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The Hidden Driver of Excellence

In fact, people who are extremely adept at mental tasks that demand cognitive control and a roaring working memory—like solving complex math problems—can struggle with creative insights if they have trouble switching off their fully concentrated focus. Instead we often have to recognize the very need to find a creative solution in the first place. Chance, as Louis Pasteur put it, favors a prepared mind. Daydreaming incubates creative discovery.

A classic model of the stages of creativity roughly translates to three modes of focus: orienting, where we search out and immerse ourselves in all kinds of inputs; selective attention on the specific creative challenge; and open awareness, where we associate freely to let the solution emerge—then hone in on the solution.

In a complex world where almost everyone has access to the same information, new value arises from the original synthesis, from putting ideas together in novel ways, and from smart questions that open up untapped potential. Creative insights entail joining elements in a useful, fresh way. In the tumult of our daily distractions and to-do lists, innovation dead-ends; in open times it flourishes.

Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goleman, Paperback | Barnes & Noble®

Open time lets the creative spirit flourish; tight schedules kill it. Creative associations aside, mind wandering tends to center on our self and our preoccupations: all the many things I have to do today; the wrong thing I said to that person; what I should have said instead. While the mind sometimes wanders to pleasant thoughts or fantasy, it more often seems to gravitate to rumination and worry.

Focus - The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goleman (Study Notes)

Tightly focused attention gets fatigued—much like an overworked muscle—when we push to the point of cognitive exhaustion. The signs of mental fatigue, such as a drop in effectiveness and a rise in distractedness and irritability, signify that the mental effort needed to sustain focus has depleted the glucose that feeds neural energy.

Self-awareness, then, represents an essential focus, one that attunes us to the subtle murmurs within that can help guide our way through life. This internal control mechanism makes all the difference between a life well lived and one that falters. The better we are at reading these messages, the better our intuition.

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This bottom-up circuitry telegraphs its conclusions through our gut feelings, often long before the top-down circuits come to a more reasoned conclusion. Those self-ratings are checked against evaluations by a dozen or so people whom you have asked to rate you on the same scale. You pick them because they know you well and you respect their judgment—and their ratings are anonymous, so they can feel free to be frank.

The gap between how you see yourself and how the others rate you offers one of the best evaluations you can get anywhere of your own self-awareness. Candid feedback from those you trust and respect creates a source of self-awareness, one that can help guard against skewed information inputs or questionable assumptions. Another antidote to groupthink: expand your circle of connection beyond your comfort zone and inoculate against in-group isolation by building an ample circle of no-BS confidants who keep you honest.

Willpower emerged as a completely independent force in life success—in fact, for financial success, self-control in childhood proved a stronger predictor than either IQ or social class of the family of origin.

Daniel Goleman: “Focus: The Hidden Driver Of Excellence”

Of the many nuances and varieties of attention, two matter greatly for self-awareness. Selective attention lets us focus on one target and ignore everything else. The chronic cognitive overload that typifies life for so many of us seems to lower our threshold for self-control.

The greater the demands on our attention, it seems, the poorer we get at resisting temptations. We are prepared by our biology to eat and sleep, mate and nurture, fight-or-flee, and exhibit all the other built-in survival responses in the human repertoire. Emotions, remember, guide our attention. And attention glides away from the unpleasant. Learning how to improve any skill requires top-down focus. Neuroplasticity, the strengthening of old brain circuits and building of new ones for a skill we are practicing, requires our paying attention: When practice occurs while we are focusing elsewhere, the brain does not rewire the relevant circuitry for that particular routine.

Now, decades after that controversial article, competence models tell a clear story: nonacademic abilities like empathy typically outweigh purely cognitive talents in the makeup of outstanding leaders. When Accenture interviewed one hundred CEOs about the skills they needed to run a company successfully, a set of fourteen abilities emerged, from thinking globally and creating an inspiring shared vision to embracing change and tech savvy.


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No one person could have them all. Chief executives need this ability to assess their own strengths and weaknesses, and so surround themselves with a team of people whose strengths in those core abilities complement their own. Your email address will not be published.

Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence

Book Notes:. Leave a Reply Cancel reply Your email address will not be published. In Focus , he cleverly employs short chapters littered with case studies to engage professionals swimming against a tide of electronic correspondence Goleman says both focused attention and mind-wandering are necessary for well-balanced, insightful brains See larger image.

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