On becoming an Author and a Conference Speaker

Well November has been a great month. Yes, an excellent month because my book is now available to buy (via Amazon or Blackwells) and it is everything I hoped it would be. A wonderful comprehensive collection of viable and practical exercises, meeting formats, tools and techniques for managers, with 52 chapters that help managers bring out the best in their people and improve business results. Each chapter is designed to give an informative read and practical application through exercises, reflection, methods and templates. The book has three parts:

Part I is about mindsets that bring about trust and openness, and how to develop them

Part II is about practicing skills which enable you to connect with people

Part III is about using applications that create engagement and participation

I also think it is a great reference book if you attend any Line Manager training as sometimes that covers a lot quite quickly, so hopefully this book will help you consolidate and build on that training. It’s not a book to read cover to cover but it is designed for people to dip into when they are wondering ‘How do I …’. The feedback so far has been encouraging.

Also, it contains useful exercises to help coaches with their coachees. There are chapters on building relationships, maintaining momentum and working with others. So, lots for everyone, I hope.

Secondly, I gave my first formal university conference presentation at the UWTSD inaugural Coaching Conference and it was very well received. Now I can officially say that I am a conference speaker. I was pleased with the feedback from people and noted that one lady had a cram-packed page full of notes, like a mind-map of circles with my name in the centre.

It was really useful to present. I was anxious although I was also very excited to share the story I had put together of how I use neuroscience within my coaching practice. I think that that was the most valuable thing – being forced to think about how to do that and to have to do it. I am somewhat kicking myself as when I practiced it, it fitted into the time slot but in reality I had to cut it short. At least I now know how it goes: I am going to rearrange a few sections then the key parts get said regardless of time slippage. I liked my slide deck too – Ok I admit I am biased – but university faculty seem to think that text heavy, black and white slides work. Although I think they use them as their script, whereas I have a separate script. I also learned that if someone is going to wave helpful yellow (5mins left) and red (2 mins left) flags at me, then they need to be sitting directly in front of me, not at the side as I missed them completely. Anyway, it was great to hear that so many people found it fascinating to listen to: What a great word to hear.

The Coaching Conference itself, was insightful with a rich variety of speakers and topics, including Prof Stephen Palmer and Dr Peggy Marshall who successfully embedded a coaching culture within her US Fortune 66 company. Also Dr Annette Fillery-Travis has started a Coaching Society based from the university and her aim is to create a vibrant community of practice and research.

On the DProf, things have been quiet as work has been hectic – in a rich and energising way – and it has allowed me to think about how I more overtly bring neuroscience into my coaching. I thought about how I need to broach it in a way that doesn’t sound strange or as if I want to show how much I know. In the end, when relevant, I decided to ask them how their brain knows it needs to create that emotion. Usually they look rather quizzically at me and then I say, ‘in there (pointing to my head and theirs), how does your brain know to make that emotion?’ Usually they are curious and it allows me to talk about their brain and how the emotion they are feeling may not have much to do with the current situation on its own but that it is linked to lots of other memories. In this way, I find they are ok to have a conversation that doesn’t feel like therapy but one that allows us to talk about ‘that feeling’ in a more detached manner and how to handle it.

Now I am doing the correct Literature review I am exploring if there is anything else on Self-hindering coachees. This is both exciting and nerve-racking as you’re always worried about finding someone who’s already done the research. So, I was a bit apprehensive in reading Stephen Palmer’s work on Procrastination. However, after reading some research papers I decided that procrastination doesn’t describe the coachees that I have described as self-hindering and I feel able to defend my argument on that. Phew!

I am hoping to get through the Ethics committee soon though as I’d like to start again in January.

I loved this article, “Twenty things I wish I’d known when I started my PhD” as it rang so true. I particularly liked number 5 about needing to record everything and even if you think you’ve done that enough, like her, I have found I haven’t. And I now agree with number 14 about presenting your work. It has helped me structure my thoughts and turn data into information.

And I am finally on Twitter (@DeniLyall) as I wanted to follow someone who Tweets on leading digital transformations. My tweets mainly fall into: ones on neuroscience and ones on digital transformation. I am trying to keep them relevant and I really like how easy it is to pass stuff on.

On that theme, these couple of articles caught my eye:

Nature: How automation is changing work

‘Frontiers in Psychology’ article on Neuro Myths

Enjoy 😊

Researching at last

July has been a refreshing DProf month for researching and reading. I have now completed two sets of pilot interviews. The first set were people known to my supervisor. They weren’t totally in my area but they were really valuable for learning about the interview process. Apart from valuable research information, they also gave feedback on the process and logistical aspects. The second set of pilots were with two neuroscience Professors who responded to my invitation email – 2 from 35 invitations isn’t bad.

My learning so far: The embedded link to Skype-for-Business isn’t as user friendly as I thought but I need to use it as the recording facility is reliable. With 3 out of 4 interviewees struggling with it initially I’ll need to put in some simple guidelines on connecting to it. Actually, I could do a side piece of research on the profile of who can and can’t easily use the link in the invitation! I reckon you can all guess which stereotype finds it easiest as it’s the one I think we’d all guess it to be when it comes to being tech-savvy.

I also refined opening the interview by reiterating the invitation email and situating my research in the coaching of change-hesitant coachees. The latter helped me focus the conversation much better so I am glad I was forced to get my head around it. In fact, both the Professors referred to it which helped to guide and anchor the discussion.

Everyone was very generous with their time. Having asked for just 20 minutes, all gave around 40-45. I was very grateful for that as 20 minutes on this topic only just gets people warmed up. I am going to regret it when I type up the transcripts though. I have found that initially the conversation is quite conceptual and I have had to push it down in to ‘So how does that actually happen in the brain?’. I then noticed a little pause – almost of surprise – and then they give me what I am really looking for and talk about a variety of mechanisms and caveats. I am really pleased that I read that Neuroscience textbook last year as it made the conversations much easier.

There are two things I have really loved about having these conversations so far: Firstly, it is just a conversation where ideas are given, explored and questions are proffered and answered. As someone commented, it must be nice not to have to talk in words of just one syllable – so right (lol). Secondly, they are very down to earth people and are clear about the constraints of their research and how animal research is difficult to use for hypothesizing about human aspects. A refreshing change from all the neuro-hype.

On the down-to-earth and refreshing reading side, my supervisor recommended ‘Neuro’ by Rose and Abi-Rached. A very different book as it is about the history of neuroscience blended with a critical review of some of its emerging themes, directions and assertions. It picks up on some of my favourite themes – medical hypes that have little foundation, neuroscience as court evidence, lab settings affecting experiments that deal with the brain and the blurring of the use of the words ‘the self’. Although I need to be careful here otherwise I might undermine the very research that I am conducting but it does bring home that neuroscience is a very interpretivistic science at the moment. (A useful reference for my Chapter 3 claims on epistemology and methodology.) One of the sadder facts is where it says that most research aimed at helping with mental illness has in fact not generated many new medical practices. Thus we are still using drugs from many years ago as they are the best we have.

Another book, which will provoke outcries, is called ‘How emotions are made’ (Lisa Feldman-Barrett) although I enjoyed it. Basically, she is differentiating between us labelling something as ‘fear’ verses it being a collection of responses due to a stimulus. It is the same as LeDoux where he splits apart the feeling of fear from the threat response. Part of their thinking is that a mouse, for example, has a threat response but we don’t know if it feels fear as we can’t ask it. We tend to ascribe fear to the mouse through our interpretation of what we see it doing but that is us ‘humanising’ things. What was fascinating is that she talks about more recent research verses older research on archetypal emotional faces. Effectively it appears that the older research which concluded that there were universal emotional faces which everyone recognised isn’t entirely true, well not true at all if you concur with Lisa. Here it links back to the ‘Neuro’ book and Lisa talks about how the research wasn’t actually as ‘clean’ as it espoused.

She believes that we learn during childhood that a certain collection of responses are labelled as ‘fear’ or ‘joy’ or ‘sadness’ and that the actual reactions for a feeling are quite diverse: Think of different joy responses such as a big smile or wide-eyed and open-mouthed. She feels that the standard faces are unusable just as the average family having 2.4 children is fairly meaningless. She also covers how feelings affect the decisions we make (don’t get a court appearance just before lunch/ make sure the interviewer holds a warm drink) and our behaviours which is worth a read. She also discusses how much the brain uses concepts to group things together such as colours in a rainbow. Most of us see it as 6 distinct bands when really it is a gradient. Russians view it as 7 distinct bands as culturally they view light blue as a different colour to dark blue, as green and blue are viewed differently. This she suggests makes colour a cultural thing not a reality.

This links nicely to an article discussing how children beat computers on some tasks and how far computers have yet to go.

Are popular applied neuroscience-based books turning a corner?

I’m beginning to see a change in non-academic neuroscience-based books – thankfully. When I first became interested in neuroscience the non-academic books seemed to be peppered with ones jumping on the band-wagon rather than for true practical use: The hyped ‘applicable’ ones often fell short of their promises and erred towards what felt like NLP (just my personal opinion). Most neuroscientists hate the hyped out-of-context claims that we routinely see in the press, as they understand all too well how young, fragmented and rapidly-evolving their field is. I have managed to find some very readable books by neuroscientists which are more scientifically based. These helped to explain the brain’s workings and magic but are less practical.

However, in the last year there seems to be a new breed of book appearing and partly this is because those previous books have brought brain terminology into everyday life. This new breed doesn’t have chapters explaining brain areas, etc, they just use the terms and expect you to know or Google them. They are also starting to credibly attempt and, in many ways, succeed in making neuroscience-based aspects more useful for applying to ourselves.

If you want to get beyond the hype and understand how awesome and yet fallible the brain is, read four books: The tell-tale brain (Ramachandran); How the mind works (Pinker); The myth of mirror neurons (Hickok) and the Future of the brain (Marcus and Freeman).  If you’re interested in the next level down which starts to give you a real insight into the workings of the brain and how that affects behaviour in specific aspects, then LaDoux’s ‘Synaptic self’ and ‘Anxious’ are good as is Deheane’s ‘Consciousness’. If you are very serious about understanding this topic then I would definitely recommend reading a neuroscience textbook such as the ’Principles of neurobiology’ (Lou) as you get a real insight into the busy world inside a seemingly static white-grey mass. And YouTube has a lot of good videos as well such as this ‘home-made’ one on a day in the life of a neurotransmitter.

The new breed of books are, for me, ‘Why we sleep’ (Walker); Cozolino’s ‘The neuroscience of psychotherapy’ and ‘The Business brain’ by Prof Shane O’Mara – which looks good although I’ve only just started it. The authors treat their audience as having a general knowledge about the brain as we do with other systems in the body. I think this change is coupled to the significant improvement in what neuroscience has been able to do in the last 5 years due to its new-found popularity and advances in technology. I think this change in style will go a long way to taking neuroscience literature out of hype and into application. Maybe that’s a bit of food for thought on change programmes in organisations – stop ‘selling it’ and start ‘using it’ as your daily work-life.

I was also sent this link to an article about the (still) common myths of the brain which I wish I could have shown at a meeting I went to last week. A number of these myths were espoused and nodded to wisely by others. Although to be fair to the sports coaches in the article, I think a number of these were pretty firmly held neuroscience concepts 20 years ago. Like Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, when new evidence puts doubt into a well held concept then it can be hard to change public opinion, especially when it appears rationally true – even if the scientific evidence undermines that.

Conversely, I also liked this article written by Dr Mark Stokes, putting the case against the ‘attention-grabbing headlines slating neuroscience and throwing proverbial babies out with the bathwater’: Good on him.  Many neuroscientists must wish that the neuroscience-fad band wagon would move on to something else. When I went to a neuroscience and ethics seminar last year, they focussed on how lawyers were coming to neuroscientists to understand what is and isn’t credible when the defence or prosecution starts using neuroscience to aid their case. Many lawyers do workshops with neuroscientists to help them sort hype from more valid facts and to understand how ‘robust’ those facts may be currently.

On the DProf front things are hotting up. From notes, articles and working through people in university labs, I have around 247 potential neuroscientists whittled down to a top 71 and an initial 21 all from different universities predominately in Europe and the US. The invitation email has been sharpened up now I am actually about to use it and we’ve honed the questions for my interviews to help keep the conversation flowing on a topic most people probably haven’t given much consideration to. This has sparked a multitude of other work to do with logging people and tracking and confidentially and recording and piloting. There’s nothing like having to actually do something to make you understand what you really need to do (back to Change Projects again). Or maybe it’s just good old distraction techniques as I am a bit nervous about response rates given how difficult a colleague of mine found it was to get interviews with surgeons. It can also become a moveable feast as my supervisor has suggested I might, as an aside, in my thesis discuss whether neuroscientists whose native language doesn’t include an option for the Self, biases their thinking. I thought I’d distanced myself from that conversation but clearly not. It’s like Alice Through The Looking Glass, where in walking away from it, I move closer to it.

Also due to how I created my list, I have to write that up. Sometimes I wish I’d just randomly chosen the first 20 names I found as that would take less effort. Conversely, I reckon some DProffers give detailed explanations for their participant choices when in reality that’s all they could get – take it or leave it. Although I have to admit that my 247 includes some ‘they’ll do if no one else will talk to me’ options – lol.