“The Extreme Brain” – A review and application

by Paula Moran


On Tuesday, February 15, 2011 I listened to Pat Johns’ give a lecture titled “The Extreme Brain” at the monthly PMI Washington DC chapter dinner.


There’s a lot to be said about the area up behind your eyeballs.  A lot more than can be condensed into a one hour presentation.  The more appropriate venue would be a longer seminar.  There the information can be more easily applied to project management.  That said, Pat Johns made some good points.  They included:


> The importance of creativity and innovation in the business setting

> The roles of the left and right brain in achieving goals

> Emotional control contributes to success


The importance of creativity and innovation in business


It’s important to know your employees and what motivates them.  Johns open this section by referencing the work of Daniel Pink and his work Drive.  The idea of paying more for increased productivity only applies to manual labor.  Cognitive (white collar) workers are motivated by mastery and appreciation.  This statement is predicated on workers being paid adequately. 


My initial reaction is where is this coming from?  The answer psychology and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  Once an individual has their basic needs met physiological, safety, love affection and belongingness they are looking for fulfillment of their higher level needs.  Higher level includes the need for esteem and self-actualization.  These higher level needs require creative space to achieve.


What does this mean as a company leader?  If you have cognitive workers, work with them to come up with a way to generate a creative space.  Johns referenced one company that a “goofy day” once a month.  Employees were allowed to do whatever they wanted – wear purple, scooter around the halls, etc – during which time they were told to be creative and innovate.


How do I create an atmosphere of innovation?  First understand that creativity is the creation of new ideas and innovation is the application of creative ideas.  An environment that encourages innovation would be described as:


  • Questioning assumptions
  • Redefining problems
  • Encouraging idea generation
  • Crossing concepts
  • Rewarding creative ideas
  • Encouraging sensible risk
  • Tolerating ambiguity
  • Allowing mistakes
  • Holding others’ thoughts in esteem


Share thoughts on what has worked for you or your company.


Roles of the left and right brain in achievement


Left brain – traditionally analytical and data based

Right brain – associated with creativity and unity


Johns started this part of the presentation referencing A Stroke of Insight by Jill Taylor.  In the story Taylor, a scientist, suffers a stroke and looses use of her left brain.  In that process she develops insights into the right brain.


In these days of data based rationalizations so many of our decisions are made in the left brain.  When answering the question of why some can achieve their goals and others not Johns concluded that it was the ability to use your right brain.  He citied many other written works to justify his conclusion that to achieve larger life goals you must use more of the right brain’s creativity and unity than most are comfortable using.


Conclusion: you can’t analyze your way to goals and happiness.  Creative endeavor is essential.  Sometimes you have to control, or silence, the analytical chatter in our heads.


Emotional controls’ contribution to success


The most memorable story of the evening for me was about two baboons.  Researchers were trying to better understand the biochemistry of relationships.  All mammals excrete fight or flight chemicals on a routine basis.  It happens to you multiple times a day.  After a flight or fight situation the researchers drew blood from baboons.  They found that the alpha male was able to shut off the flow of chemicals quickly after the event. The commonly beat up lowest social ranking baboon continued to excrete chemicals long after the event.  The conclusion, success in society is related to your ability to control your emotions – emotional intelligence.


How does this apply to humans?  The ability to control your emotions and your emotional biochemistry has an effect on your success.  Developing emotional intelligence will contribute to your success in society.


Closure of Gratitude


Johns closed his presentation, as he does with all, with a message of gratitude.  In similar form I would like to say I’m grateful to be able to share this information with you and learning more every day.


Look for a future article on the role of gratitude in emotional intelligence.