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Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently Hardcover – September 2, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Psychiatry professor Berns (Satisfaction: The Science of Finding True Fulfillment) describes an iconoclast as "a person who does something that others say can't be done." Though keeping his promise to reveal the "biological basis" for the ability to think outside the box, Berns keeps technical explanation to a minimum, instead using themes like perception, fear and networking to profile a number of famous free-thinkers. While the ordinary person perceives the world based on his past experience and "what other people say," the iconoclast is both willing and able to risk seeing things differently; in the case of glass sculptor Dale Chihuly, his creative breakthrough (departing from symmetry in his ice-sculptures) came after a car crash blinded him in one eye, literally changing his view of the world. The will to take risks is also paramount; Cardinals baseball coach Branch Rickey and his controversial hire Jackie Robinson, the first black man in the Majors, provide models of imagination and fearlessness. Berns also looks at iconoclasts like Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King Jr., Henry Ford, the Dixie Chicks, Warren Buffett and Picasso, relating in lucid terms the mindsets that set them apart.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


This fascinating work lays out where great ideas come from, how our brain often works against us, and what we can do about it to seize the day. --Fast Company, Best Business Books of 2008

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 250 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press; 1 edition (September 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1422115011
  • ISBN-13: 978-1422115015
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #197,579 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gregory Berns, M.D., Ph.D., is the Distinguished Professor of Neuroeconomics at Emory University. His research has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, the Los Angeles Times, Nature, Money, New Scientist, Psychology Today, and on CNN, NPR, ABC, and the BBC. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 85 people found the following review helpful By Kanishk Rastogi VINE VOICE on October 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book will help you to understand how your brain works and how this information can be used to think differently. An Iconoclast is a person who does something that others say can't be done. Berns uses the power of neuroscience to delve into an iconoclast mind and investigate how it works differently from a normal person's brain. Per this research, our brain has three natural roadblocks that hamper the innovative thinking:

1. Flawed Perception.
2. Fear: Fear of failure/public ridicule.
3. Inability to influence others.

Using examples of people from diverse professions and industries, backed by neuroscience, and experiments, Berns has provided a very good picture of how these three factors impact our thinking. Sometimes the text becomes too scientific and complex, but mostly otherwise, the language is easy to comprehend.

Once you understand how our brain processes information and affects our perception, imagination, and decision-making; you can find ways to think creatively and remove the above three roadblocks. There are some DOs told by Berns, in order to do so. But most of the book is centered around exploring the processes of human brain.

What I learned mainly, is that, our brain tries to maximize its efficiency by taking shortcuts in processing information. That's why, the more we do certain task, easier it becomes. For same reason, we get comfortable in our own surroundings (or work) and loose the ability to think beyond it. Hence, we need to keep exposing our brain with new situations, scenarios, information, to enhance the activity of our brain and force it to think creatively.
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284 of 309 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
If I recall correctly, it was in a world history class in an elementary school in Chicago when I first became aware of the word "iconoclast" while reading about an Athenian political and military leader, Alcibiades (5th century BC), whose enemies charged him with sacrilege after seamen under his command became drunk while ashore and roamed the streets, smashing statues of various deities and dignitaries. Curious, I recently checked the Online Etymological Dictionary and learned that an iconoclast is a "breaker or destroyer of images" from the Late Greek word eikonoklastes. Centuries later, an iconoclast was viewed as "one who attacks orthodox beliefs or institutions." This brief background helps to introduce Gregory Berns's book in which he examines a number of people who in recent years accomplished what others claimed could not be done. When doing so, these modern iconoclasts attacked orthodox beliefs and, in some cases, institutions. "The overarching theme of this book is that iconoclasts are able to do things that others say can't be done, because iconoclasts perceive things differently than other people." Berns goes on to explain that the difference in perception "plays out in the initial stages of an idea. It plays out in how their manage their fears, and it manifests in how they pitch their ideas to the masses of noniconoclasts. It is an exceedingly rare individual who possesses all three of these traits."

I was already somewhat familiar with several of the exemplars discussed in this book but not with others. They include Solomon Asch, Warren Buffett, Nolan Bushnell, Dale Chihuly, Ray Croc, Walt Disney, David Dreman, Richard Feynman, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Jr.
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55 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Luis Figueroa VINE VOICE on October 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Iconoclast, by Gregory Burns

Iconoclast (by Gregory Burns) was a fun book to read! The goal of the book is look at how Iconoclasts in society (those folks who do things others say cannot be done) think. The book describes famous iconoclasts and provides some insights into their thinking "out of the box" thinking abilities. Three factors limit the thinking of most of us: Flawed perception; Fear of failure; and the inability to persuade others (for example social intelligence). The more influential iconoclasts balance all 3 attributes to become hugely successful (think Noel Bushnell-Pong, Steve Jobs-Apple, Walt Disney-cartoon moving animations, Branch Rickey-Integration in baseball, Howard Armstrong-Super heterodyne Receiver etc). In the iconoclast the power of vision is especially enhanced and the brain neural circuits are more active. Perception is more than just seeing things. A key aspect is the ability to perceive things one sees in ways most people cannot. Thus the iconoclast is able to perceive what others believe cannot be done. Perception is intimately tied to imagination which is the key ingredient in creativity. The brain's need for energy efficiency works against imagination, since imagination involves stronger neural connections (and more focused attention) to create deeply imprinted and detailed visualizations. One of the important attributes for better perception is having many unique experiences (think about being a world traveler) and using all your senses in the environment.

One of the big inhibitors of action is fear and the varied response folks have to stress. The author discusses the stress response in some detail, including neurotransmitters, and hormones involved, especially the correlation of dopamine with risk taking.
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