Book Review: Brain Rules, 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School

Brainrules Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School definitely gave me lots of pointers for presentations – and lots of trivia for conversations. (It's also quoted often in the book on public speaking that I'm reading now, Confessions of a Public Speaker.)

Some of the points I found interesting:

  1. The brain cannot multitask. I knew this but I always think it bears repeating as we act as if we can.
  2. 10 minutes is the ideal lecture length. The author recommends breaking presentations into 10 minute topics to help the audience pay attention. (Other presentation hints in the same section include organizing your information hierarchical and giving an outline or plan at the beginning of the lecture.)
  3. Sleep. The author included a lot of interesting data on sleeping. For example, we definitely rehearse things we have learned during the day. And scary facts like "if healthy 30-year-olds are sleep deprived for six days (averaging, in this study, about four hours of sleep per night), parts of their body chemistry soon revert to that of a 60-year-old."
  4. Audio and visual together are the best way to learn. "If information is presented orally, people remember about 10 percent, tested 72 hours after exposure. That figure goes up to 65 percent if you add a picture." Good reason to use images and graphs in your presentations!
  5. Gender changes how people judge actions. When people are described, we judge their actions differently depending on if they are a man or a woman.
  6. Thinking is the same as doing – to at least part of our brain. When we think about doing something the same neurons fire in our brain that would fire if we were actually doing it.
  7. Babies less than an hour old will stick their tongue out at you if you stick your tongue out at them. (Wish I had known that when my son was born …)

Brain Rules is an interesting and fun read.

6 Replies to “Book Review: Brain Rules, 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School”

  1. Fact #7 blew my mind when I first heard it; it’s been rigorously proven with double-blind controls, video, the works: one-hour-old infants really do imitate a tongue being stuck out. Clearly humans have more inborn knowledge (instincts) than we thought.
    There’s a book called “The Scientist in the Crib” with a lot more about how infants learn about the world. If this kind of thing fascinates you, I recommend reading it.

  2. The brain cannot multitask? So why do we have movies with sound?
    BTW: when I preview, it displays, the removes the preview.

  3. It can input different senses related to the same task. (Or at least it seems to!) But when it comes to multiple tasks, you are actually context switching between them constantly, not truly multitasking.

  4. It can multitask. In fact, it is still doing so, even when you personally aren’t doing anything (well, you are sleeping, but it’s not something you’re concentrating hard to do). More to the point, humans are not trained to multitask, but rather are trained for monotask, which is where the difficulty comes in. If you train your brain to multitask better, you’ll be better at it. But multitasking is rarely more efficient at completing tasks outside the realm of what the brain has evolved to multitask. It tends to fail when you try to do focused multitasking, and you end up stressing your mind by switching between the tasks, and trying to focus on them.
    It’s import to focus on single greater realm tasks, rather than trying to focus on multiple ones. You’ll always be more efficient when switching focus less.
    Think about your childhood and going to school. How many times did your teacher want you to do three separate things simultaneously, in the class? Zero. And if you tried to do other things in that class? You were cited. Teachers rarely care about helping the students work better, and instead care only about delivering the curriculum they are given. We’re taught to pay attention to one thing at a time.

  5. Re: 10 minutes lecture length, I wonder how well it would work if we did that for the next GUADEC or GNOME Summit? Rather than 30 minute blocks, limit presentation time to 10 minutes, and use the next 20 minutes for breakout hacking and discussion about the topic. This keeps presentations nice and short, and allows the audience to participate and help refine new ideas. It might help in cases where there are overruns with time as well, and sort of eliminates the chance that questions won’t get as much time or interaction, due to being at the last minute. Another idea might be to limit the number of slides in a presentation to 15-20. This give a nice max of about 30 seconds per slide, and any presentation longer than that probably isn’t going to contain any more especially valuable information.
    And Re: sleep, was there any more information about the people in the study? Diet and habits perhaps? Being “healthy” is a very vague description. I’m guessing there is a lot more to why the body chemestry change occurred, beyond simply reducing the amount of sleep by a couple hours.
    Finally, Re: presentation content, have you read any of Edward Tufte’s material on giving presentations? “Powerpoint is Evil” and his comments in the Columbia Accident Investigation Board report, are very valuable. I’ve seen so many bad presentations, where the presenter just reads what is in the slides. The audience doesn’t need that level of redundancy. The slides are supposed to be supporting images, and not presenter’s notes. Maybe we could get a few people together and generate some GNOME related presentations that are about 5-10 minutes in length, with about 15-20 slides, that are really well done, and post them in various video formats in various places, as a good reference for putting a presentation together for a conference? It would probably help presenters quite a bit, and would be a good way to do some GNOME marketing at the same time.

  6. 10 min presentations at GUADEC with discussion: a cross between lightening talks, a presentation and a BOF. I like it. Probably best a topic to bring up on
    Sleep: The study was supposed to be wide enough to not be affected by diet or habits. Health was measured by blood chemistry. (It didn’t say exactly which chemicals.)
    Presentations. I have Edward Tufte on my wish list. As for GNOME related slides, that’s a great idea. We had the idea of 5-10 minute topics but just slides though. I like the idea of having them in video format too!
    We need help generating them too. (We divvied them out among the people in the room but others are more than welcome!)

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