Friday, November 20, 2009

Get Novel with More Thinking Partnerships Like the Coen Brothers

Channel hopping led me to an interview with the Coen brothers about their new film “A Serious Man”. While I tuned in somewhat to excerpts from and discussion about the film, I was more fascinated by their mannerisms and what makes them click.

For the longest time, Ethan just hung his head as if he were someplace else while Joel answered most of the interviewer’s questions. With slumped shoulders Ethan sure wasn’t putting his best foot forward as the pros recommend for interviews. But, suddenly he lit up, sat up and went on at length in a deep academic way expanding upon the nuances of their films. Hmmm. No slouch after all.

The Coen brothers have been a tour de force for over 20 years directing and producing numerous quirky, clever, very creative and often “dark” yet popular films. What makes them tick? How do they come up with such unusual plot lines which parody life and still capture our imaginations?

They must take lots of “walks in the park”, work on being positive and are good observers of their own thinking. We have the hard science now from neuroscientists that these approaches do increase insights and the ability to see novel solutions to new problems.

The approaches combined quiet the brain allowing more holistic connections to be made. Moments of insight emerge not from working harder but from backing off to allow subtle signals to be noticed. Too much noise (anxiety, busyness, time pressure, etc.) stop novel answers from emerging.

Thinking partnerships help too. Like the Coen brothers where one brings a lot of detail to the situation and the other sees the big picture. At least that’s my impression. Looking at their background, Ethan studied philosophy. That’s a big picture abstract level of thinking. On the other hand, Joel studied film making and music video production---still very creative challenges yet more at the 1,000 foot level than the 50,000.

Google, IDEO, 3M, Southwest Airlines and many other well known and highly successful organizations leverage “insight-making” on purpose. It’s good for business as their bottom lines demonstrate. One common thread is that they make a point of having fun, a sure fire way to let out the weird and wonderful ideas.

The blueprint is clear for increasing the odds of novel thinking to make an appearance. This is no time to be shy! In this still tough environment, quieter brains must prevail to help us through.

Friday, November 06, 2009

H1N1 Up Close: Death of New Colleague's Wife Raises "Hazard Watch"

I met Steve three times at a local business networking meeting. On Tuesday, October 27 at about 9:00 am I bade him farewell along with others after we did our usual round of business. One week later (November 3) Steve sent out an email that his wife had “a raging case of pneumonia and possibly H1N1” and was in hospital. On November 5 Steve’s wife of 14 years passed away from H1N1 flu at Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga.

This is not supposed to happen, although public health officials are saying: “There will be deaths”. We are between a rock and a hard place. So is public health---the available supply and the inoculation system is out-of-synch with the real demand and the timing of the flu pathway through the population.

I know nothing of Steve’s wife’s background. Perhaps she was among the “at risk”. She was likely in her forties judging from my guesstimate of Steve’s age. Could she have been saved by more readily available vaccine?

The lock-step nature of the roll-out of the vaccine puts to the test our self-control (to be patient and wait our turn) and our sense of fairness (stories abound on people jumping the queue). Besides, how does one divide up a family according to a rather rough risk measure (some get it, some don’t in the first parts of the roll-out) and still maintain a sense of calm? So, aside from the evolving science of the disease which researchers and practitioners are working hard at keeping up with, how does an everyday person manage risk when the safety net has holes in it?

One of my dear friends who is a biochemist claims the flu is already everywhere, as it usually is during this time of year. She counsels: “Stop worrying about the rigmarole over the vaccine and just get on with life” as it’s somewhat late to get a shot. The best risk management actions remain the same—adhere to healthy living practices including the frequent washing of hands, etc.” The statistics are on our side as this is a mild flu.

Underlying our conversation, however, is not concern for ourselves. If truth be told, it’s for our families. My friend has six grandchildren ranging in age from four months to 12 years old. My children are young adults. As whole families cannot be inoculated at the same time, our “hazard watch” escalates.

Brain science reveals that we use up a tremendous amount of brain energy (glucose) to manage the uncertainties in our environment. The stress can be exhausting and leaves less energy for tackling other important parts of our professional and personal lives. The functioning of our pre-frontal cortex ramps up as it communicates with and tries to sort out and guide the emotional turmoil buried in deeper brain regions. With the H1N1 situation running at high uncertainty, calming our minds daily with good thoughts, exercise, fellowship, fun and other means of relaxing is an antidote for survival.

We shape our brains daily. This can be used to our advantage. Since 9/11 it feels as if we have lived in a chronically uncertain world. Each segment of any one year has its “signature” threats. We are learning through no choice of our own to adapt as if we are running a marathon most of the time. Anyone who has trained for a marathon knows it can be done. In a sense, we are all getting stronger and more resilient.