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Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently (book review - 9.5)

By Gregory Berns; Harvard Business Press 2008

Do people like Walt Disney and Steve Jobs simply have brains that are different from the rest of ours? Neuroscientist Berns explores new data from fMRI tests to explain how the brain works in creating new ideas, responding to fear of failure, and creating the social networks that enable innovators to sell their ideas to other people.

According to Berns, the key to creating new ideas is literally seeing things differently. He cites glass artist Dale Chihuly’s new perceptions after he lost an eye in a car accident. To some extent, this talent is hardwired, but with practice it can be improved.

Fear is an ancient emotion, and it’s triggered every time we encounter something novel (which explains why so few new ideas actually make it all the way up to the boardroom). Overcoming it is tricky, and entails putting new ideas in familiar contexts—thus the horseless carriage.

Finally, persuading others that your ideas are worthwhile depends a great deal on your social skills, which vary depending on your particular brain.  He notes that very few people have enhanced capability in all three areas, but that can be overcome by working in teams with the requisite abilities.

It’s an interesting cut-away view of brains at work, an easy read for individuals or managers, and I’d give it a 9.5 on the LL innovation meter.

Lynda Lawrence is an innovation consultant with Ideaworks Consulting. She teaches Strategic Innovation and Design Management at the Merage School at UCI, and is an advisor to the Beall Center.


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