American Idol and Our Lizard Brain

He sang She Bangs on American Idol.   His name is William Hung.  Jerry Springer makes a fortune using innocent people who have the same human problem that he has.  A Seinfeld episode centers around Elaine’s dancing ability, and it  turns out that Elaine suffers from this same problem.   Napoleon Dynamite is a movie centered around this human foible.   The movie Borat: Cultural Learning of America for Make Benefit of Glorious Nation of  Kazakhstan imitates and mocks this human condition.   Yet we often don’t see it in ourselves.

Don’t feel too sorry for William Hung he has his own website and a talent agent.   The picture on the left is the one he wants published.

This human problem also happens in sports.  Having done some baseball coaching I have seen it in Little League.  I hear it on the sidelines of Little League.  Fathers telling about their greatness when they were little.  If only this or that had not happened (you know what I mean “Simon is such a jerk”) they would have gone on.

It also happens in business.  Adults saying things that are inappropriate to co-workers at break time.  People believing that they should run the company.

But this problem is not only people thinking they are great when they are not.  It can run the other way.  I remember someone telling me, “I suck at baseball.”  And this person honestly believed that as a definitive statement.  I remembered that discussion when he took the Major League field for the first time.

The human problem has a label.  It is metacognition.  Let’s break that word down.  Meta means after, beyond, with or adjacent.  Think of it as standing beside yourself.  Cognition is thinking.

Metacognition starts with the ability to think about ourselves.  It includes the ability of monitoring  one’s own learning, perform self-evaluation, and then make successful plans.

People with high metacognition can test a problem, seek help and then makes plans that will solve that problem.  People with low metacognition think that they are the next American Idol and become the next William Hung.

As scientists have studied this human condition they have found that people with highmetacognition are creative problem solvers.  People with low metacognition think they have solved the problem, and are very sure they know the solution but they are underperformers.   It seems that people who suffer with low metacognition have been given the old one two knockout combination.  They think they have the solution to a problem.  They even believe strongly in their abilities, but they are not that creative.

So let’s say you have a problem in your business.  You know that you need a creative solution.  What do you do?  Some CEOs, owners, department heads and leaders believe that they need to be in charge and give the solution.  But what is their level of metacognition?

Another solution is to have a meeting.  Businesses love meetings.  We all know what these are.  They are the group activity where “those who know don’t have the words to tell and those with the words don’t know to well” – to steal a line of a song.

Recently I was talking with an owner of a company and we arranged to set up a meeting to talk about his company’s marketing.  When I got the meeting he said that he wanted 2 other people to sit in and give their input.  One person dominated the discussion and took it in some bizarre places.   I wasted that hour in this meeting trying to decide whether or not I should be Simon Cowell or Paula Abdul.  My brain kept doing a double take.  You know the kind that you do when you see horrible talent on American Idol.  You ask yourself some of the following questions.  Is he serious?  Maybe it is something creative and I am just not getting it?  I looked over at the owner of the business and he tolerated this mindless babble

I think that the place to start as individuals and as groups is to recognize that we all have been given varying abilities of metacognition.  What scientists are discovering is that people with low metacognition depend heavily on their “lizard brain” , as Seth Godin refers to it.

Seth Godin has a great article on the lizard brain and the importance of recognizing that we all have it, and it is not going away.

Seth Godin summed it up well in the following quote:

“Want to know why so many companies can’t keep up with Apple? It’s because they compromise, have meetings, work to fit in, fear the critics and generally work to appease the lizard. Meetings are just one symptom of an organization run by the lizard brain. Late launches, middle of the road products and the rationalization that goes with them are others.

The amygdala isn’t going away. Your lizard brain is here to stay, and your job is to figure out how to quiet it and ignore it. This is so important, I wanted to put it on the cover of my new book. We realized, though, that the lizard brain is freaked out by a picture of itself, and if you want to sell books to someone struggling with the resistance (that would be all of us) best to keep it a little more on the down low.”


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