In "Your Brain at Work" David Rock explores the way our brain is wired based on studies and research conducted in the NeuroScience field. Our brain is the focus of this book and we need to develop an understanding of how our brain processes situations in order to improve our life, becoming more effective and thereby also achieving greater life satisfaction.
The book outlines the day of 2 professionals, Emily and Paul, and their 2 kids, Michelle and Josh. Paul is a self employed Consultant and Emily is a Senior Corporate type. The issues they are dealing with we all know well: Emily was recently promoted, and she has to win people over in her new role, lead a team, sell ideas, and incorporate additional new responsibilities into her day. Additionally, she is juggling marriage, household duties and parenting. Paul is a self employed consultant working from home. He has to pitch ideas to prospects, write proposals and to generate new business. He is dealing with competitors, vendors, marriage, household responsibilities and parenting. The book takes us through email overwhelm, multi-tasking, managing expectations, turning enemies into friends, unfairness, relationships and dealing with a culture that needs to transform.
The book introduces the reader to the functioning and limitations of the brain by exploring the pre-frontal cortex, the limbic system and response to both threats and reward states in the mind. Subsequently, this data was studied further and David Rock has developed a combination of these inter-related functions more concisely into the “SCARF” model which stands for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness.
Making decisions and solving problems relies heavily on the Pre Frontal Cortex. The cortex is the outer covering of the brain- the prefrontal cortex sits behind the forehead. It is the biological seat of your conscious interactions with the world. The pre frontal cortex is handy but it has big limitations. It likes to have everything just right or it does not function well. The pre frontal cortex is introduced as a metaphor, a Stage, in a small theater where actors play a part but sometimes actors might be audience members going on stage to perform. The stage is what you focus on and it can hold information from your inner and outer world or a combination. 5 functions make up the majority of conscious thought.
These 5 functions use the pre frontal cortex and this uses up significant resources. The stage requires a lot of energy to function and knowing this gives us the chance to prioritize and organize our day differently and to simplify where possible. Distractions play a big part in our lives and can be exhausting. Changing focus constantly minimizes productivity, losing quality of thinking. High level thinking requires much energy.
There is also a character called the Director. The director is a metaphor for the part of the awareness that can stand outside of your experience and watch your life. Often it is called mindfulness, essentially meaning knowing yourself, which is the first step towards any change. Activating your “director” when you are overwhelmed is the real challenge that we all face regularly.
Human emotions involve many brain regions. Emotional experience is connected to a large brain network called the Limbic System. This system tracks your emotional relationship to thoughts, objects, people and events. It determines how you feel and drives behavior. It is not possible to process all options in order to determine what to do next. Value judgments must be made. The limbic system constantly makes positive or negative decisions, termed Toward (Reward) and Away (Threat) states.
David Rock developed the SCARF model and the book defines each of these 5 functions in context very thoroughly. This user-friendly model is a tool to help us to increase our own Toward state and decrease our Away state by strengthening these 5 domains. Also, as leaders or coaches, the model can assist us to help facilitate positive change in others in order to increase their performance.
The book discusses peak performance, insight, hot buttons, uncertainty, autonomy, control, making choices, managing expectations and culture transformation. Readers of the book will find this information, together with the examples provided, very useful.
David Rock imparts suggestions throughout the book with better ways to handle daily challenges that come into our lives each and every moment.
The focus of the book is on the brain, taking into consideration the circuitry of the brain based on recent findings, and offers conclusions in order to improve work-life integration and efficiency.
I highly recommend this book together with David’s book “Quiet Leadership” which ties all these findings together profoundly in leading or coaching others, with the brain in mind, to enhance performance.
Last but not least, in case you were curious about our co-stars, Emily and Paul and do they live happily ever after, sorry to disappoint but they do not end up living happily ever after in the fairy tale way we would wish. However, they do find ways that work. David Rock shows that there are better ways to approach situations, with the brain limitations in mind, in order that matters do not spiral out of control. Starting with the understanding of how our brain works, becoming more aware of our limitations and taking self responsibility, we can deal with issues more graciously so that parties involved in our interactions can walk away feeling more satisfied.