The PM Book Club and The Brain Rules - Blog

The PM Book Club and The Brain Rules

By Franco Guarrella, PMI UK Chapter 

You are invited to join the the PM Book Club! This is open to all members of the projects community, but is organised and promoted by PMI UK Chapter members and has a thriving PMI UK membership. The club is a great opportunity to be actively engaged and to share the latest thinking around project management.

I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know more about the club, and to give you an example of a recently included book that offered valuable knowledge sharing.

The PM Book Club

Firstly about the club:

The club format consists of choosing a book and discussing it in 3 fortnightly meetings, each around an hour long and recorded.

  • 1. At the first meeting opening remarks are used to introduce the book and to present a high-level overview of its concepts.
  • 2.The second meeting comprises a moderated discussion by webinar participants.
  • 3.Then on the third meeting either the author or a subject matter expert are invited to attend in order to answer questions submitted through the club discussion thread and during the webinar.

PM Book Club Objectives

  • 1.Be informed of the latest advances in project management & leadership;
  • 2.Share our understanding with the project management community;
  • 3.Encourage debate around the project management body of knowledge and other leadership topics and Receive & Share practical and contemporary insights in to project management and leadership.
  • 4.Receive & share practical & contemporary insights in to project management & leadership.

And 3 lucky readers who have attended all the 3 webinars, are eligible for the raffle to win a free copy of the next book to be discussed!

Membership of the club is free, with further details (including of past and future events) to be found at our meetup site.

'Brain Rules' by John Medina 

The last book which was read and discussed was the 'Brain Rules 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School', by John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and research consultant.

Dr Medina is an affiliate professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine, founding director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University, and of the Talaris Research Institute, focused on early brain encoding and processing information.

  Why did we choose this book? 

Well, we know that any project, big or small, is carried out by means of people. Project management connects the people, directing them towards a common goal. It is clear, therefore, that an understanding of the mechanisms through which people act is a valuable asset for the project manager. In this book, Dr Medina goes right to the heart of how our brain receives, stores, and processes the data. I must say that I found this book very challenging because it is certainly more than 'popular science'. In fact its 300 pages are closer to a scientific publication, illustrating the state of the art on research relating to the functioning of the brain.

The Key 'Brain Rules'

Leaving the book to you, I'd like to summarize the 7 key 'Brain Rules' that the author deduces from his research and studies:

Exercise boosts brain power 

Though a great deal of our evolutionary history remains shrouded in controversy, the one fact that every paleoanthropologist accepts can be summarized as: We moved a lot.

Our brains were built for walking 12 miles a day! Exercise gets blood to our brain, bringing it glucose for energy and oxygen to soak up the toxic electrons that are left over. It also stimulates the protein that keeps neurons connecting.

Not only does moving improve our thinking skills, but it has been shown that regular exercise improves problem-solving abilities, fluid intelligence, and even memory, sometimes dramatically.

Sleep well, think well 

The brain is in a constant state of tension between cells and chemicals that try to put us to sleep and cells and chemicals that try to keep us awake.

The brain's neurons show vigorous activity when we are asleep, perhaps replaying what we learned that day. People vary in how much sleep they need and when they prefer to get it, but the biological drive for an afternoon nap is universal.

It has been shown that loss of sleep hurts attention, executive function, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning, and even motor dexterity; regardless of whether smart managers may claim they can be in great shape and alert with 3 hours of sleep.

Stressed brains don't learn the same way

The body's defence system, the release of adrenaline and cortisol, is built for an immediate response to a serious but passing danger.

Chronic stress, such as hostility at home, dangerously deregulates a system built only to deal with short-term responses. Under chronic stress, adrenaline creates scars in the blood vessels that can cause a heart attack or stroke, and cortisol damages the cells of the hippocampus, crippling the ability to learn and remember.

Every brain is wired differently 

What we do and learn in life physically changes what our brain looks like; it literally rewires it. The various regions of the brain develop at different rates in different people.

Neurons go through a project of growth and pruning in the period from two to teen years and no two people's brains store the same information in the same way in the same place.

We don't pay attention to boring things 

 The brain is a sequential processor, unable to pay attention to two things at the same time; businesses and school praise multitasking, but research clearly shows that it reduces productivity and increases mistakes. The best that can be said of people who appear to be good at multitasking is that they have good working memories, capable of paying attention to several inputs one at a time.

The brain's attentional 'spotlight' can focus on only one thing at a time: not multi tasking. We are better at seeing patterns and abstracting the meaning of an event than we are at recording detail.

Repeat to remember 

Our brain has many types of memory systems. Declarative memories are those that can be experienced in our conscious awareness, such a list of numbers or names, and non-declarative memories are those that cannot be experienced in our conscious awareness, such as the motor skills necessary to ride a bike.

Declarative memory follows four stages of processing: Encoding, Storing, Retrieving and Forgetting. Interestingly, as soon as information comes into our brain it is immediately fragmented and sent to different regions of the cortex. It has been shown that the more elaborately we encode a memory during its initial moments, the stronger it will be.

Working memory is a collection of busy work spaces that allows us to temporarily retain newly acquired information. If we don't repeat the information, it disappears.The way to make long-term memory more reliable is to incorporate new information gradually and repeat it in timed intervals.

Vision trumps all other senses  

  Vision is by far our most dominant sense, taking up half of our brain's resources. What we see is only what our brain tells us we see, and it is not 100% accurate. We learn and remember best through pictures, not through written or spoken words.

How do we do all this?

As Dr Medina tells us, most of the activity of our brain is subconscious, and (luckily!) we come with pre-loaded software that carries it out for us. The challenge however is that intuitive thinking is not the same as rational thinking, and the 'Brain Rules' is a truly fascinating insight into just how the human brain processes information

Want to know more?

Do pick up a copy of the book, and better still, if you'd like to keep right up to date with the latest thinking across the world of project management, do join us at the PM Book Club.  

About the author  

Franco Guarrella
PMI UK Chapter
Finance Director and South Committee Chair

Franco is an engineer whose career in the oil and gas sector transitioned through design engineering to project management to eventually become Managing Director of a major international engineering and construction company.

Franco founded the PMI Rome Chapter and served for a number of years as its President.

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Mr. Andrew Peters, PMP
Sunday, 25 February 2024