This is Your Brain on Communication

September 2, 2016.
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Uri Hasson:
This is Your Brain on Communication

“Even across different languages, our brains show similar activity, or become “aligned,” when we hear the same idea or story”, says Uri Hasson, Neuroscientist, Princeton University.

On June 19 last year we reported on the extremely interesting 2010 research and discoveries by Princeton researchers, lead by neuroscientist Uri Hasson, about how we communicate and connect with our listeners—using MRI scans to analyze brain activity during communication between speaker and listener.

Hasson and his team at Princeton have continued and expanded their original experiments, and in this fascinating TED talk in February this year he provides further insights from their research since 2010.

TED Feb 2016

Hasson has also researched how people respond to movies, such as Hitchcock’s Vertigo, using MRI scanning.

Verbal communication is a joint activity between speakers and listeners—but despite much research over the years, studies of human communication had primarily been done by analyzing individual brains.

However in their pioneering research the Princeton University researchers for the first time started using MRI brain scans to analyze communication between a speaker telling a story and a group of listeners.

They found that not only were parts of the listeners’ brains activated by listening to the story— the same parts of the brain of  listeners and storyteller lit up. In other words: stories literally synchronize our brains.

Speaker-Listener Neural Coupling

Speaker-Listener Neural Coupling

Another interesting finding was that with a high level of understanding and engagement, some regions of listeners’ brains lit up before the corresponding activity in the speaker’s brain—as if they were anticipating the next part of the story.

With a low level of understanding and little active engagement, there was no such brain activity.  So in order to truly connect with your audience, tell a story that will present your message in a compelling way—and which your audience will not forget.

The research on this topic since 2010 by Uri Hasson and his team has focused on why this synchronization happens. Is it the words, the sound or the meaning of the story? Some of the findings have been published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences. His TED talk provides answers to this and other related questions, with significant implications for speakers and business leaders alike.

Trond Varlid

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

The Power of Habit

August 26, 2016.
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Pulitzer Winner
Charles Duhigg:
The Power of Habit

Charles Duhigg. Best-selling non-fiction author, New York Times business reporter and 2013 Pulitzer Winner. Harvard Business School MBA. He has won the National Journalism Award, the Investigative Reporters and Editors’ Medal, and other awards and recognition.

Why are bad habits so hard to break? Even when we are fully aware that they are bad for us? “Habits are extremely powerful, and while bad habits can be harmful—good habits can improve all aspects of your life”, says Charles Duhigg.

TEDxTeachersCollege 2013

In 2012 he published The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business which stayed on the New York Times bestseller lists for over 60 weeks. Since then, the book has attracted around 3,500 reviews on Amazon and remains a Top 5 bestseller on Amazon.

160826 C Duhigg The Power of Habit

The book was recognized as one of the best books of 2012 by Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.

He became interested in the subject of habits when he was struggling to get rid of one of his own bad habits, and started studying the psychology behind habits and why we do what we do.

In March this year, he came out with a new book—Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business, which has become another bestseller.

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

The TED Commandments

August 19, 2016.
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The new Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson, Head of TED was published this May.

Long before this new guide came along, TED had a simple set of rules and guidelines given to all TED conference speakers—commonly referred to as the 10 ‘TED Commandments’. These are all excellent tips that you may find useful in preparing your own presentations and speeches—to make them more engaging and make a deeper impact on your audience.

1 Dream big. Strive to create the best talk you have ever given. Reveal something never seen before. Do something the audience will remember forever. Share an idea that could change the world.

2 Show us the real you. Share your passions, your dreams … and also your fears. Be vulnerable. Speak of failure as well as success.

3 Make the complex plain. Don’t try to dazzle intellectually. Don’t speak in abstractions. Explain! Give examples. Tell stories. Be specific.

4 Connect with people’s emotions. Make us laugh! Make us cry!

5 Don’t flaunt your ego. Don’t boast. It’s the surest way to switch everyone off.

6 No selling from the stage! Unless we have specifically asked you to, do not talk about your company or organization. And don’t even think about pitching your products or services or asking for funding from stage.

7 Feel free to comment on other speakers’ talks, to praise or to criticize. Controversy energizes! Enthusiastic endorsement is powerful!

8 Don’t read your talk. Notes are fine. But if the choice is between reading or rambling, then read!

9 End your talk on time. Doing otherwise is to steal time from the people that follow you. We won’t allow it.

10 Rehearse your talk in front of a trusted friend … for timing, for clarity, for impact.

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

The Power of Yet

August 12, 2016.
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Carol Dweck:
The Power of Yet
How Your Mindset Impacts Success

Carol Dweck. Psychologist and Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. A pioneer and influential researcher in the field of motivation—why people succeed and how your mindset impacts success. She has also held professorships at Columbia and Harvard Universities. Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Dweck has won a number of awards and is the author of several books.

The talk by Dweck at TEDxNorrkoping, Sweden, featured here is a well structured and delivered presentation—starting out with a short, intriguing statement, which immediately leads into a story capturing the key message of her talk. She also uses many rhetorical questions and more stories to illustrate her message and keep the audience engaged.

TEDxNorrkoping November 2014  4.5M views on

Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success has become a classic work on motivation and growth mindset since its publication in 2007.

By now the book has attracted over 1,500 reviews on Amazon—and almost 10 years after its release the book is a No. 1 Amazon best seller in two categories, having sold over 1 million copies and been translated into 20 languages.

160812 C Dweck Mindset

The central theme of the book, which came out of the research Dweck and her colleagues did over the years—is the role and importance of your mindset for what you can achieve, and how successful you are.

If you have a ‘fixed mindset’ you believe your basic abilities, intelligence and talents are fixed traits. A person with a ‘growth mindset’, on the other hand, understands that talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence. According to Dweck, generally around 40% of people have a growth mindset, about 40% a fixed mindset—the rest being in between, not able to make up their mind.

Trond Varlid

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

What Makes a Great Talk Great ?

August 5, 2016.
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Chris Anderson:
What Makes a Great Talk Great?

Chris Anderson. Head of TED. Journalist, publisher, author, TED curator. After a career as a journalist and successful publishing entrepreneur, Chris Anderson acquired the TED Conference in 2001. He made TED into a non-profit organization, expanded its focus to cover all kinds of topics—including science, business and key global issues—and in 2006 started to make videos of TED talks available for free online.

If you want to become a better speaker and make your presentations more engaging and persuasive, studying some of the best TED speakers and learning from them, is both an enjoyable and an effective way to improve.

The talk by Chris Anderson featured here was given to a group of TEDx organizers—explaining ‘what makes a great talk great’.  “A talk is like a journey”, says Chris Anderson—“and you have to give your audience a reason to come with you on that journey.”

TEDGlobal 2013

The TED Conference has a long history, going back to 1984. It was originally an annual conference in Monterey, California, with leading experts and thinkers in their fields giving presentations on topics related to Technology, Entertainment and Design.

Following the acquisition of TED by Chris Anderson in 2001, the range of topics was expanded—under the new TED slogan of ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’.  In 2009 he enlarged the platform by taking it into the global arena through the TEDx initiative—providing free licenses to local organizers around the world to organize their own TED-style events.

By now more than 8,000 TEDx events have been held, with an online archive of some 60,000 TEDx talks.  The main TED conference online archives exceed 1,000 talks, and specialist TED platforms have emerged in the medical and educational fields—TEDMED and TEDEd, ‘Lessons Worth Sharing’— the latter a program providing free educational videos and tools to students and teachers:

TED speakers are generally not professional presenters, although some are—and come from a wide range of backgrounds and professions.  However, in order to appear on the TED platform, especially the main TED conference—speakers need to meet certain presentation standards, following TED presentation guidelines and being coached in advance.

And as TED has evolved, it has become a de facto benchmark for global best presentation practices—raising the bar for presentation standards generally.

This May, Chris Anderson’s new book TED Talks, The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, was published and has become a No. 1 best seller in Public Speaking on Amazon.  The book has around 250 pages and is divided into 5 sections—Foundation, Talk Tools, Preparation Process, On Stage and Reflection.  It’s publication means that we now have a fully-fledged official TED guide to public speaking, which undoubtedly will become one of the key reference books for speakers and presenters.

160805 C Anderson TED Talks

So if you have ambitions to become a better and more engaging speaker, do check it out here:

Trond Varlid

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Ten Ways to Have a Better Conversation

July 29, 2016.
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Celeste Headlee:
10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation

Celeste Headlee. Award-winning reporter, writer and broadcast host of news and talk shows on National Public Radio (NPR), Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and other media channels.

From 2015 new host of the daily news and talk show On Second Thought at Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta. Former Managing Editor of NPR’s Next Generation projects.

160729 C Headlee On Second Thought

Headlee also has several music degrees and is a former soprano at Michigan Opera Theatre—and still performs as a professional singer. She is the granddaughter of William Grant Still (1895-1978), a gifted composer and conductor—and the first Afro-American composer to have a symphony and an opera performed.

What makes for a good conversation? Whether the conversation is with your boss, customer, someone in your team, friends or other people—being able to have a good conversation is often not only important, but sometimes even critical, for a positive outcome and your relation with that person.

And who better to ask that question than Celeste Headlee—who makes a living talking to people; of all kinds: Nobel Prize winners, truck drivers, teachers, billionaires, plumbers.

Little more than a year after the video release of her perceptive and highly entertaining TED talk, it has already attracted 4.5 million views—a strong indication that how to make better conversation is a topic of interest to many people.

TEDxCreative Coast   May 2015  4.5M views

Based on years of experience as a successful radio show host, Headlee provides some great insights in her talk—and 10 rules for having better conversations. Among these, perhaps the rule many of us most frequently fail to observe is to listen—and in her talk Headlee explains why.

In addition to insightful advice on having better conversations, you will also find it instructive to study how Headlee continuously engages her audience with questions and humour throughout her talk.

So, as Headlee says—”Go out, talk to people, listen to people and—most importantly, be prepared to be amazed”.

Headlee has recently published a new book, released in March 2016—Heard Mentality: An A-Z Guide to Take Your Podcast or Radio Show from Idea to Hit.

Apart from guiding you through the process of how to produce a podcast or radio show, talent recruitment and staffing—the book also includes a detailed guide on doing great interviews.

You can find further information about Headlee in an interview with her upon becoming new host for GPB’s On Second Thought program in 2015—which you can read here.

Trond Varlid

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

How to Stay Calm

July 22, 2016.
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Daniel Levitin:
How to Stay Calm When You Know You’ll be Stressed

Daniel Levitin. Neuroscientist and Professor at McGill University, Montreal. Dean at Minerva Schools in San Francisco, musician and author of three best selling books. PhD in Psychology. He has consulted on audio sound separation for the U.S. Navy, and on audio quality for several rock bands, including the Grateful Dead and Steely Dan.

In his TED talk he opens with a story—and note how he cleverly comes back to the opening story at the very end, thereby elegantly framing his talk with the story.

TED September 2015   5.3M views on

Daniel Levitin is a man of many talents. Not only a recognized neuroscientist—but also an accomplished musician, playing tenor saxophone and guitar, and has performed with leading music artists and bands—including Sting, Bobby McFerrin (Don’t Worry, Be Happy) and Rosanne Cash, among others.

Furthermore, he has worked extensively as a music and sound consultant, both for movies and music album recordings—and in the past he also performed on and off as a stand-up comedian and joke writer.

In 2007 he published his first book—This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, which became a New York Times best seller and won a number of awards.

160722 D Levitin This is Your Brain on Music

Even now, almost 10 years later, the book is a No. 1 Best Seller on Amazon—and two documentary films have been based on the book. In 2009 he came out with his second book—The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature.

His most recent book, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, was published in 2015 and deals with the challenge that we all face—how to handle all the information bombarding us in our daily lives.

Trond Varlid

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers

July 15, 2016.
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Adam Grant:
Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers

Adam Grant. Professor at the Wharton School of Business and the school’s top rated teacher for the past four years in a row. PhD in Organizational Psychology. Author of two best-selling books translated into 34 languages.  He is also a former magician and junior Olympic springboard diver.

Grant was given a standing ovation for his February 2016 TED talk featured here—which provides interesting and surprising insights as to the habits of original thinkers and successful entrepreneurs.


TED February 2016 3.5M views

The talk is focused around his latest book, Originals: How Non-conformists Move the World.

160715 A Grant Originals, How Non-conformists Move the World

Published in February 2016, the book is currently a No.2 Amazon best seller which explores how individuals champion new ideas—and how leaders can fight group thinking.

Think you know what it takes to be original?  Then take Grant’s original thinking self-assessment quiz to find out! The quiz has 15 questions and only takes about five minutes—many questions are not what you would expect! You can take the quiz by clicking here.

Grant’s first book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success—was published in 2013, after years of studying the dynamics of success and productivity in companies.

His research changed conventional thinking about motivation and success. Give and Take was named one of the best books of 2013 by Amazon, Apple, the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal—and featured in the Harvard Business Review of ideas that changed management.

Grant’s clients include Google, Merck, Pixar, Facebook, Johnson & Johnson, the United Nations and others. His articles have been published in over 60 publications.

For more information visit Adam Grant’s Web site:

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

Managing in the Digital Era

July 8, 2016.

McKinsey Global Leader Interviews
March 2016

If you are looking for valuable information and insights on important global business trends, McKinsey & Co. is currently running a great series of interviews with global leaders across a range of industries.

In this and coming newsletters we will from time to time feature summaries of selected interviews in this series—starting this week with John Chambers, Executive Chairman of Cisco Systems Inc., who was interviewed last month.

Here are 10 highlights:
Digital Era. The world has now entered a digital era that will be the biggest technology transition ever, and companies that fail to adapt are likely to fail.
Connectivity. This digital era is the connectivity of going from a thousand devices connected to the Internet to 500 billion.
Business Models. Business models will rise and fall at tremendous speed, and the transition will cause massive disruption. The majority of companies will not exist in a meaningful way 10 to 15 years from now.
Opportunities. The transition will, however, also create huge opportunities—probably USD19 trillion over the next decade.
CEOs. If CEOs don’t change, they will get left behind. They have to reinvent themselves and their companies.
Change. As leaders, if you do not reinvent yourself and use this technology differently, change your organization and talk about speed of innovation—you will get disrupted.
Organization. The hard part is—how do you change your organization structure and culture? It’s all about speed of innovation and changing the way you do business.
Cisco Leadership. Cisco has changed about 40% of our top leadership over the last two years. It’s something we had to do—”disrupt or be disrupted”. So what I am saying that CEOs need to do, we did ourselves.
Innovation. The sources of innovation have to move from the fringes to something you do mainstream. You have to create an environment of really rapid innovation internally.
Pace of Change. Companies fail to understand how quickly technology will transform their businesses—and they stay doing the ‘right’ thing too long. This is about exponential change.

Source: McKinsey & Co. 
You can read or watch the full interview on video on the McKinsey Web site here.

This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.

In Search of Inspiration

July 1, 2016.
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Anthony Willoughby:
In Search of Inspiration

A few months ago I had the pleasure of meeting Anthony Willoughby for the first time.  He had just flown into Tokyo from Ulan Bator, Mongolia, where he had recently established the Nomadic School of Business—providing corporate leaders and their teams with unique leadership training and team building workshops.

Anthony was raised in Africa, and went to school in the UK and the US. In 1973, at the age of 22, he bought a one-way ticket on the Trans-Siberian Express to Japan in search of inspiration, adventure and opportunities. He never looked back—and has had an amazing life and career ever since.

His many extraordinary adventures and accomplishments include trekking through the jungles of Papa New Guinea and the highlands of Kenya and Mongolia. He has also scaled China’s 7,546-meter Mount Mustagh Ata without porters or oxygen.

His TEDxTokyo talk featured here is highly recommended—not only for inspiration and some great insights on leadership and team building, but also for tips on how to give an inspiring and engaging talk.

Note his use of stories throughout the talk, how he brings out his passion through the use of voice and body language, use of humour and strong visuals—mostly using eye-catching photos and illustrations, rather than text and bullet points.

TEDxTokyo 2013

Over the past couple of decades Anthony has developed some truly unique leadership and team building programs using his Territory Mapping concept—which is based on his experience and research with indigenous communities of East Africa, Mongolia and Papa New Guinea. These programs have been provided to many companies such as Google, Coca-Cola, Dyson, AIA, LIXIL, Qatar Airways and others.

He has also written and published: In Search of Inspiration—a book about his life and philosophy.

160701 A Willoughby In Search of Inspiartion

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This article first appeared in the EMC Quest newsletter series.