Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"Brain Rules" rules

I'm happy to use my sons' favorite expression to headline today's post. If something is really, really good, it "rules." I guess kids wish for monarchy (or feel as if they live under one). For example:

"Spongebob rules."
"Indiana Jones rules."
"Swim team rules."

And, similarly, John Medina's "Brain Rules" rules. (And I'm not the first to say so.) It performs an amazing trick--besides being informative and insightful...it's also a delight to read.

The book sets out twelve rules about how our brains work (#1: Exercise boosts brain power; #8: Stressed brains don't learn the same way), cites study after study to back up the rules, and demonstrates how our current lifestyles often aren't particularly good for our brains. Mixed in is advice for students, parents, presenters, executives, drivers--everybody--about how to act more in support of your brain rather than in opposition to its needs.

I gravitated to the section about attention (#4: We don't pay attention to boring things), especially his description of the 10-minute rule for his university lectures:

I decided that every lecture I'd ever give would come in discrete modules. Since the 10-minute rule had been known for many years, I decided the modules would last only 10 minutes. Each segment would cover a single core concept--always large, always general, always filled with "gist," and always explainable in one minute. Each class was 50 minutes, so I could easily burn through five large concepts in a single period. I would use the other 9 minutes in the segment to provide a detailed descrtiption of that single general concept. The trick was to ensure that each detail could be easily traced back to the general concept with minimum intellectual effort. I regularly took time out from content to explain the relationship betwen the detail and the core concept in clear and explicit terms. (p.89)

The book is full of stories, blessedly, and also demonstrates Medina's innate grasp of rule #4 by creating suspense in passage after passage, for example:

To explain how timing issues figure into memory formation, I want to stop for a moment and tell you about how I met my wife. (p.133)

How could anyone close the book there? Devices like these (used seamlessly and delivered in a deadpan voice) propel you through the book, so that at times it feels like you're reading a thriller, not a book about neurology.

Enough said. Great book. Read it. Do something nice for your brain.

Related posts:
The first great business book of 2008
A must-read for people who present

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