Monday, 29 September 2014


I’ve just started reading “Smarter: The new science of building brain power” by Dan Hurley.

He’s an American journalist who writes for the New Yorker and various science journals. He writes beautifully and persuasively about how it seems possible to improve our fluid intelligence, our IQ, by a series of brain training exercises. The theory is the same as that of physical exercise making our bodies fitter. If bodies, why not minds?

It even applies to people whose theoretical brain power is on the ebb - the elderly.  But, more than 500 years ago one smart lady, Elizabeth 1, recognised the need to keep learning. She claimed to learn something new every single day. And she lived to 70 - a fine Elizabethan age.

Giving up on learning and assuming we know how to fit the facts to the script that we’ve already written for ourselves hit the headlines this week. Tesco, a victim of unreasonable expectations all round, seemed to have romanced its profits somewhat and a whistle blower showed them the yellow card. Extraordinary that mighty companies haven’t leant you can’t fib anymore.

On stage next, Ed Miliband. So you’re a show off - “look no safety net!”-  and you try to do your conference speech unscripted. But you screw up and forget to mention two crtical issues you meant to raise. OK stuff happens. But then you try to wriggle out of it in a furtive “the dog ate my homework” kind of way.

Had you said “Yeah. I made a mistake” I’d have felt better about you. Extraordinary that big public figures haven’t learned that they can’t take unnecessary risks and that they can’t fib anymore.

Whilst we maybe overstate the importance of presentation in our working lives, decent clear communication is the least we expect and inspiring oratory works miracles (whether read or half read.) What we don’t need are word perfect actors.

Age is the greatest teacher of all. Most mature people I know have more inquisitive minds than they did when younger even if the passion to get-it-done and go-for-it has waned somewhat. Ferocious characters like Portillo and Tebbit mellow and even a foul-mouthed trader called “the Animal” at Salomon Brothers in Michael Lewis’ exposé “Liar’s Poker” is a genial novelist now in Colorado.

Yet the concern some feel about the upcoming generation’s ability to think nimbly and cleverly and have a NASA scientist competence with technological complexity is misplaced. Never confuse cleverness with understanding. By far the greatest asset in a world where marketing and people skills are still king, is empathy. We must be able to get what people really feel and think.

Finally Einstein’s version of insanity best describes the Tesco issue:-
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".

We must vary our behaviour in response to what’s going on around us, avoid silly risks and learn to tell the truth.


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