By Jonah Lehrer; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.
In the last few years, since functional MRIs have given scientists better pictures of the brain at work, a dozen popular titles have hastened to help us understand ourselves. While Lehrer’s book repeats research that has already appeared in the others, this is perhaps the most compact summary and a well-told story.
Say, for example, you’re faced with dozens of good ideas and need to decide which ones to fund. If you have just four variables, says Lehrer, you can rely on your rational brain to make the right choice from your tidy list of pros and cons. With more choices, however, you need to rely on your emotional brain, which has carefully stored up similar life experiences to build a deeper data base. Then the “gut” feelings touted by Gladwell in Blink come to the rescue, leading to better decisions.
Citing examples that range from pilots to poker players, quarterbacks to firefighters, Lehrer demonstrates how people can use the appropriate thinking skills when faced with extraordinary circumstances—with results like last month’s Miracle on the Hudson.
On the LL innovation meter, it’s a 9, because it draws from much of the current research, and you can read it in less than three hours.
For additional reading: A Mind of its Own, Cordelia Fine; On Being Certain; Robert A. Burton; Moral Minds, Marc D. Hauser; The Female Brain, Louann Brizendine; The Naked Brain, Richard Restak; The Political Brain, Drew Weston; Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely; Gut Feelings, Gerd Gigerenzer; Nudge, Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein; Kluge, Gary Marcus; The Opposable Mind, Roger Martin; Sway, Ori Branfman and Rom Brafman; Mirroring People, Marco Iacoboni; Blind Spots, Madeleine L. Van Hecke; Brain Rules, John Medina; and Proust was a Neuroscientist, also by Jonah Lehrer.
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.