Sunday, February 6, 2011

Daniel Goleman talk at Google on Social Intelligence

Leading authors, politicians, and musicians get invited to speak at Google, and Google makes these talks available on Youtube on the Talks@Google channel. It is pretty fantastic to be able to watch at my leisure a talk that I'd be willing to pay $25 for and spend an hour traveling back and forth to.

Just listened to this talk by Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, speaking about his new book, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships.

Notes on the talk:

At Google, and other organizations that screen for high cognitive intelligence (traditional IQ), everyone is above a certain bar. But that means that there isn't that much variation between the smartest and the least smart person in the organization. So just being smart won't help you get ahead, since it isn't a distinguishing factor.

But cognitive intelligence and emotional intelligence have a very low correlation, so that means that within Google, or other tech firms, or similar places, you have a lot of very smart people who don't differ much in cognitive intelligence but who have a wide range of emotional intelligence. So emotional intelligence becomes the distinguishing competence that determines who will be successful.

Studies have looked at what the distinguishing competencies are most important in helping a person be successful, particularly in the tech world:

1. Most important: The drive to achieve. The desire to improve one's one performance. People who hold themselves to very high internal standards of success. These people like metrics, like to keep score, and set challenging goals.

2. The ability to influence, to make arguments, to hold one's own in a debate, to tailor one's argument to the audience.

3. Pattern recognition - the ability to see what matters, to make connections. (Goleman admits this is really a cognitive ability, not so much an emotional one. But is was third on his list.)

4. Analytical ability - the ability to anticipate obstacles, to draw logical conclusions. (Again, more of a cognitive ability)

5. Self confidence. The habit of taking on challenges without being told what to do. The desire to operate independently, with autonomy.

Goleman gives a brief digression on the pre-frontal cortex (the "executive center of the brain") and the amygdala - the quick-response lizard brain. Then Goleman talks about various domains of emotional intelligence:

1. Self-awareness. The ability to tune in to subtle feelings. Very important for decision making. Cognitive intelligence allows you to identify all the pros and cons of a decision, but it is the emotional intelligence that allows you to weight them. Self-awareness is important for ethics and integrity.
It is our basal ganglia where our life's wisdom accumulates. This is a very ancient part of the brain that can not communicate verbally. But it is what watches our actions and then looks at what happens and takes the lesson - that worked, or that didn't - and stores it. The basal ganglia sends non-verbal signals when we are going to take an action - and we need to be sensitive enough to pay attention to them.

2. Managing negative emotions. The ability to hold in mind how good it will feel when we finish, during the difficult middle when we feel like quitting. The ability to quiet negative emotions so they don't interfere with our thinking.

3. Ability to self-inhibit. Goleman mentions the famous study of 4-year olds who were offered a cookie by the researcher, who then left the room. The 4-year old is told that he or she can eat the cookie, but if they wait until the researcher returns, they can have two cookies. About one-third of the 4-year olds had the self-discipline to wait it out. Interesting.
But what really put this study on the map was when they followed up 14 years later. The one third who waited had average SAT scores 200 points higher than the ones who gobbled up the first cookie. That ability to delay gratification served the kids pretty well during their education.
Goleman mentions what has been learned about working memory: that we can hold about 7 bits of information in our heads, plus or minus two. So if 6 of those bits are consumed with a negative emotion that is bugging us, it doesn't leave much RAM to focus on the problem.

Goleman skips the fourth point and moves on to a discussion of mirror neurons, recently discovered. These are neurons in our head that fire sympathetically when another person takes an action. They were discovered when researchers were studying a monkey that was wired up so they could see a neuron fire whenever the monkey raised its arm. Then they saw the neuron firing with the monkey not raising its arm. Turned out one of the lab workers was raising his arms to drink.

The most effective leaders found to laugh three times more than average leaders. Turns out we have mirror neurons that respond just to another person smiling or laughing and make us want to smile or laugh.

You can tell when two people have established good rapport:
a) they are paying full attention to each other
b) the non-verbal choreography dance is in sync
c) it feels good

When you observe this rapport, it turns out the mirror neurons are firing in sync.

We are biological allies. A study took women and told them they were about to get an electric shock. Their stress level went up, measured by the HPA levels. When someone held their hand, the stress level went down a little. When their husband held their hand, their stress level went down back to the original level.

The good news is that are circuitry is malleable. Goleman mentions the work being done by Davidson at the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at Wisconsin. You don't need to be a Tibetan monk meditating your life to see the benefits. They have observed measurable changes in the human brain after subjects meditated for just 8 weeks.

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