“Coherence” by Watkins is one of our favourite leadership books. It is about the physiology of decision making as a CEO. Alan wrote a blog about it
Summary of coherence
If I would summarise it in two sentences, it is about being aware of your emotions and particularly about being aware of your amygdala (the fight or flight switch in your brain). Only make decisions when you are calm. To do that you need to be in control of your breathing, bringing your heart beat down.
The CEO as the metronome
If the CEO is calm, the organisation is calm. The image I always get is that of a metronome. Put 1000 metronomes in a room, running at different speeds. Eventually they all sync. The calm heartbeat of the CEO should be the metronome of an organisation.
The neuroscience behind leadership
Since then we have been interested in the physiology and neuroscience behind leadership. Hence Buddha’s Brain, which is about the neuroscience behind meditation. Meditation is also about breathing. Which is why advice every CEO to meditate and calm the mind. When you’re very relaxed, it’s hard to feel stressed or upset.
Your brain is three pounds of tofu-like tissue containing 1.1 trillion cells, including 100 billion neurons. On average, each neuron receives about five thousand connections, called synapses, from other neurons. A typical neuron fires 5– 50 times a second. In the time it takes you to read this paragraph, quadrillions of signals will travel inside your head.
The number of possible combinations of 100 billion neurons firing or not is approximately 10 to the millionth power, or 1 followed by a million zeros, in principle; this is the number of possible states of your brain. To put this in perspective, the number of atoms in the universe is estimated to be “only” about 10 to the eightieth power.
Future of the mind
In “The future of the mind” Michio Kaku explains what that means in mechanical terms. To build a copy of the brain with the current technology would not just need a single Blue Gene computer but thousands of them, which would fill up not just a room but an entire city block. The energy consumption would be so great that you would need a thousand-megawatt nuclear power plant to generate all the electricity. And then, to cool off this monstrous computer so it wouldn’t melt, you would need to divert a river the size of the river Hudson and send it through the computer circuits.
It is remarkable that a gigantic, city-size computer is required to simulate a piece of human tissue that weighs three pounds, fits inside your skull, raises your body temperature by only a few degrees, uses twenty watts of power, and needs only a few hamburgers to keep it going.
Kaku also goes into the quantum mechanics of your brain. Alternate universes, free will, time, laws of motion. Riveting stuff. One thing to ponder; EEG scans show that the brain has made the decision about three hundred milliseconds before the person becomes aware of it. In quantum computing, three milliseconds is a lifetime.
Negative trumps positive
I think we can all agree that the brain is a powerful thing. The problem with it is this. In the old days, to survive a hostile environment, our brains have been wired to remember the negative. Your hippocampus makes sure it’s stored carefully for future reference. Once burned, twice shy. Your brain is like Velcro for negative experiences. Negative experiences leave a mental residue. “Buddha’s mind” shows that, neurologically, you can cleanse yourself of that negativity. You can physically build happiness and hardwire that into your brain.
Your brain systems
The book explains how the parasympathetic nervous system, sympathetic nervous system, the autonomic nervous system, parasympathetic nervous system and the enteric nervous system all work and how those are linked to unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, and unconscious competence.
Positive mental attitude
You should create, preserve, and increase positive memories, and prevent, eliminate, or decrease negative ones. This rebuilding process gives you the opportunity, right down in the micro-circuitry of your brain, to gradually shift the emotional shadings of your brain into being more positive.
Emotions have global effects since they organise the brain as a whole. Consequently, positive feelings have far-reaching benefits, including a stronger immune system. They lift your mood; increase optimism, resilience, and resourcefulness; and help counteract the effects of painful experiences. It’s a positive cycle: good feelings today increase the likelihood of good feelings tomorrow.
Program your brain
The book will tell you how the neuroaxis, the brain stem, the diencephalon, the hypothalamus, the limbic systems: the anterior cingulate cortex and the amygdala work. For example, you can create intentions physically in the brain, ensuring your inner experience of things coming together toward a unified aim reflects a neural coherence.
What that means is that you can program your brain. Which that means you can program to become a better, happier CEO, which in turn means happier employees, which in turn means a more profitable business.