Our Brain Matters

Brains need exercise too!

Our brain is powerful and mysterious. It performs simple, routine tasks everyday. It can create entertaining music and art, construct compelling stories, and solve intricate problems and equations. Weighing in at approximately 3 pounds, our brain is our most important asset.

Here’s some “thought-provoking” points about the brain from Laura Helmuth in the July/August 2012 Smithsonian Magazine. In it you’ll discover that your brain can store more than computers, that it doesn’t require a lot energy to work, that chewing gum messes with your recall, and that chimpanzees can remember more than most people.

I like nonsense; it wakes up the brain cells.  ~Dr. Seuss

GRAY MATTERS

Somehow, the brain is greater than the sum of its parts

100: Number, in billions, of neurons in a human brain

100: Estimated number, in terabytes, of information it can store

1: Estimated number, in terabytes, of information a typical desktop computer can store

2: Percentage of the body’s weight represented by the brain

20: Percentage of the body’s energy used by the brain

95: Number of diagnoses in the 1952 DSM-I, the first edition of psychiatry’s manual for diagnosing mental illnesses

283: Number of diagnoses in the 2011 DSM-IV-TR, the most recent edition

303: Highest number of random digits memorized at the 2012 USA Memory Championship

10: Approximate percentage drop, in one study, in the accurate recall of random letters as a result of chewing gum

50: Percentage of times that human volunteers successfully recalled a sequence of five numbers presented briefly on a computer screen

80: Percentage of times that a chimpanzee named Ayumu succeeded at the same task

What does this all mean? It appears to me that we carry around in our heads a very powerful, yet little-used tool. Maybe we should exercise and work our brains more. Call it mental workouts. We should be smart and manage our brains better – it’s our most important asset!

Here’s a few sources to help you with your brain workout:

Creative Thinking Exercises with Michael Michalko

120 Ways to Boost Your Brain Power

Optimizing Brain Fitness: Free Video Lecture on How Your Brain Works

How’s your brain working these days? How do you exercise your brain?

Leadership Doesn’t Come From Behind the Desk

From the movie Beauty and the Boss, 1932.

From the movie Beauty and the Boss, 1932.

Recently, I listened, with great concern, to two different questions about the same subject, a failure to communicate. On one occasion, I was part of a management meeting where the attendees were asking, “Why don’t they understand what we are doing?” Another time, while talking to people I supervise, they asked, “What is going on?” This roadblock, or maybe wall, in communication is a huge problem and affects everything. So what can leaders (even a mid-level leader like me) do to break through this wall? You can increase your “face time” with your people and build trust; to show you care.

Leaders, you need to get out from behind the desk (and get away from the continuous meeting table too; by the way read this book: Read This Before Our Next Meeting) to visit, mentor and socialize with your people. Communicating in person, as opposed to email, memo, and policy has always been and still remains extremely important, even more so in today’s complex and fast-moving world.

Everyone has their idea for a definition of leadership. Books, articles, and seminars tell us that leadership is, “the ability of an individual to influence others to contribute toward the effectiveness and success of the organization.” Here’s my take on leadership, “Leadership is influencing people to act by providing purpose, direction, and motivation while working to accomplish the mission and improving the organization.” That is not done from behind a desk or in a meeting.

Effective personal communication is no small task today, especially in very large organizations. With customer and community expectations increasing, issues with completing training and countless other factors, everyone feels a heavy burden, both physically and mentally, that no one is immune to.

Within our fast-moving culture, we have come to a crossroads with regard to communicating with our people. What happened to the talent of one-on-one, face-to-face mentoring? Email has made the communication process faster, but it’s hindered, to some degree, our willingness to get out from behind the desk and talk. It’s hard to show you care about them and are interested in their problems in an email. Relationships and trust are not created from emails!

I believe we need to put more emphasis on face-time communication. Technology (email, social media, videos, etc.) alone does not create change, relationships with people do (relationships provide purpose, direction, and motivation). Leaders, you must talk, talk, talk! And then listen, listen, listen!

Leadership involvement, getting out there and leading your people from the front will increase awareness and maximize performance. The ongoing demands of today’s world require that leaders communicate well and often. You cannot provide the right kind of leadership needed from behind a desk!

What needs to happen in your organization to improve communication? How can you help make it happen?

Book Review: Warrior Mindset

Fighting wars, policing the community and saving lives and protecting property is hugely important. The fates of our nation and our communities, often rests on the mental toughness skills of our peacekeepers, law enforcement and emergency responders. The Warrior Mindset is a new exploration of thought when confronted with stressful situations.  It begins with the observation that up to 90% of a successful performance is attributed to psychological skills. It’s not simply physical-ability that gets an individual through a stressful incident, but the mental attitude of the individual involved. The authors, all authorities in the field, contend that what is missing from today’s warriors is the ability to master their own minds. The following quote in the book from General Patton says it all:

“If you are going to win any battle, you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do …”

The book offers a why, how and what approach to mental toughness, designed for use in any stressful situation. Why are some soldiers, airmen, policemen or firefighters far more effective than others? The Warrior Mindset examines the mind and body under stress and seeks to explain it.

The Warrior Mindset is an absolute must-read for anyone trying to survive in a complex and dangerous environment.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links on this page are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The OODA Loop can help improve your efficiency under stress

Photo by Tim Olk

My January 2012 2olumn at Fire Rescue Magazine on FirefighterNation: The Observe, Orient, Decide and Act Model of Decision Making:  Using the OODA Loop can help improve your efficiency under stress. By Billy Schmidt Published Friday, January 20, 20112.

The unfolding challenging and confusing circumstances of the fireground can lead us to misread the situation. The problems we encounter are difficult to understand and control. Combined with a lack of understanding of how we perform under stress and with the cultural propensity to simply act, we are sometimes unable to perform effectively.

How do we get better at this? Read more here ……

 

Situational Awareness Saved James Bond in a Ski Chase

Situational awareness, and a few secret agent gadgets, saved James Bond during a ski chase in the mountains of Austria. In an article from the The Tao News, it looks like the National Ski Areas Association is urging the same thing, situational awareness, as part of their safety week (January 14-22, 2012) focusing on slope safety.  Avoiding collisions with fixed or other moving objects is always a concern for adventurers on the mountain, whether novice or veteran. Skiers can learn much from JB’s ability to remain aware of everything around them and to respond to the unexpected in a sensible way. As always, situational awareness and personal responsibility will help reduce injuries, and possibly save lives.

Be like 007 and ski aware out there!

Certain to Win: The Strategy of John Boyd, Applied to Business [Book Review]

USAF Colonel John Boyd was constant explorer, thinker, and doer (some say he was a rogue, but he did get things done). He influenced the tactical thought and critical decision making process of fighter pilots to “outmaneuver the enemy” during air combat operations. Boyd’s ideas can apply to everything from routine fire department productivity to high-risk, complex fire ground operations. Can his body of ideas be used for everything? Never. But they can be applied to most complex and rapidly changing situations.

Chet Richards was a close associate of the late Colonel Boyd and a lecturer at the Air War College and the Army’s Command and General Staff College. In Certain to Win, he introduces Boyd’s philosophy of conflict by examining how it works in the military arena as well as the business world. He puts forward that organizations, including fire departments, work best when they have clear visions, well-practiced skills, and implicit trust. Richards uses examples from military minds of Sun Zu, Musashi, von Clausewitz, Rommel, Patton, and Boyd seasoned with the organizational accomplishments of Toyota and Southwest Airlines to show how commonly held goals allow each unit of the organization to make decisions that continuously moves them toward the goal.

Why the title, Certain to Win? Sun Zu answers that here: If a general who heeds my strategy is employed, he is certain to win.

This is an excellent read for anyone looking to expand their knowledge on situational awareness, communication, decision making, teamwork, or leadership.

Streetlights and Shadows: 10 claims about how we think.

How do people think in shadowy conditions where ambiguity rises and situations change rapidly? Klein believes that many of us have set beliefs on how to perform is these situations. Beliefs that may not be accurate. He has identified 10 claims that may mislead us into believing that we are thinking more effectively.

Following are the 10 claims that Klein uses to build his book. What are your opinions to each claim? You may be surprised with his answers.

1. Teaching people procedures helps them perform tasks more skillfully.
2. Decision biases distort our thinking.
2a. Successful decision makers rely on logic and statistics instead of intuition.
3. To make a decision, generate several options and compare them to pick the best one.
4. we can reduce uncertainty by gathering more information.
5. It’s bad to jump to conclusions – wait to see all the evidence.
6. To get people to learn, give them feedback on the consequences of their actions.
7. To make sense of a situation, we draw inferences from the data.
8. The starting point for any project is to get a clear description of the goal.
9. Our plans will succeed more often if we ID the biggest risks and find ways to eliminate them.
10. Leaders can create common ground by assigning roles and setting ground rules in advance.

What I'm Reading Right Now – Streetlights and Shadows

Photo by Tim Olk

I am researching decision making to prepare for my next Firefighter-360 columns. I have read other books and several articles by Gary Klein about how people make decisions and cognitive task analysis. I find it interesting, and maybe the most important area for improvement in the fire service. We need to get better at “bringing thinking to action.”

Do we make decisions with our gut or should we analyze every option? It depends! Klein offers realistic ideas about real-life situations.

The book begins with this story:

A policeman saw a drunk searching for something under a streetlight. “What have you lost, my friend?” the policeman asked. “My keys,” said the drunk. The policeman then helped the drunk look  and finally asked him: “Where exactly did you drop them?” “Over there, ” responded the drunk, pointing toward a dark alley. The policeman then asked: “Why are you looking here?” The drunk immediately replied, “Because the light is so much brighter here.”

Decision Making in Critical Situations

My September 2011 column at Fire Rescue Magazine on FirefighterNation:

Decision-Making on the Fireground

Understanding how decisions are made is the first step in improving their effectiveness

 

Critical situations require quick, deliberate and goal-oriented thinking.

Critical situations require quick, deliberate and goal-oriented thinking.

 

By Billy Schmidt
Published Friday, September 16, 2011

It was early in the morning and we were responding to a fire in a heavily occupied apartment building. Dispatch had received several phone calls indicating that people were still trying to get out of their apartments. I was the officer sitting in the right front seat of Engine 33, where I could see the black column of smoke rising in the distance. I started thinking about the building we were responding to and what we were going to do when we got there.

Read the rest of the column here.

More of Billy Schmidt’s Firefighting-360 Column at FirefighterNation.

Speaking Up!

 

Photo by Tim Olk

Photo by Tim Olk

Leaders should build teams with people who have a proven willingness to speak their mind.

I love this quote from the latest On Leadership at the Washington Post: “If you have a yes-man working for you, one of you is redundant” (Avis CEO Barry Rand).

Decision making for organizations operating in complex and chaotic conditions emphasizes the importance of upward communication and dissenting opinions to arrive at sound strategic solutions. Most times the unwillingness to speak up is to blame for a failed objective; sometimes those failed objectives cause injury or death. It’s easy to believe we are leaders when everyone around us agrees with everything we say. Because a diverse set of opinions, and sometimes disagreement, are crucial for good decision making, we need strong leaders and followers who are willing to speak up, and then we need to listen to them.

How do we build teams with open communication lines in all directions? I’ll bet TRUST would help.

Read Saying no to ‘yes-men from’ On Leadership here.