrangement. He suggests letting the flow of reacquaintance influence job assignment for productivity of the team.
Though the promoted manager may have made a good decision based on previous experience with someone who is now a subordinate, the decision creates unnecessary conflict between aspirational division employees.
Rock argues that the mind’s “director” can be trained to interrupt bad decisions through contemplation of prior experience, and a period of mindfulness can lead a team of people to become more comfortable with their roles in the company’s management change.
Rock goes on to explain the importance of social connection and how status needs to become a constant presence in a manager’s mind when steering a team toward a corporate goal.
The author uses the stories of two managers showing how failure to recognize the role of social contact and status can threaten success.
Much of what Rock explains is summarized by the ancient phrase “know thy measure” (more colloquially known as “know thyself”). Regardless of one’s status in a company or in life, a better understanding of oneself is at the core of human success and failure. Rock’s point is that successful managers develop their inner “director” with mindfulness (“Your Brain at Work”) as a guide to what the author argues is a predetermined future.