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79 of 81 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Learn how our brain works & use this knowledge
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...
Published on October 31, 2008 by Kanishk Rastogi

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79 of 91 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Amygdala, hypothalamus, fusiform . . . ho!
When a friend who saw me with this book asked how it was, my response was "it's a slow read. Eventually he does get to the point, I think." For someone interested in the byzantine twists and turns of the human brain, all the discussion of neuroscience is probably of interest. The value of this book as a practical guide for business people (which it purports to be, I...
Published on December 9, 2008 by Robert Holland


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79 of 81 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Learn how our brain works & use this knowledge, October 31, 2008
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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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281 of 306 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant analysis of "the exceedingly rare individual", September 23, 2008
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., Paul Lauterbur, Jim Lavoi, Stanley Milgram, Florence Nightingale, Branch Rickey, Burt Rutan, and Jonas Salk. According to Berns, these iconoclasts possess a brain that differs from other people's in three functions (i.e. perception, fear response, and social intelligence) and the circuits that implement them. Keep in mind, however, as noted earlier: "It is an exceedingly rare individual who possesses all three of these traits." Howard Armstrong, for example, was "the most iconoclastic and influential engineer of radio" whose inventions include FM. "But what is most interesting about Armstrong is the extent of his iconoclasm," so extreme that it "advanced radio technology but cost him his life." Berns's discussion of Armstrong (Pages 1-4, 9-10, 129, 131, and 151) explains why his story "is a cautionary tale" to those about to challenge conventional wisdom.

Berns makes an important distinction. "The iconoclast doesn't literally see things differently than other people. More precisely, he [begin italics] perceives [end italics] things differently. There are several different routes to forcing the brain out of its lazy mode of perception, but the theme linking these methods depends on the element of surprise. The brain must be provided with something that it has never processed before to force it out of predictable perceptions. When Chihuly lost an eye, his brain was forced to reinterpret visual stimuli in a new way." In this context, I am reminded that only after Sophocles' Oedipus gouged out his eyes and Shakespeare's Earl of Gloucester wandered sightless on the moors did these two tragic figures perceive the realities that, previously, their vision had denied or did not see.

No brief commentary such as this can possibly do full justice to the scope and depth of this brilliant book but I can at least suggest a few of the subjects that were of greatest interest to me:

1. How the brain receives, processes, and assimilates what is perceived
2. Given that, how and why people then manage their fears and people pitch their ideas to the masses differently
3. The relationship between imagination and the visual system
4. Why the brain can sometimes be "too efficient"
5. How the networks that govern perception and imagination can be reprogrammed
6. How fear can distort perception
7. Why an iconoclast's familiarity and reputation figure prominently in her or his success
8. The five attributes of innovation and their relevance to the iconoclast
9. How and why a few iconoclasts become icons
10. Why any/all of the three functions of the brain can "go awry" and how to correct the dysfunctionality

As I read the final chapter, "When Iconoclast Becomes Icon," I was reminded of Henry Chesbrough's insights concerning the open business model and his emphasis on the importance of developing an open mindset, one that is receptive to a variety of different points of view, and of Roger Martin's discussion of what he calls the "opposable" mind that is capable of considering contradictory ideas while making especially difficult decisions. I was also reminded of what Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis suggest in Judgment when asserting that effective CEOs "not only make better calls, but they are able to discern the really important ones and get a higher percentage of them right. They are better at a whole process that runs from seeing the need for a call, to framing issues, to figuring out what is critical, to mobilizing and energizing the troops." What Berns offers in this volume is a brilliant explanation of the neurological foundation for precisely what Chesbrough and Martin as well as Tichy and Bennis believe are common characteristics of a great leader. "For the iconoclast to become an icon," Kerns observes, "not only must he possess an especially plastic brain that can see things differently, but he must rewire the brains of a vast number of other people who are not iconoclasts."

This is not an "easy read." On the contrary, before beginning to compose my review, I re-read the book with special attention to the dozens of passages I had highlighted. To his great credit, and to the extent possible, Berns presents scientific material in layman's terms for those such as I who have little (if any) prior knowledge about neuroscience and especially about what the brain is, what it does, why people can perceive the same objects so differently, how and why people can respond so differently to fear, and why there are such significant differences between and among people in terms of their social skills. Because iconoclasts perceive the world differently, they have a different context in which to formulate their mindsets and world views, determine preferences, select objectives, and mobilize resources (including collaborators) when pursuing those objectives. Unlike Alcibiades'seamen who seem to be nothing more than drunken vandals, the contemporary iconoclasts of greatest interest to Berns are those who are visionaries, builders, and in some instances revolutionaries. His frequent use of the word "epiphany" is apt. Several of those whom he discusses experienced a "shock of recognition" that revealed both a profound insight and a compelling vision. Disney's epiphany occurred when images of a static cartoon projected on a movie screen changed his "categorization of drawing from one of static cartoons to that of moving ones - drawings that told stories in a narrative sense."

Presumably there will be many differences between and among those who read this book in terms of what they learn and how they then apply what they learn. Perhaps at least some of them are "regular" iconoclasts and a "precious few" among them are or will one day become icons such as Jonas Salk and Steve Jobs. As for the rest of us, none may ever "shatter conventional thinking" but, thanks to Gregory Burns, we will at least be much better prepared to understand, appreciate and support those who do.
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54 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Neuroscience Tips for Thinking Out of the Box, October 29, 2008
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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. He also discusses human tendencies to both fear the unknown and the tendency to project the present state into the future. The true iconoclast is able to get around these obstacles. In the financial markets, contrarians like Warren Buffet tend to bet that fear make most people make the wrong decisions about the future viability of current investments. The science of neuroeconomics is beginning to attempt to answer questions as to why many folks "act irrationally" when it comes to predicting the future, as a result of our built-in aversion to loss. The author examines one of the brain key elements (the Amygdala) in our "fear response." He also briefly discusses how we might be able to better control the Amygdala and thus our response to fear. Of course fear, will tend to distort perception (and make us more risk adverse), which in turn impacts our ability to fully utilize our imagination. There are some thought provoking research areas that are just being uncovered in this fascinating area of brain science.

The truly great global iconoclasts are also able to put together the right social network on a global scale. Iconoclast like Picasso, and Steve Jobs have the right social networking skills to "sell' their "out of the box" ideas. In this last area, is where many iconoclasts come up short (think of Howard Armstrong and Vincent Gogh who committed suicide and were not considered successful during their lifetimes).

The last chapter addresses drugs (pharmacology) which might have an impact on the 3 major attributes of an iconoclast. You would find the usual suspects, but there are also some surprises which are not widely known.

Overall, I found the book to be fast moving and informative. I highly recommend it.
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79 of 91 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Amygdala, hypothalamus, fusiform . . . ho!, December 9, 2008
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When a friend who saw me with this book asked how it was, my response was "it's a slow read. Eventually he does get to the point, I think." For someone interested in the byzantine twists and turns of the human brain, all the discussion of neuroscience is probably of interest. The value of this book as a practical guide for business people (which it purports to be, I think) is questionable. Knowing that the fear response originates in the amygdala doesn't really tell you very much about how to overcome the fears that inhibit us and keep us from taking risks. The examples of iconoclasts cited, such as the private space flight pioneers, or Steve Jobs of Apple, are apt, but don't provide very much in the way of practical guidance. Perhaps just understanding these mechanisms is helpful, but I found myself wishing for less description of brain function and more application to the real world.

The book ends with a strange twist -- an "Iconoclast's Pharmacopeia" that details the chemical mechanisms and behavioral effects of a variety of drugs. It seems at times like you're listening to a buttoned down Timothy Leary telling you -- scientifically, of course -- to give magic mushrooms a try in order to be more innovative. I expect something more than this out of Harvard Business Press.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant insights, but over-reaching, November 6, 2009
By 
Michael Tiemann (Chapel Hill, NC United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
The genius of this book is the synthesis of two fundamental observations from neuroscience:

1. That people's experiences or neural wiring can truly allow them to "see different"
2. The extent to which fear plays a role in governing our ability to act on (1)

Unfortunately, the third major aspect of the thesis, which is that iconoclasts must be successful social engineers, sends the book off on a seemingly arbitrary grab-bag of tangnts, and making one appreciate all the more either Gladwell's ability to control a narrative or Gladwell's editor's ability to control Gladwell. This book has no such order or discipline, and had it been only half as long I would have been inclined to believe it twice as much. For me, I became lost with the Jackie Robinson story, and never really reconnected after that. As much as I love books that reference the story of Linux, the bit about Linus Torvalds as an iconoclast seemed gratuitous.

Nevertheless, the explanation of the neuroeconomic hypothesis and the examples from science given to explain how perceptions are formed, how reality is thus perceived, and how those perceived realities lead to measurable differences in actions expected or taken are worth the price of admission. And I believe that this book will provide enough of a basis of understanding that some subsequent author might produce a book that is of "Tipping Point" quality using the insights first developed here.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful tapestry of interconnectedness between perception, visual creativity, fear, social networking & purposeful actions!, January 20, 2009
'Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently',
by Dr Gregory Berns

In the first place, I have been rather attracted by the title of this book, 'Iconoclast' which I have always thought it means "a nerdy guy" or maybe even "a nut case'.

Now, I know: an iconoclast is one who breaks conventions or buck the trends, especially against overwhelming odds, & yet able to remain steadfast in his or her individualistic pursuits.

To be clear, the author has deliberately operationalised the definition of an iconoclast as a person who does something that others say can't be done.

In Singapore, Sim Wong Hoo, founder & chairman of the billion-dollar global technology outfit, Creative Technology, comes quickly to mind.

Since he was a teenager, he has had this propensity to think differently, & his unwitting brushes with our pen-pushing law-abiding bureaucrats during the early years have been legendary, especially with regard to the 'No-U-Turn' syndrome or NUTS, as reported in his semi-autobiography, 'Chaotic Thoughts From The Old Millennium'.

[If interested, you can visit this link to order it, in the event that you can't find it in the stores.]

Since this book has been penned by a neuro-scientist, it has taken diligent efforts on my part to read it, as it's quite heavy-going. Luckily for me, I have a deep interest in brain stuff.

That's to say, the book is not tool-specific &/or application-friendly for the reader.

In reality, one has to read it carefully to get to the ideas of implementation in one's own sphere, as the author likes to throw up varied insights here & there within the dense passages, often filled with neurological foundations - actually, from neuro-economics - to support his thesis.

But I must say, it will be worth your while to read it because the brilliant author explores the many constraints on innovative thinking, as well as challenges commonly held assumptions about human nature.

To my great delight, he uses vivid accounts of exemplary innovators, many of whom I am already familiar with - Nolan Bushnell, Walt Disney, Florence Nightingale, Richard Feynman, Martin Luther King, Henry Ford, Pablo Picasso, Ray Kroc, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Warren Buffet, Richard Branson, Jonas Salk & Steve Job - & many unknown others from a wide variety of disciplines to reveal the inner workings of the iconoclast's mind.

In a nut shell, what the author is contending is that we can become iconoclasts as long as we understand, pay attention to, & take care of three things in our lives:

- how we see the world (perception), & how we translate our perceptions into actions, as iconoclasts perceive things differently & act on them fearlessly than other people;

- how we deal with our own fears of the unknown, uncertainty, failure & feeling of stupidity in front of peers (fear response);

- how we interact with - especially when selling our unconventional ideas to - other people (social intelligence);

I like to take this opportunity to share with readers my major takeaways from as well as personal reactions of the book:

- our brains work on a fixed energy budget; hence they always take shortcuts in the interests of efficiency - this means that they often draw on both our past experiences & other people's opinions to make sense of the world; in some ways, we can blame our evolutionary pressures;

- how we see the world is learned through experience; everything we sense has multiple interpretations; hence the one that is ultimately chosen is simply our brains' best guesstimate;

- the most effective solution is to bombard our brains with things we have never encountered before - to me, this mean we must constantly expose ourselves to new & novel experiences; only then will our brains be forced out of the efficiency mode & reconfigure their neural networks to entertain fresh insights;

- the problem with novelty is that for most people, it triggers the fear response in our brains, especially the fear of uncertainty & the fear of public ridicule;

- almost every decision we make must be considered in the context of how it might affect the other people in our lives - that's where social intelligence comes in handy!

- humans do not like asymmetry as a general rule;

As a result, I reckon it is often difficult to break away from ingrained habits, especially in the way we always look at the world;

Many creativity gurus, especially James Adams, had written about this subject of perceptual shifts. His book is 'Conceptual Blockbusting: A Guide to Better Ideas'.

That's also why, from my experience as a coach, when people are asked to draw an imaginary creature from outer space, they inavariably will draw a symmetrical one - with two or four eyes, &/or with two or four legs.

No wonder, even Hollywood producers want to play it safe.

Can you imagine the audience's reaction - which affects box office receipts - to the Alien or Predator running on one leg?

- we have a natural blind spot into both of our eyes - interestingly, cats & dogs don't have blindspots - & this phenomenon is unique to humans, resulting in our brains filling in with their best guesses of what should be out there in the world;

To me, this is not so bad when compared to the more deadly kind of bindspots - the acquired ones, which are analogous to our experience-based categorisations.

- iconoclasts do differently from other people in the way they categorise & label what they see; that's to say whether one person sees ugliness or beauty in asymmetry is entirely a result of categorisation & labelling;

- because of the built-in distributed processing power of our brains, we can reprogram our brains to perceive things differently - wow, good news!

- the key to seeing like an iconoclast is to look at things that you have never seen before;

Unfamiliarity forces our brains to discard the usual categories & labels of perception & create new ones; that's to say our brains constantly need some sort of fresh kick starts;

No wonder, according to the author, when our brains are repeatedly presented with the same visual stimuli, the neurons in our visual system continue to respond, but with decreasing vigor;

Sad to say, repetition may be the mother of learning, but when it comes to brain efficiency, it's a stumbling block!;

- sometimes a simple change of environment is enough to jog our perceptual proclivity; a more drastic change of environment - like globe-trotting & hitch hiking - is even more effective;

- new acquaintances can also be a source of new perceptions; 'familiarity breeds contempt' & 'variety is the spice of life' now make more sense!

- a change of vantage point may also be sufficient to yield new perceptions;

All these kick starts remind me of the significance of mindfulness as postulated by Dr Ellen Langer of Harvard University & 'insight restructuring' or 'provoking insight' as propounded by Edward de bono;

- we use all of our brains - just not all at the same time; also, our brains always adopt the path of least resistance;

- imagination or visual creativity stems from our ability to break categorisation & labelling;

- in order to think creatively, & imagine possibilities that only iconoclasts do, one must break out of the cycle of experience-dependent categorisation & labelling - now, we can blame our schooling, especially in Singapore, which favours exam-smart students!

- the frontal cortex, which contains rules for decision making, can reconfigure neural networks in the visual pathways so that we can see things that we didn't see before simply by deploying our attention differently - so, come to think of it, Edward de bono has been right all along: what do you choose to see & where do you direct your attention;

- novel stimulus - people, places, things - is the key to jolt our attentional systems awake & reconfigure both perception & imagination; the more radical & novel the change, the greater the likelihood of new insights being generated;

That's why when you are stuck with a problem in the office, it feels good just to take a walk outside, besides getting some fresh air!

- an effective strategy to fight categorisation & labelling is to confront them directly; the author suggest using analogies - a technique already proven effective by the Synectics problem solving methodology since the sixties; to William Gordon & George Prince: you were right on!

- today, the major stressor for most people stems from social reasons.

Social stressors come from conflicts with spouse, bosses, & competition with peers. Add on top of this an increasing perception of lack of control over the environment, & you have a recipe for ongoing stress that takes a toll on the body . . . As the flashpoint for the stress response, the brain is the organ that initiates the cascade;

I am not surprised to learn this, as the HeartMath people have long maintained that stress is often the problem of perception & communication;

Personally, I also feel their Freeze Frame methodology for stress relief is a powerful antidote;

- the author has an interesting proposition to deal with the fear of the unknown:

One is proactive, prevent or limit our brains from making unpleasant associations that they will remember;

The other is reactive, acknowledging the fact that unpleasantness is unavoidable but need not be paralysing . . .

Instead of trying to eradicate the fear response, a more reasonable approach is to examine & reappraise the situations that tend to set off the alarm, & use the prefrontal cortex to inhibit or override it;

Remember the pain/pleasure scenario from Anthony Robbins?

- I like the author's suggestion of Baynesian updating - rarely used in daily decision making - which is the statistical process of using new information to updating probability estimates when reappraising ambiguous circumstances or risks. The strategy is to view them as opportunities for knowledge updating - this is just a form of reframing our minds;

- Paradoxically, physical exercise, which is a short term stressor, is perhaps the best remedy for chronic stress;

- the 'Law of Large Numbers', though mathematically rock solid, is fascinating; that's the power of the group or 'group think' which often comes into play when an individual is making multiple interpretations of visual stimuli, because an even more potent source of categorisation that affects perception: other people;

- the author suggests one possibility to deal with 'groupthink':

Isolate oneself so that one doesn't have to face others' opinions;

Another solution, in the spirit of Richard Feynman, is to develop a thick skin & simply not care what others think;

There's still a third possibility, from the iconoclast perspective, recruit just one like-minded individual to fight your war!

- Fear is easily recognisable - I agree, it's just "false evidence appearing real".

One only needs to listen to the body's responses to know that one is scared. But once fear is recognised we must bring online cognitive processes to deconstruct what the fear is. Only when the fear is broken down into its component pieces can it be eliminated. The key is recognising the fear in the first place & not make judgements while under the influence of fear;

I hold the view that fear has also to do with our own belief system as well as as our self esteem or feeling of being capable & lovable;

- the power of social connectedness as described in the book is also fascinating; so is the concept of mere exposure effect where one increases the familiarity - our brains love familiarity - of one's idea with the intended audience;

Actually, it's just plain public relations; this is then extended through whom-you know & who-knows-whom;

So, the six degrees of separation now makes sense!

- it is important to remember what Warren Buffet once famously said: "It takes 20 years to build a reputation & 5 minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently."

So positive reputation becomes a premium when building a social network.

This is because, according to the author, our brains are wired under the assumption of reciprocity. Every social interaction is undertaken under the assumption of tit for tat. This biological golden rule means that we must approach every interaction as if the roles will be reversed someday.

- novelty equals learning, & learning means physical rewiring of our brains;

This certainly resonates with the pioneering work of Dr Marian Diamond of UCLA in the late eighties. She has argued relentlessly that a new & stimulating environment enhances the regeneration of our brain cells.

On the whole, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading & assimilating from the book, except for the last part, the 'Appendix: The iconoclast Pharmacopoeia', which I thought it has been somewhat of an intellectual mumbo-jumbo by the author. All I can make some sense of from here is that, just stay away from stimulants!

Nonetheless, I must also add that this is the first time that a neuro-scientist has masterfully weaved together a wonderful tapestry showing the interconnectedness of our vision, perceptual shifts, power of imagination or visual creativity, fear response, social interaction & networking, & purposeful actions, at least from the neurological standpoint. The author certainly deserves my kudos!

[Reviewed by Lee Say Keng, Knowledge Adventurer & Technology Explorer, January 2009]
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Another Article Padded Into A Book., December 4, 2008
If this was a 100 page long booklet, I would give it 3.5 stars- but the last half is just padding and fluff.

Even then, Iconoclast is part of the disturbing trend of popular books from authors like Po Johnson, Malcolm Gladwell, or "made to stick" - authors repacking common sense as uncommon - and convincing the reader they are brilliant for reading it, unlike those other dumb folks out there. Most of all, they avoiding saying anything people don't want to hear and the books seem almost designed to attract lucrative corporate speaking fees, rather than really challenge the reader.

This book is a little better than the afore mentioned examples, because it does actually shed some light on new research and insights, but not by much. As a side note: For a book that touts 'thinking differently" I would have loved to hear some other example of fear/evolution than 'running from a sabre toothed tiger" (do we actually have any examples of this? ) or Rosa Parks as the defining moment in US history.

On the upside: the author does offer some great insights onto why we get stuck in thought patterns and how the perception can literally distort what is before our eyes.

There is an article in Fast Company plugging the book that is actually a better read than the book.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good but flawed, December 31, 2008
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This is an interesting book, but one that has been difficult for me to read and review.

First, there is basically nothing new stated here insofar as iconoclasm itself is concerned. The author merely takes things which are well known about iconoclastic thinking and behavior, and dresses them up in the science bling du jour, neuroscience.

Most of what he has to say about the actual behavior and thinking of iconoclasts is true, and can be gotten directly from the people themselves. The author tries to show how all this is created by the materialistic determinism of brain science. I find this to be classic example of the "I only have a hammer so everything looks like a nail" syndrome. Specialists are forever trying to make the whole universe fit into their narrow, limited view.

Aside from the chicken-and-egg nature of brain science, I find that materialists who think everything is generated by matter make the mistake of thinking that the TV program originates in the components of the TV set. All the wonderful "brain mapping" being done falls apart when confronted with the example of people like the English mathematician whose cranium is filled with 95% fluid and only 5% brain tissue, yet functions with complete normalcy.

While I have no quarrel with his observations and conclusions about iconoclasts, I have many problems with the delivery and overall tone. The book rambles a bit, and I found myself distracted by factual errors and bad logic in many places. For example:

Marconi did not invent radio, Tesla did. This fiction persists despite the 1943 court decision concluding Marconi plagiarized Tesla's earlier patents, and awarding the patent (posthumously) to Tesla.

Steve Jobs did not create the Apple computer, he co-created it with Wozniak, who almost certainly did the majority of the technical work.

"Imagination comes from the visual system." (p.36) - so does this mean that congenitally blind people have no imagination? They might disagree.

The accommodation of the eye depends on the muscles controlling the shape of the eyeball as well as the lens, a fact well documented over 100 years ago by William Bates.

In the discussion on page 24 of the Kanizsa Triangle, the author states that there is no white triangle, but that your brain just makes it up. Having some knowledge of plane geometry, I beg to differ. It can be clearly shown in seconds with a straightedge that there is indeed a white triangle defined quite precisely by the so-called "pacmen" and the chevrons. To prove this conclusively, simply adjust the position slightly of the pacmen and chevrons, and the triangle will "magically" disappear. This is not an illusion, as is the example of false perspective tricking the eye in the Ponzo illusion on page 41. The triangle really does exist. Just because a line is not completely drawn in does not mean it does not exist. Ask any competent geometer. It would only be an illusion if it appeared to be something it was not.

These obvious errors cast doubt on the other information mentioned.

The book bounces back and forth between discussions of brain science and various examples of iconoclasts, much of which is fascinating information. It is not well organized, in my opinion. Toward the end, it degenerates into an infommercial for private exploration of space, then ends rather suddenly with a very strange and ambiguous section on drugs and brain function.

There are many things of interest in here, but I found I needed to do a lot of sorting and careful reading, making it much more work than it should have been.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars disappointing, August 22, 2009
I expected to find this book interesting, based on the subject matter and the fact I've loved many books recommended with it on neuroscience and influence technology, including the excellent _Influence_ by Robert Cialdini, and V.S. Ramachandran's books on neurology, such as _Phantoms in the Brain_. But I ended up finding this book dull and eventually unreadable--I put it down less than halfway through. The author doesn't seem to have anything useful or interesting to say about his alleged topic "how to think differently". The book consists of anecdotes about famous people he sees as iconoclasts, accompanied by descriptions of brain chemistry. The connections between the two are tenuous at best, and the whole book would have been better off as an article.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some science and a lot of babble, December 23, 2008
According to Berns there are three things that distinguish successful iconoclasts/innovators from other people. First, they perceive things differently. Second, they have less fear of failure or of the (social) consequences of coming up with new ideas. Third, they know how to connect with others and `sell' their ideas to them. Berns gives no defense of this classification, but goes on to seek the foundation of these traits in the physical workings of the brain.

The most interesting part about the book is the part on perception. Here, Berns gives relevant information about the way the brain processes and stores information. He shows how the brain tries to save energy by making use of preexisting structures and interpretations. This is why it is so hard to see things from a different perspective from the one you have learned from your own experience or from others.

The other two parts are less successful. Bern explains that fear is a reaction mediated by the amygdala, a specific part in the brain, but not many interesting things follow from this (other than that you should practice activities that you fear to overcome the bad experiences associated with it). The part about learning to network teaches that we should strive for familiarity of our person and product, maintaining a good reputation and getting to know the right people. We didn't really need a brain scientist for that. In fact, the neuroscience in this part would not merit more than a few footnotes in a Malcolm Gladwell book.

Which brings me to my central critique: a large part of the book is just blabla. Although some of this blabla contains interesting stories, nothing of it is rigorous. 30 pages would have been more than enough to deliver the core ideas and facts in the book. Instead, Berns, with the help of generous spacing, has managed to stretch it into a hardcover, just big enough (200 and a few pages) to make it cost 30 dollars. Furthermore, this is not a self-help book, because there is a large gap between the neuroscience of your brain and the practical exercises you need to do to actually think differently. Maybe this is not really the author's fault, but the subtitle is misleading. Get the paperback if you can, but don't expect it to make you an iconoclast.
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Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently
Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently by Gregory Berns (Paperback - March 17, 2010)
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