On Purpose

Sunday came quick this week! It seems like we didn’t get enough days in this week. Or, is it the reality of my workdays and nights that explains why I’ve been away from the blog? Honestly, I only ate dinner twice since I last wrote – once for Apollo’s birthday on Friday night, (I shared the duck with Jon J at the uber-cool restaurant Eleven in West Hollywood), so I think days dropped off the calendar.

So, now comes the avalanche of words that’s been building and was shaken free by turbulence as I jet to New York this afternoon, to arrive for Molly Jo’s gallbladder surgery on Monday. Oh, and taping a young entrepreneurs program on television with Bryan Jenkins on Thursday. Honestly, I sound like a much worse mother than I really am. Even if I weren’t doing television in the NYC area this week, I would still have flown in for Mo’s surgery, for goodness sake! New Jersey in November? Why would anyone miss that?

Okay, I have something important to tell you.

According to this month’s Harvard Business Review (HBR), the most important thing you can do for your career is learn. Just learn. For example: learn how to play the cello; how to speak a new language; or how to act differently in meetings, presentations and conversations. Obviously, because I am the author of Speak Up! & Succeed; I want you to seriously consider the last option. Seriously. Think about it.

In any case, HBR reports: try something new and your right brain gets joyfully engaged. Oh, you hard-nosed businessperson! Joy seems like a silly objective? It’s not. (Sorry about the pun).

Joy is no longer just for feeling good! Joy is a mission critical objective because it takes good care of your brain. Albert Einstein’s great scientific and mathematical contributions (or his wife’s – depending on if you read HIS-tory or HER-story) flowed from the neurochemically-induced joy he experienced when he proactively put his brain into play mode. Why?

Fun that comes with novelty and new experiences, builds a kind of neural network trampoline in your head. With this delightfully springy platform, you naturally come to bounce around imaginative and innovative ideas, connections, solutions and responses.

Even at YOUR age? Yes. The academic and scientific community has announced it has been wrong, very wrong about your aging brain. We used to believe that your brain-building days were over; right around the time you graduated from college (if you were on the four year plan, anyway). Now, we find out that if you live to 103 or beyond (God-willing), you can have all the Alzheimer’s you fear, but if you are a lifelong learner: you’re likely not to show or feel many – or even any – symptoms of that dreaded disease.

Why is learning your key to a happy day, a happy old age and great results in your business or career, which will make you happy as well?

When you learn to do something new, you don’t just learn the new skill you think you’re learning. You’re teaching your brain to bounce around for solutions to real problems, too. That’s right: you are going to excel at seeing, solving and overcoming obstacles in business, on this same pliable platform you created, simply by pathetically squeaking out almost-notes on your new cello.

By the way, rent first. You probably aren’t going to become first cello with the New York Philharmonic. You’re competing with 7 billion people for that one. You’re more likely to be the starting pitcher in a World Series game (there’s as few as eight and as many as 14 of those spots each year). See what the scientists mean about new connections??? Seriously, I spontaneously manifest this bizarre connect and compare routine in meetings all the time, and people insist I’m a genius. I’ve just spent lots of time and money trying to learn things that I had no business learning. My reputation for innovation is personal proof that learning anything is better than learning nothing. In truth, I’m not good at anything other than business and teaching business. I even run weirdly – and I was coached by a champion marathoner.

To continue our lesson for today: As you right brain re-wires with new patterns that eventually lead your family to let you practice somewhere other than your deaf neighbor’s basement, your left-brain learns how to integrate enhanced pattern recognition techniques. This one function: pattern recognition, is the single greatest predictor of who will become a successful leader.

The moral is two-fold. First, you left-brain people better be nicer to the right-brain people: they don’t excel at Excel but they do excel at marshalling the forces that drive competitive advantage. Innovation. Continuous process improvement. What to do with returned eye make-up (honestly, there’s an article on this in the HBR this month). Fabulous.

Second moral: You right-brain people have to stop calling the left-brainers: joy-killers. The left-brain puts right-brain connections to work. Left-brainers know how to spot the right new hire, wring the excess expense out of the value chain, and actually run the enterprise after they bought – and successfully installed – the right enterprise management software package.

Truth is: even though collaboration brings all of our skills together as a team, each of us needs to nurture both sides of our brains. That’s how we create new ambitions – like seeing what promotion or change in department would make the most of our skills, or what company we should acquire or what technology we should invest in. We need both sides of our brains engaged, so we can imagine new choices, identify obstacles, make superior decisions and implement effective solutions.

It just happens that the right brain leads the way to having more skills, seeing more choices, and making more insightful decisions. Then, the left-brain pays the bills.

Of course, you can’t just build your brain trampoline and then let it rust and become brittle – if you want to enjoy spectacular, lifelong benefits. You have to administer a regular brain care maintenance program. Continue to master new and joyful challenges, and engage in new experiences. Take on increasingly difficult levels of what you find engaging. Or, switch around your perspective entirely. If you know everything about strength and conditioning, learn to play the bass guitar (Jon J is doing just that while I’m in New York, so he says).

You could open up UCLA Extension’s catalog (www.uclaextension.edu) to a random place, and sign up for the first course your eye lands on (as long as your gut agrees it won’t be challenging in a nerve-wracking way, but in an inspiring and exciting way). Remember the online programs, if you can’t make the commute to class from your city, state or country. That’s why God or Al Gore created the Internet.

Okay, what are you going to learn – really learn and not just buy and put on the shelf, like the French language CDs from Rosetta Stone that someone bought because of a great radio commercial? What are you really going to commit to learning?

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