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Keep your brain pumped for action

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in Human Resources,Workplace Communication

You know it’s important to exercise your body, and you’ve probably been hearing about the importance of exercising your brain, too.

Scientists now know that you can grow new neurons in parts of your brain related to movement and memory. This notion of neurogenesis used to be unthinkable. Now it’s thinkable.

Here’s how you can keep your brain primed for action:

1. Add to your bag of tricks. Realworld experience still counts most, and the cornerstone is still the “walkabout,” otherwise known as managing by walking around. Turns out it’s more than good business practice. It’s also cognitive calisthenics.

Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy asked financier Warren Buffett how she could pull her company out of a tailspin. He told her to do the walkabout. She found out what Xerox employees and customers thought was important rather than what the financial people and shareholders said was important.

2. Play hard. It fires up the prefrontal cortex, helping us think and understand the world. Albert Einstein described his experience in developing the theory of relativity as a “physical sensation” that turned into dreamlike images and, finally, a formula. “Imagination,” he said, “is more important than knowledge.” That’s why Google and Apple are so big on “play.”

Organizations that stifle play may stymie brainpower, which is what happens to overprotected children who can’t explore the world freely and never reach their potential.

3. Look for patterns. Superiority in pattern recognition may be the greatest competitive advantage. It goes back to practice and play, and runs forward to developing new ways of thinking.

To increase your capacity for pattern recognition, challenge and enlarge your knowledge. Make your thinking more nuanced, less black and white. Consider how to use somebody else’s system in your own line of work.

4. Seek out new things. When you have a mental block, get up and change your environment. Buddhists call it “beginner’s mind,” a willingness to step back and start over.

—Adapted from “Cognitive Fitness,” Roderick Gilkey and Clint Kilts, Harvard Business Review.

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