Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Business Brains

Business Brains
by Stephen M. Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller

The new Theory of Cognitive Modes, introduced in Top Brain, Bottom Brain: Surprising Insights Into How You Think, from Simon & Schuster, can inspire innovative new ways to manage a business more effectively.

The book and theory have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Time, NPR's 13.7 Cosmos & Culture blog, and elsewhere.

The theory is based on decades of scientific studies showing that the top part of the brain formulates and implements plans, and revises plans in response to events; and the bottom part of the brain categorizes and interprets experiences. Four Cognitive Modes are identified, based on how deeply (or not) one tends to utilize the top or bottom parts of the brain:

MOVER mode occurs when people deeply utilize top and bottom parts of the brain. When people operate in this mode, they are comfortable being leaders of companies, divisions and teams. To illustrate Mover Mode thinking and behavior, the authors use the example of Michael Bloomberg, outgoing mayor of New York. Decisions Bloomberg faced and actions he took are described in Chapter 9 of TopBrain, Bottom Brain.

PERCEIVER mode occurs when people deeply utilize the bottom but not the top part of the brain. Such people do not typically prefer to make detailed and plans, but are often the voice of wisdom in an enterprise, skilled at analysis, if not implementation. To illustrate Perceiver mode thinking and behavior during a typical workday, the authors created a character named Hannah, a reference librarian, for Chapter 10.

STIMULATOR mode occurs when people deeply utilize the top but not the bottom part of the brain. When people operate in this mode, they are often creative but may not respond appropriately when their plans do not go as expected. Stimulator thinking and behavior during a typical workday is illustrated with the actions of a character named Andy, a program director at a classic-rock radio station, in Chapter 11. 

ADAPTOR mode occurs when people deeply utilize neither the top nor the bottom part of the brain. Although they prefer not to make detailed and complex plans, when people operate in this mode they tend to be natural team members, essential to a business. Adaptor thinking and behavior during a typical workday is illustrated with a character named Nick, an electrician with a large construction company, in Chapter 12.

To determine your own dominant cognitive mode, take the test.

Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal.
 Key Points in incorporating the lessons of Top Brain, Bottom Brain in business:
· Identify cognitive modes. A simple self-assessment is available in the book, and online
· Compose teams based on dominant modes so that the appropriate approaches are present when the team is faced with a particular kind of problem.
· Understand your abilities and learn to recognize others who can provide skills you may lack, a concept the authors explain in the context of a new idea: Social Prosthetic Systems.
· Trigger conversations about dominant modes, which can facilitate future interactions.

An online Business Lesson:
 -- After learning of the book, teacher Feride Hekimgil of Bogazici University, in Istanbul, Turkey, built an online lesson: “Imagine you are head of human resources for a big multinational which is setting up a subsidiary in a very competitive business hub; let us say Singapore, and you know what mode the applicants operate under. Who would you hire for the sales team, the research department and human resources and why? Justify your answer.”

NEW! A leadership and executive coaching firm pays attention:
Annapolis, Maryland-based firm Sophia Associates says: "This new way of looking at how people think and behave may help us understand actions of different people within a more diverse context."

What business leaders are saying:
“Businesses can be viewed by analogy to the brain, with different divisions mimicking the operation of different brain systems.”
-- Leo Tilman, president of Tilman & Company, a global strategic advisory firm, and an adjunct professor at Columbia University.

“I was very impressed by your explanation and it helped me to better understand myself and some of my team members. This will be required reading for my team of 20 in 2014.”
-- Mike Kreiling, owner of Express Employment Professionals in Winona, Minn.

"This kind of analysis – that is, determining someone’s cognitive mode and predicting how he or she will react in certain situations – should be essential to leadership assessment and executive search. This is not a discussion of someone’s qualifications, which can be gleaned from a resume; it is primarily the dissection of someone’s aptitude in terms of (a) an inclination towards goal-setting and decision-making and (b) a history of accurate interpretation of and responsiveness to new information."
 -- Boston Research Group's BSG Team Ventures Leadership for Innovation Executive Selection.
Courtesy Oprah magazine
What other experts are saying:
“A bold new theory, with intriguing practical implications, formulated by one of America’s most original psychologists.”
-- Howard Gardner, co-author of The App Generation

"An exciting new way to think about our brains, and ourselves. Original, insightful, and a sweet read to boot."
-- Daniel Gilbert, Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, author of the international best seller Stumbling on Happiness

"Kosslyn and Miller have written a lively, informative, and easily assimilated summary of several important principles of brain function for the general reader who does not have the time or background to follow the complexities of neuroscience research but would like a scaffolding on which to place the new facts that dominate each day's headlines."
-- Jerome Kagan, emeritus professor of psychology, Harvard University

"Stephen Kosslyn has long been one of the world’s leading cognitive psychologists. In his new book, along with Wayne Miller, he proposes a novel synthesis for thinking about the modes of cognition and the neurobiology that underlies it. This is an extremely stimulating book and a wonderfully readable one as well, even containing useful information for how each of us can make sense of our own ways of thinking.”
-- Robert M. Sapolsky, Stanford University Professor of Neurology and MacArthur Fellow

"Kosslyn is one of the world’s great cognitive neuroscientists of the late 20th and early 21st century."
-- Steven Pinker, bestselling author of The Language Instinct

Top Brain, Bottom Brain: Surprising Insights Into How You Think, has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Time, NPR's 13.7 Cosmos & Culture blog and elsewhere. More at TopBrainBottomBrain.com

Watch The Wall Street Journal interview of Kosslyn.

Stephen M. Kosslyn is a cognitive neuroscientist and was professor of psychology at Harvard University for over 30 years; he now serves as the founding dean of the Minerva Schools at the Keck Graduate Institute. G. Wayne Miller is an author, filmmaker and Providence Journal staff writer. Visit him at www.gwaynemiller.com

 This essay and contents ©2013 by Stephen M. Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller


  1. This post has truly enticed me to want to purchase this book. I've always want to understand myself, which includes my brain. Learning how and why I think or "tick" the way I do promotes a healthy self-awareness! Thank you Kosslyn & Miller!

  2. Dear Evangeline,

    Our pleasure!

    Wayne (and Stephen)