The Upstairs & Downstairs Brain

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Advances in neurosciences continue to inform our understanding of what makes us human, and perhaps even more importantly, how we interact with each other. In this week’s post I recommend two excellent speakers and experts in the field of neuroscience to you, Dan Siegel and Sarah-Jayne Blakemore.

We have passed through many periods of popular assumptions about the brain and the mind, including the tabula rasa (blank slate) theory that humans are born void of knowledge and acquire ideas and wisdom over time from the world in which they operate. And, until a few years ago, we believed that the wiring of our brains was pretty much determined and complete within the first few years of life. Advances in techniques for studying the brain, in recent years, have shown that development continues well into adolescence (and beyond), particularly in the pre-frontal cortex.  During this period of development an especially important…

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Doughnut Thinking

It’s time for Doughnut Thinking. The old mindset of economics has run its course and needs refreshing. The planet demands it and our very survival as a species depends on it.

Continuing to believe that we will simply return to the old way of doing things when the latest crisis is over is deluded thinking. In just the last six months we have seen the planet rocked by extreme weather events from devastating fires in Australia to Atlantic storms and unprecedented flooding across parts of Europe. The melting of ice at our polar regions is increasing at an alarming rate, with the hottest ever temperature on record for Antarctica having been recorded in February 2020. As I write, the world economy has been brought to its knees by a virus that has spread around the world at lightening speed, a consequence of our economic globalization. Meanwhile, refugees, across all parts of the planet, continue to gravitate toward areas where they believe, rightly or wrongly, that the prospect of survival for their families will be vastly improved. They are moving away from famine and drought, from war and terrorism, from dictatorships and oppression. And, who could blame them?

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Light at the End of the Tunnel

 

“What’s true of all the evils in the world is true of plague as well. It helps men to rise above themselves.”   Albert Camus, The Plague

It was a peculiar weekend right enough. Shorter than planned, and one that, like Alice, saw us enter and re-emerge from a tunnel into a world that had undergone a surreal transformation during our brief excursion. The news from around the globe of a spreading virus was building, but in most parts of the British Isles people were carrying on with their daily lives quite normally, albeit with a slight awkwardness when it came to greeting friends and relatives. We had been looking forward to our trip on Eurostar, one that I saw as a practice run for many more non-aviation journeys into Europe.  On arrival at the terminal in St Pancras we were warmly greeted by an animated and cheerful attendant who told us to “go and enjoy a cup of coffee and some breakfast, and to ignore the published checking-in time, as the numbers travelling were down, and they were not going to be strict about it this morning”. This was delivered in a manner clearly intended to make us feel relaxed. It had a different effect. As we drank our coffee at a faux-French outlet, only twenty metres from the gate, we pondered as to why numbers were so far down, whether we were doing the right thing, what if we got stuck in France, were we being irresponsible, and many other thoughts that took us on a downward spiral of self-doubt. We finished our coffee and decided to get through check-in at the time instructed, just in case she wasn’t even a real attendant, but someone who enjoyed hanging around the station and making people miss their train.

Check-in and embarkation were smooth, the journey commenced, and before long we were sliding effortlessly through the Kent countryside and down into the blackness of the channel tunnel. We began to relax. The train was not busy and people were spaced generously around the carriages. We were very soon gliding into Gare du Nord. Five minutes later, we had been embraced by the late afternoon Parisian foot-traffic, and eased seamlessly into that familiar walking pattern. The one that differentiates the tourist who is not in any hurry to get anywhere in particular from the deliberate and determined stride of the local with somewhere they need to be.

Once the hustle and bustle that always surrounds major transport hubs had been left behind, it became easier to distance ourselves from passers-by. No-one appeared concerned, there were no more masks in evidence than had been spotted in London, and everyone looked like they were glad it was the weekend.  We strolled miles and miles, soaking in the sights and sounds. We people-watched, we stopped to drink in the majesty of the bridges crossing the Seine, we reminded ourselves of previous trips to the city and reminisced. We paused and stared as the sun set behind the Eiffel Tower illuminating the west of the city in a magical red glow. As the light faded, the old lady started to put on her sparkles, and a different face gradually appeared. The lights of the Grand and Petite Palais bestowed a quality on the architecture and the skyline that was enchanting.

The next day began with a gentle hint of something different. Four young people, at a table in the breakfast area of our hotel, sat together but socially distant. Not just because, like most young people of their generation, their attention was exclusively focused on the content of their mobile phone screens, but by the fact that they were each wearing a mask. Continue reading

What’s changing for you right now?

As the entire world grapples with extraordinary disruption, every individual is on their own volatile and uncertain change journey right now.. While it is totally natural to feel anxiety and concern, there is also opportunity in every crisis. “Never let a good crisis go to waste!” (anon) How can you use this time to step back and reflect on where you are going? Can you use the time to plan for the future? What can you learn about yourself from your own reactions to the situation? Can I get myself more grounded? More organised? Can I develop myself and learn new skills that I have been putting off because I never have the time? How can I thrive in this new reality rather than get mad with it or scared by it?

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                  When we are no longer able to change a situation,  we are challenged to change ourselves. ~ Viktor E. Frankl

All learning happens at ‘the edge’.   Going to the edge, and looking beyond, creates uncertainty.  After all, when nothing is changing and your world is predictable, what is the need to change, or learn anything new?  Sometimes changes are forced on us, sometimes they are sought.  Either way, they induce learning and growth.

This appears to be at the very heart of our existence as a species.  Skulls found in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa, the cradle of humanity, point to increases in skull capacity, and by definition brain size, at specific points in the earth’s history that correspond to periods of dramatic environmental change.

Professor Brian Cox’s recent BBC programme, Apeman to Spaceman,  explains that Brian Cox skullsthe earth…

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Are you ‘On the Bank’ or ‘In the Flow’?

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“It is not required that we know all of the details about every stretch of the river. Indeed, were we to know, it would not be an adventure, and I wonder if there would be much point in the journey.” ― Jeffrey R. Anderson

Where do you find yourself most often as you wend your way on life’s journey?  Are you firmly in the midst of the river, going with the flow, navigating the hazards and enjoying the thrill of the ride?    Or are you bumping along the banks, stopping regularly to re-appraise the situation, before venturing tentatively back in to the turbulent currents in mid-stream.

source: sea2summit.net source: sea2summit.net

The ‘river’ metaphor is very useful, and works on many different levels. I listened this week to Dan Siegel (the neurobiologist and author of Mindsight, among other recommended reads) as he discussed the nature of the mind. He spoke…

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May the Best Ideas Win

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Does it matter who has the best ideas?  As long as we get to the best solution why should we care who thought of it?  This seems starkly reasonable.  If you were in a group, and unfortunate enough to find yourselves in a life or death situation, and someone (perhaps someone you don’t much care for) comes up with a plan that looks like it has a good chance of saving everyone, I presume you wouldn’t hold out for a better plan from someone else that you like better?
When people make observations on the state of politics around the world these days, one word that comes up over and over again is ‘polarised’.  Our politics, our societies and our debates are becoming ever more polarised. Extreme stances are being taken around fixed positions and there appears to be little appetite for compromise, let alone collaboration.
All sound evidence suggests…

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Are we ready for the Future?

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Are we failing our children by what is taught at school?  How much has the basic curriculum changed in the last 30 years?  Are our children still having to endure an education program designed for the 20th Century?  I believe so.

credit: Inc.com

There is little evidence that governments around the world have really got to grips with what is happening right underneath their noses.  It is perhaps little wonder, as the politicians and leaders of our states, institutions and corporations are, almost exclusively, products of the 20th Century.

The steady spread of computers and mobile devices that we have become used to over the past twenty years has lulled the baby-boomers into a complacency. A state of believing that this pace will continue, and that they, as the first generation to really get to grips with the IT revolution, have a handle on it and can even teach the…

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What if people just don’t care?

Essential reading when dealing with people who just don’t care!

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You are a manager. You are responsible for getting the best from your team. You will be held to account if deliveries don’t happen, if deadlines are missed and if budgets overrun. But of course, you are a good manager and those things rarely happen. You know how to engage, motivate and inspire your people. Don’t you?

We’ve all had those conversations with people where you’ve had to lay out what’s on the line. Why it’s so important this time – again! And, on the whole, those cosy chats work. People walk away from those sessions, and they get on with it. They pull out all the stops and you can all go down the pub and enjoy a few drinks to celebrate the team’s (and your!) success once again.

But, what if it just doesn’t matter to them that much? What if they don’t care? Or, they just don’t…

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You’ve got 8 seconds to get my attention!

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“The average attention of a “millenial” is 8 seconds”.

Who said so?  Well, a “millenial” of course!  Not just any “millenial”.  This attention-grabbing claim was made by an impressive young man who was a presenter at a conference I attended this week in London.  Billed as a ‘disruptor’, (credit: Ilias Vartholomaios, Co-Founder of Owiwi) he spoke about the realities that those of us who identify with the 20th Century (I’m one) will have to come to terms with as we live out the remainder of our lives in the 21st.

Young people born after 1995 have not yet become part of the mainstream workforce. He informed us that, by the time they reach the age of 21 they will have spent (on average) 10,000 hours playing online games. As a comparator, that is pretty much the same amount of time an average US student will spend in high…

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May the Best Ideas Win

Does it matter who has the best ideas?  As long as we get to the best solution why should we care who thought of it?  This seems starkly reasonable.  If you were in a group, and unfortunate enough to find yourselves in a life or death situation, and someone (perhaps someone you don’t much care for) comes up with a plan that looks like it has a good chance of saving everyone, I presume you wouldn’t hold out for a better plan from someone else that you like better?
When people make observations on the state of politics around the world these days, one word that comes up over and over again is ‘polarised’.  Our politics, our societies and our debates are becoming ever more polarised. Extreme stances are being taken around fixed positions and there appears to be little appetite for compromise, let alone collaboration.
All sound evidence suggests that breakthroughs in thinking come from people sharing ideas and building upon each other’s contributions. Just look at the progress of ideas within science, where painstaking research and gathering of data to refute, or confirm previously held theories is the life-blood of the discipline.
Retreating into smaller, like-minded, groupings does not serve advancement of ideas well.  Fear and mistrust causes people to seek out their own tribe and be suspicious of ‘others’, and, while it may provide short-term safety and comfort, the security blanket of familiarity does not encourage exploration and discovery.

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