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487 of 507 people found the following review helpful
on August 9, 2008
I believe personal productivity and performance as a leader are directly correlated. Just like we have to lead a team, we have to lead ourselves to a higher level of a productivity and effectiveness. In all of the leadership classes I teach, emphasis is placed on knowing yourself. When you know yourself it provides you the ability to adapt to weaknesses and leverage your strengths (increase your personal productivity and effectiveness).

Knowing how your brain functions is part of knowing yourself.

This book is so insightful and valuable that I sent copies to my clients. The value of the book hinges on the understanding of the brain and how it works which allows me to leverage that knowledge for increased personal productivity and in my interactions and relationships with others.

Myth Busters for the brain!

The book is a fairly easy read because the author uses stories to illustrate the functionality of the brain. This book is not a "leadership-lite" book filled with cute and truthful antidotes, but a book with hard science communicated in an interesting way. Dr. John J. Medina is a developmental molecular biologist. He also shares what scientists don't know about how the brain works!

This book gave me many, many take-aways and here are just six ...

I. Some parts of the brain are just like a baby's and can grow new connections and strengthen existing connections. We have the ability to learn new things our entire life. Medina states this was "not the prevailing notion until 5 or 6 years ago." So much for the "you can't teach and old dog new tricks excuse." The old dog line is exposed for what it really excuse.

II. Humans can only pay attention for about ten minutes and then need some kind of reset.

III. The brain can only focus on one thing at a time. This is further rationale on the futility of multi-tasking.

IV. Exercise increases brain power and aerobic exercise twice a week reduces the risk of general dementia by 50% and Alzheimer's by 60%.

V. There is a biological need for an afternoon nap.

VI. The brain is very active during sleep and loss of sleep hurts cognitive and physical ability.

Buy and read Brain Rules. It will benefit you.

One of the reasons I read leadership books is to learn new things but also to get old truths hammered into my thick skull so they result in action. Action! So you may know or have heard of some of the truths in "Brain Rules" but I guarantee the author brings them to you in a unique an interesting way with solid depth that will allow you to easier implement those truths into how you handle yourself and others on a daily basis.

Dr. James T. Brown PMP PE CSP
Author, The Handbook of Program Management
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213 of 222 people found the following review helpful
When an author and industry expert you hold in high regard says a book is the best one s/he's read in 2008, it's probably a good idea to take notice. So when Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen fame recommended Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina, I decided that should be something I get sooner rather than later. After reading, I can see why he recommends the book so highly. Medina's 12 "brain rules" are based on solid science, but they're presented in such a way that you can actually apply your new-found knowledge.

Exercise - Rule #1: Exercise boosts brain power.
Survival - Rule #2: The human brain evolved, too.
Wiring - Rule #3: Every brain is wired differently.
Attention - Rule #4: We don't pay attention to boring things.
Short-Term Memory - Rule #5: Repeat to remember.
Long-Term Memory - Rule #6: Remember to repeat.
Sleep - Rule #7: Sleep well, think well.
Stress - Rule #8: Stressed brains don't learn the same way.
Sensory Integration - Rule #9: Stimulate more of the senses.
Vision - Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses.
Gender - Rule #11: Male and female brains are different.
Exploration - Rule #12: We are powerful and natural explorers.

When Reynolds reviewed the book on his site, he focused on how these rules pertain to the art of making presentations. Attention, as explained by Medina, means that the brain does not multitask (much to your bosses dismay), we notice patterns and abstract meanings better than recording detail, and you have basically 10 minutes before the audience checks out without a new stimulus. Vision, the sensory "trump card", is the dominant sense, our brain controls what we see (and it's not totally correct), the processes to "see" something are very complex, and most importantly, we remember and learn best through pictures and not written/spoken words. That one insight alone should be enough to make you totally rethink the way we attempt to present to people...

Now, even if you're not approaching the book from a presentation angle, the book is still outstanding. Something like memory, an act we take for granted, is a deep mystery that we still don't understand. Medina shows by studies and real-life examples how things *might* work, knowing full well we haven't even begun to understand but a fraction of what goes on there. Sleep, something that boosts brain power, is *not* a time of relaxation for the brain. In fact, it often kicks into overdrive. Why? There are still no definitive answers. But he does go on to prove how *lack* of sleep can utterly render you incapable of rational thought and physical action. When you've worked through all 12 of the brain rules, you'll have a more complete understanding of how you can affect the quality of your brain functioning, all the while being entertained and amazed at what lies between your ears.

Every time I got to the end of a chapter, I started to put the book down. But then I'd think "just one more and then I'll turn out the light." Needless to say, I was at the end before I knew it. Like Garr Reynolds, this is one of the best books I've read this year, and one that I'd recommend to others for a number of reasons and purposes.
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51 of 51 people found the following review helpful
John Medina has pulled together all the verified scientific data (repeatable experimentation, trials, etc.) on how our brains "work" to process our sensory inputs and remember what we've experienced. He readily admits that this is an on-going study that will be augmented as we discover new ways the brain works and evolves.

Medina has organized the pertinent findings into what he calls "12 Brain Rules." The hard cover version of the book (available in Kindle and paperback as well) comes with a DVD comprising videos of the meat of the brain rules. There is also a very robust website that provides support data.
Briefly, Medina's rules (or Principles) are:

1. Exercise: Our brains were made for walking - 12 miles a day, so move. Aerobic exercise just twice a wekk halves your risk of general dementia and cuts your risk of Alzheimer's by 60 percent.

2. Survival: The human brain evolved, too. We don't have one brain; we have three - "lizard brain," the "mammalian brain" and the "Human brain" or cortex. Going from 4 legs to 2freed up energy to develop a complex brain.

3. Wiring: Every brain is wired differently. What you do and learn in life physically changes what your brain looks like - it literally "re-wires" itself. No two people's brains store the same information in the same way in the same place. We have a great number of ways of being intelligent - many of which do not show up on IQ tests.

4. Attention: People don't pay attention to boring things. The brain's attentional "spotlight" can focus on only one thing at a time: NO MULTITASKING! We are better at seeing patterns and abstracting the meaning of an event than we are at recording detail. Emotional arousal helps the brain learn. Audiences check out after 10 minutes (but you can grab them back by telling narratives or creating events rich in emotion).

5. Short-term memory: Repeat to remember. The brain has many types of memory systems. Information coming into your brain is immediately split into fragments that are sent to different regions of the cortex for storage. You can improve your chances of remembering something if you reproduce the environment in which you first put it into your brain.

6. Long-term memory: Remember to repeat. Most memories disappear within minutes. Those that survive the fragile period strengthen with time. Long-term memories are formed in a two-way conversation between the hippocampus and the cortex - it can take years to end the conversation. Brains give us only an approximate view of reality because the mix new knowledge with past memories and store them together as one. The way to make long term memory more reliable is to incorporate new information gradually and repeat it in timed intervals.

7. Sleep: Sleep well, think well. The brain is in constant tension between cells and chemicals that try to put you to sleep and cells and chemicals that try to keep you awake. The neurons of your brain show vigorous rhythmical activity when you're asleep - perhaps replaying what you learned that day. People vary in how much and when they need to sleep. But the biological urge for an afternoon nap is universal. Loss of sleep hurts attention, executive functions, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning and even motor dexterity.

8. Stress: Stressed brains don't learn the same way. Chronic stress, such as hostility at home, dangerously deregulates a system built only to deal with short-term responses. Under chronic stress, adrenaline creates scars in your blood vessels that can cause a heart attack or stroke and cortisol damages the cells of the hippocampus, crippling your ability to learn and remember. Individually, the worst kind of stress is the feeling that you have no control over the problem - you are helpless. Emotional stress has a huge impact across society, on children's ability to learn in school and on employees productivity at work.

9. Sensory Integration: Stimulate more of the senses at the same time. We absorb information about an event through our senses, translate it into electrical signals (some for sight, others from sound, etc.) disperse those signals to separate parts of the brain, then reconstruct what happened, eventually perceiving the event as a whole. The brain seems to rely partly on past experience in deciding how to combine these signals so two people can perceive the same event very differently. Our senses evolved to work together, one influencing the other. Smells have an unusual power to bring back memories.

10. Vision: Vision trumps all other senses. Vision is by far our most dominant sense, taking up half of our brain's resources. What we see is only what our brains tell us to see and it's not 100 percent accurate. The visual analysis we do is complex and has many steps. We learn and remember best through pictures, not through written or spoken word.

11. Gender [uh, oh! Didn't Larry Summers get in trouble over this?]: Male and Female brains are different. The X chromosome that males have one of and females have two of is a cognitive "hot spot," carrying an unusually large percentage of genes involved in brain manufacture. Women are genetically more complex, because the active X chromosomes in their cells are a mix of Mom's and Dad's. Men's X chromosomes all come from Mom, and their Y chromosome carries less than 100 genes, compared with about 1,500 for the X chromosome. Men and women respond differently to acute stress; Women activate the left hemisphere's amygdala and remember the emotional details. Men use the right amygdala and get the gist.

12. Exploration: We are powerful and natural explorers. Babies are models of how we learn - not by passive reaction to the environment but by active testing through observation, hypothesis, experiment and conclusion. Specific parts of the brain allow this scientific approach. The right prefrontal cortex looks for errors in our hypothesis and an adjoining region tells us to change behavior. We can recognize and imitate behavior because of "mirror neurons" scattered across the brain. Some parts of our adult brains say as malleable as a baby's, so we can create neurons and learn new things throughout our lives.

The above brief summary of the twelve brain rules is well expanded upon in the book and quite nicely supported by the website and of course the DVD. Medina shines a light on to several interesting areas of how our human brain evolved. He points out how we must really start changing the way we organize our schools and our workplace if we want to maximize the human potential. And so this book not only sheds light on the science behind brain evolution but also gives us ample thought on how we might use the information to survive and thrive at work, home and school.
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108 of 116 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2008
The genius of this book is that it uses the most recent scientific research, discussed in a very entertaining way, to identify 12 rules for optimizing your most important tool - your BRAIN. Read the chapter on "Attention" and you will never give a presentation in the same way again. Read the chapter on "Sleep" and you will understand why an afternoon nap can be the most productive 20 minutes of your work day. Read the chapter on "Exercise" and you'll finally get why great ideas (ok, and maybe some clunkers but at least you're thinking!)come to you in the middle of your workout. Like the author, you may toss the guest chair and put a treadmill in your office with a bracket for your laptop - this gives new meaning to the concept of management by walking around. The bottom line is that brain science is beginning to produce really useful information about how our brains are wired; this book is a user's manual on how to work with the way we're wired instead of fighting against it. I highly recommend it.
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59 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2010
"Brain Rules" provides layman commentary on the latest neurological research and theories for improving cognitive and intellectual performance. The author has a verbose but engaging style that explains the scientific rationale for his twelve "rules". While the text lacks formal references and notes, Medina exudes credibility. Furthermore, the book directs the reader to a really nice website, [...], which has much supporting material.

Unfortunately, as self-help, which is how the title presents the book, "Brain Rules" is less successful. Self-help readers are more concerned about the "what" than the "how", and the author spends most of his energy on the latter. The takeaways for boosting the brain's potential, such as exercise, repeat to remember, ten minute attention spans, sleep, stimulate the visual senses, etc, are indeed valid. Yet they are also common-sense, and should not require reading 300 pages to ascertain. The chapter summaries available on the website really suffice for the self-help reader.

The verdict: Four stars as light and accessible reading on molecular biology, but two stars as self-improvement because of the dearth of applied information. Get the book if you want science; go to the website if you want self-help.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
This book expounds on how our brain learns and functions. It has many tidbits of facts about our brain, such as the vastness and complexity of our brain's neural network, that is entertaining and intriguing.

But after reading this book, I asked myself "how has this book improved my life and understanding of the world?"

This book has one singular advice which is priceless: regular exercise has a profound impact on the health and functioning of your brain. Simply put, if you don't exercise, you are probably not on top of your mental agility whereas regular exercise, especially cardio, very substantially increases the efficacy of your brain power.

The author also expounds on how our brain learns and how it changes as we grow older.

This book reminds me of a watered-down version of Cognitive Psychology textbook I had read in college. It is interesting in its own right. But as a practical tool to improve your life, it has only limited value.

If you are looking for a well-informed book on your brain and cognitive psychology, then I recommend this book. If you are looking for a cutting edge brain research and breakthroughs that can change your life, it may leave you wanting.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 25, 2009
If you are interested in a better understanding of how the brain works, you came to the right place. Through examples and simple explanations, the author explains the functions of the brain.

I was hoping for for some useful ideas on how to leverage this information. Although there were a few good ideas, most of them were aimed at how scientists or the educational system should change. There isn't much most people can do with that.
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207 of 256 people found the following review helpful
on August 10, 2008
Having read a number of fairly substantive books about the brain in the past few years, I was intrigued by this title as I am looking for applications that I can use in my teaching. What a disappointment. Medina throws out a number of interesting ideas but never develops many of them thoroughly. Most importantly, there are no citations in the book. He often mentions research studies but neglects to document their sources. And the accompanying CD adds virtually nothing new and seems more like a promotion for Medina's consulting and website. Thin stuff.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 2010
As other people say, this book is very easy and even fun to read. Despite its almost novel-like style, the book does not compromise in quality and depth of information it gives.

The book provides 12 Brain Rules that range from the brain's need for exercise to the brain's tendency to get pictures better than words. The author often gives comprehensive explanations for why the rules are the way they are, explaining the brain's anatomy and/or evolutionary changes. Combined with the "ideas" section at the end of each chapter, where the author explores alternative ways to implement these rules in real life, these in-depth explanations provided me with many new ideas to improve my own brain.

However given the comprehensive nature of the book, after finishing the book I was surprised to notice one very important component missing from the entire book - nutrition.

For anyone who has serious interests in health and wellbeing, it is a well-known fact that all the exercises and other efforts will be a waste, if you don't take care of your diet. The reverse is also true, but nutrition plays the biggest role in our wellbeing.

The complete lack of information on nutrition's role in our brain's health in this book is a disappointment and the reason why I rate it only 4 stars. Otherwise, a 5 star reading.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
With a fabulous DVD (stimulate more of the senses, Rule #9 and the visual trumps all, Rule #10) to kick off the book, this direct, funny, fast romp through about 30 years of brain research makes neurocognitive findings fun! "If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom," says Medina--and we thank him for confirming what a lot of us have sensed for a long time.

Other important Brain Rules: we need to move to learn better, every brain is wired differently (there is no one type of learner and we need to construct environments that celebrate cognitive diversity in schools) and perhaps most important: We are powerful and natural explorers! I sure do wish everyone who designs instruction, works in schools, or (tries to!) learn in schools would read this. We don't pay attention to boring things.

What? Is it time for recess yet?
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