Daniel Goleman – Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence [Transcript]

Psychologist and journalist Daniel Goleman, author of the #1 international bestseller Emotional Intelligence, offers a groundbreaking look at today's scarcest resource and the secret to high performance and fulfillment: attention.
Daniel Goleman - Focus. The Hidden Driver of Excellence

Talks at Google

In Focus, Psychologist and journalist Daniel Goleman, author of the #1 international bestseller Emotional Intelligence, offers a groundbreaking look at today’s scarcest resource and the secret to high performance and fulfillment: attention.

Combining cutting-edge research with practical findings, Focus delves into the science of attention in all its varieties, presenting a long overdue discussion of this little-noticed and under-rated mental asset. In an era of unstoppable distractions, Goleman persuasively argues that now more than ever we must learn to sharpen focus if we are to survive in a complex world.

Goleman boils down attention research into a threesome: inner, other, and outer focus. Drawing on rich case studies from fields as diverse as competitive sports, education, the arts, and business, he shows why high-achievers need all three kinds of focus, and explains how those who rely on Smart Practices—mindfulness meditation, focused preparation and recovery, positive emotions and connections, and mental “prosthetics” that help them improve habits, add new skills, and sustain greatness—excel while others do not.

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MENG TAN: My dear friend Daniel Goleman is one of the world’s most recognized experts on topics relating to emotion intelligence. He is also an amazing author. He has written more than ten books, and his book “Emotional Intelligence,” that one book alone, sold more than 5 million copies. He has received many awards, and he has been nominated twice for the Pulitzer prize. On a personal level, Dan is also the person most responsible for me becoming an author. So back in 2007, Dan and I, with a bunch of distinguished friends, co-created something called “Search Inside Yourself,” which is became a very popular curriculum in Google and beyond. And I remember in 2009, Dan and I were taking a walk right there. I remember the exact place and exact time. We were taking a walk where I was trying to convince him to write a book on “Search Inside Yourself.” And what he told me was, he said, I’d love to do it. I just don’t have the time. And then he looked at me, he pointed his finger at me, and said, Meng, why don’t you write the book? I was like, me? I’m an engineer, not a doctor. Dammit, Jim. Eventually, because of Dan’s support and his confidence in me, I did end up writing a book. So thank you so much, Danny. I’m really excited about Dan’s new book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. Skillfulness over attention is the foundation of all higher cognitive and emotional abilities. Attention creates the conditions for personal excellence. Attention is so important that in “Search Inside Yourself,” it is the first thing we train. The first thing we train is attention. Yet I think the subject of attention itself is not getting enough attention, ironically. And I cannot think of anybody better to write a book on an important topic as Dan. So my dear friends– my dear friend, Danny, I’m delighted that you wrote this book. And I’m delighted that you didn’t ask me to write the book. My friends, please welcome my friend, and Google’s friend, Dan Goleman.

DANIEL GOLEMAN: Thank you. That’s sweet. I’m always happy to come to Google. 2007, that reminded me of something. In 2007, there was a short squib in Time magazine. And it said, there’s a new word in the English language. The word is “pizzled.” It’s a combination of “puzzled” and “pissed off.” And it describes how you feel when the person you’re with takes out their BlackBerry and starts talking to someone else. Think about that. Both things have died. That word and BlackBerry too. Things change quickly. That says something. I remember when I went around to publishers and said, I’d like to write a book about attention. One of them said, that’s great. Keep it short. Because I think attention is a capacity– a vital capacity, as Meng was hinting– that’s really under siege today. I’m most worried about our kids, actually, but I think we all are kind of victims. Here’s something rather provocative. Herbert Simon, Nobel Prize winner, said, “What information consumes is the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention”– to the extent that you understand that there are two kinds of attention. There’s the attention that we voluntarily direct, and there’s the attention that seduces us. There are actually different systems in the brain. One is a top down system from the prefrontal area. This is when we decide to concentrate on our work. We’re applying that kind of attention. But then there are the little seduction– the endless seductions. And there are more and more and more of them. I get– I’m writing away on my book and I get a little pop-up, you’ve got an email. That’s a seduction. That’s an intrusion in sustained focus. And because of the excellence of our technology and the cleverness of people who design technology– some of whom are right in this room, I just realized– our attention needs to be paid more attention to if we’re going to maintain or even increase our capacity for it. This also– the fact that attention is threatened, along with the fact that there– in the last two or three years, there’s been an explosion of neuroscience findings about the attentional circuitry, which has vast implications for us. This has really, since I’m a science journalist, enticed me to write the book that Meng refused to write, perhaps luckily, now that I think about it. And as I got into it, I realized I had to rethink emotional intelligence. You didn’t mention that Harvard Business Review art– yeah, the next issue of Harvard Business Review, which will be out next week, has a cover article by me on the leader’s focus, the kind of focus, intentional capacities, that anyone who’s a leader needs. And we’re actually all leaders. I think of leaders as anyone with a sphere of influence– not people on the chart, necessarily. But to the extent that we all need to get more control over our attention, and it makes us good at the things that matter in performance these days, it’s led me to revise emotional intelligence, or my thinking about it. And I’ll share that with you. There’s an effect called– in statistics, many of you are probably familiar with it– the floor effect. It occurs at a place like Google. It occurs at an Ivy League college. It occurs anywhere, for example, that there’s a premium put for admission on IQ. And it’s an interesting phenomenon, because it’s rather paradoxical. What it means is that IQ, which is a fantastic predictor of the level of cognitive complexity that you can manage, and that you can understand– and therefore sorts people into job roles and so on– abilities. Once you get selected for IQ, then excellence becomes defined largely by things other than IQ. And it’s because of the floor effect. And are you all familiar with the floor effect? OK. So a little statistic– so if you were to plot, say– how’s this going to be?– IQ and emotional intelligence into a scatter plot, you get a fairly random distribution, because those are largely independent aspects of ability, and they partake of different parts of the brain, largely. So you have this pool of people. And if this is the IQ axis, and you select the 99th percentile, and this is the emotional intelligence access, there’s much less range of variation for IQ than there is for emotional intelligence. And the way this manifests in the organizational world more generally is that if you look at what’s called a competence model– does anyone know what a competence model is? Another term I should explain. So when I was a graduate student, my professor at Harvard, David McClellan, wrote an article. It was very controversial. He said, if you want to hire the best person for a job, any job in any organization, don’t look at their IQ. Don’t look at their GPA. Don’t look at their personality profile. Look at people in your own organization who hold the role you’re hiring for. Identify the top 10% by whatever metric makes sense for that job, compare them systematically to people who are only average in that role, and determine the competencies or ability set that you find in the stars that you don’t find in the average. That’s now called competence modeling. And it’s done by world class organizations, pretty much worldwide. And what’s interesting about competence model– at least what interests me– is if you aggregate many different models and they’re all independently derived– they’re proprietary, actually, because a company or organization wants to know for competitive reasons, what should we look for in our hires? What should we promote for? What should we develop in people? And they want to hold that closely. But I aggregated 100 or 200 models after I wrote Emotional Intelligence, the follow-up book. And I only looked at two dimensions in the competence models. One was, if you look at the distinguishing competencies– not the entry level competencies, but distinguishing, the ones that mark the stars– and you separate them in terms of purely cognitive abilities, like IQ or technical skills, and on the other side of the ledger you have emotional intelligence– which is how we manage ourselves and how we manage our relationships– it turns out that for leadership, about 80% to 90% of the competencies independently identified are on the emotional intelligence side. Well, that makes sense, because leadership is not about being the smartest person in the room. It’s about helping other people be as smart as they can, which is a people skill. And so emotional intelligence has four parts– self awareness, self management, empathy, and social skill. And when I looked at that through the lens of attention, I realized that the first and third components, self awareness and empathy, are varieties of attention. And social skill, actually, is a combination of how we manage ourselves and what we read in the other person. So managing ourselves turns out to be based on how aware we are of ourselves. So I revised the model. I’ll walk you through some of that in looking at– well, I’m going to share with you this article that is coming out next week in the Harvard Business Review, so you don’t have to buy it because you got the Reader’s Digest version already. So the first ability, or set of abilities– inner focus, I call it, which is being aware of what’s going on inside you. And that’s exactly what you’re teaching, Meng, in “Search Inside Yourself.” You’re teaching self-awareness. And by the way, I see every variety of meditation, including mindfulness, as a retraining of attention. If you strip away the belief system of any meditation from any tradition in the world, you find an attentional mechanism is being strengthened. Would you do agree with that? Yeah? Yeah, exactly.

So for self-awareness, self-awareness is really important in many rather surprising areas of life, I think. I have a friend– I grew up in the Central Valley of California, in the horrible midwest of California. Don’t stop there. Just keep going to Lake Tahoe, really. And there was a guy who lived down the road in the next town who I got to know pretty well. He was a really bad student. He almost flunked out of high school. He managed to go to a community college, found his way to a film course. He loved film. So he got into a film school. He did pretty well– did a student film that caught the attention of a director, got hired by the director. The director liked his work so much that he let him direct a film. He did so well with that that they let him– a studio actually backed him to direct a script that he had written before, when he was much younger. That one did so well that a studio wanted to back him to do another script. But he hated the fact that the studio had final cut. That meant– he considered himself a creative artist, and he hated what they did in the final edit. So he said, no way am I going to take that money. I’m going to use the money that I got from the film, finance it myself. Everyone he knew in Hollywood said, you are crazy. You do not risk your own money on a film. He did it anyway, ran out of money. Only the 11th bank he went to gave him the money to finish. You have seen that film. Star Wars.

George Lucas is someone who considers himself, and considers himself, first an artist. The factory he stumbled into Lucas Film was an accident of his living by his values. And one of the strengths of good self-awareness is that it helps us answer the question, is what I’m about to do in keeping with my sense of purpose, value, and meaning or not? And the way it does it is by tuning us into subtle signals that come from the bottom-up part of the brain– which is involuntary, automatic, and out of awareness for the most part– which also holds much more information than the top-down. And parts of that brain as we go through life extract decision rules– when I did that, that worked pretty well. When I said that, that bombed. And when we face a decision point, it summates that information for us and presents its advice. Problem. It has no direct circuitry to the part of the brain thinks in words. It has extensive circuitry to the gastrointestinal tract. You get a gut feeling– feels right or doesn’t feel right. Then we put it in words, after we get the gut feeling. So George, I assume, had a very strong gut feeling– I just can’t do it that way. This is an ethical rudder for us.

Howard Gardner, a friend of mine at Harvard, studies what’s called “good work.” Good work combines our best skills– what we’re excellent at– with what we love doing, what engages us, and what we believe in– our sense of ethics, values, purpose, and meaning. In good work, when you align excellence, engagement, and ethics, you have something to do that you love doing, that it’s a pleasure to do. In fact, it gets you in an attentional state which is the state where– it’s called the state of maximal cognitive efficiency, or maximum neural harmony. Simple schematic. This is performance. And this is stress hormones in the brain. And the relationship between stress and performance is very well known in psychology. It’s curvilinear. It’s an inverted “u.” If you have good work, you’re very likely to be up here. This is the state some of you may know literature on. It’s called flow. The flow state was determined to– was actually identified by researchers at the University of Chicago who asked people in many, many areas of competence and of work to describe a time you outdid yourself– you were absolutely at your best. And they asked chess champions and they asked basketball player and they asked neurosurgeons. It didn’t matter who they asked. They’re all describing the same phenomenological state.

There was a neurosurgeon who described a very difficult, challenging piece of surgery he had to do. He didn’t know if he could pull it off before he started, but he did it brilliantly. At the end of the surgery, he looked around and there was a little rubble in the corner. He said to the nurse, what happened? She said, well, while you were operating, the ceiling caved in over there, but you didn’t notice. You were so concentrated. It’s 200% concentration in a flow state.

And one of the pathways to flow is through developing and enhancing concentration. Other elements of concentration– it calls on your best skills. You’re challenged at the top of your skill set. Another, you’re totally adaptable. You’re very flexible. Whatever happens, you can change. You’re not set in some rigid behavior pattern. Another element of flow that’s very important– it feels good. The things we choose to do in life generally are things that get us in some kind of flow or micro-flow. Flow is also where people work at their best. Now, the state down here is basically boredom. Because you’re under– you have a skill set– you may be a fantastic programmer, but you’re driving a taxi or whatever it is. So you’re under-challenged. You’re disinterested at what you’re doing. Actually, I doubt that it’s true here at Google, but in the working world at large, disengagement– which is what this is called by HR people– is an enormous problem. People will just do enough to keep their job. They’re not interested. They’re not engaged. It’s not good work. However, what they do here is daydream. And daydreaming is another attentional state that has value. Every kind of attention has a purpose and a place. It’s when they’re out of place they’re a problem. Daydreaming, it turns out, is what the brain chooses to do 50% of the time.

There was a study– psychologists at Harvard gave people an iPhone app that called them at random times of the day and asked them two things, what are you doing now, and what are you thinking about? In other words, is your mind somewhere else? Are you daydreaming? That’s the 50% data. The most daydreaming was when people are commuting, sitting at a computer terminal– I’m sure it’s not true of the people in this room, but other people. And work, generally. The most focused? When people are making love. Who would answer an app at a time like that? This is just totally puzzling to me. It happens. So these are two different attentional states.

The third is when people are stressed out. There’s actually an article about this. By the way, this axis– the metric for this is the levels of stress hormones, particularly adrenaline and cortisol, in the brain. So if you’re way up here, it means you’re having what’s called an amygdala hijack. The amygdala is the part of the emotional brain which is the radar for threat. Our amygdalas right now are answering the question amygdalas have asked all through evolution. And it is, am I safe? Is there a danger? That’s what the amygdala cares about. The brain, you have to remember, was designed for survival. The neocortex, the part of the brain that we use all the time, that was like a later– it’s still a beta. That was added way later in evolutionary history. And in fact, the brain is designed still to give precedence to the survival mechanisms. So if the amygdala thinks there’s a threat, it can hijack the rest of the brain, particularly the prefrontal area, the part of the brain we take pride in– the part of the brain that manages attention. And the amygdala has a privileged position in the brain. One neuron-long connection from the ear, from the eye, from the senses. So if gets an instant picture of what’s going on. There’s a problem. I don’t know if many people in this room are old enough to remember when television had static.


DANIEL GOLEMAN: You remember the non-digital era. Some people do. OK. So that’s what the amygdala’s looking at. It has a staticky picture, because most of the signal actually does go up to the top of the brain. But the amygdala has a hair-trigger mechanism. It has a kind of “rather be safe than sorry” point of view. So it calls emergencies when actually there’s not really an emergency. And just to complicate it, we now live not in the biological reality, where there are saber toothed tiger type threats, but we live in a complex social reality. So the amygdala is misinterpreting social signals– or interpreting them. That guy’s not treating me right. That’s unfair. The amygdala is very childlike too. So the amygdala might have a reaction like, this guy’s not treating me fair. I’d like to slug him. That’s the way the amygdala thinks. So the good news is that that signal goes from the midbrain up to the prefrontal area. And the prefrontal area brings together information from all parts of the brain. So it might add something like, oh, but this is your boss. So you don’t hit him. You smile and change the subject or something. That’s called emotional intelligence. So people who are in this state– which, were there was an article in Science about that state called “The Neurobiology of Frazzle.” People who are frazzled have an attentional hijack going on, because one thing the amygdala does is redirect attention to whatever’s upsetting us. If you’re having a problem in a relationship, you’re going to be thinking about that problem at times that you might want to be thinking about something else– like 2 AM, when you want to be sleeping. That’s the amygdala. It forces our attention away from where it might be if we were here to what it is that’s upsetting us. It also reshuffles memory. Memory is in a hierarchy. So when you’re having a fight with your partner, you can’t really remember so well why am I with this person. That’s how the amygdala works. So this is an attentional state which is very inefficient, particularly when people ruminate. There’s a difference between constructive worry and rumination. Rumination is thought loops you can’t stop thinking about that are upsetting, and you go over the same thing over and over. Constructive worry is when you think about it– the amygdala wants you to think about it– and you come up with something you can do. And then you stop the thought. You can go back to having more voluntary control over attention. So those are three very important kinds of attention. I want to call your attention to one aspect of this that I think is really crucial, particularly for kids today. And that is the voluntary ability to get here. It’s called “cognitive control.” When you do mindfulness, you’re amping up cognitive control. Just mainly for your information, yesterday I was in Chicago. And I gave a talk, and Roger Weissberg was there from the Collaborative for Social Emotional Learning. And he said he really sees this as a next step, the integration of, basically, attentional training with emotional intelligence. So cognitive control is talked about, depending on people’s point of view, in a lot of interesting ways. Sometimes it’s called the delay of gratification, the allocation of attention, working memory, the resistance to distractions, impulse inhibition, goal focus, and learning readiness. The level of cognitive control in a young child determines how well he or she can pay attention to what the teacher is saying, to the textbook, to the lesson. It’s absolutely essential for comprehension. And there’s a bell curve for this.

One of the first tests of cognitive control— actually, the most famous– was done very near here, at Stanford, in the Bing Preschool there, which is on campus. And they brought four-year-olds in, sat them down at a little table, put a big, juicy marshmallow on the table, and experimenter says, you can have this marshmallow now if you want, but if you don’t need it till I run an errand and come back, you can have two then. And then she leaves the room. This is a predicament that tries the soul of any four-year-old, I promise you. I’ve seen videos. Some go and lick it and then jump back, like it’s a dangerous thing. Some just sing and dance– you know, sing to themselves to distract themselves. About a third can’t stand it. They just gobble it down on the spot. Another third wait the endless 10 minutes or whatever and they get the two. The payoff finding comes 14 years later, when they’re tracked down and the two groups are compared, the ones who grabbed and the ones who waited. And it turns out the ones who waited still can delay gratification in pursuit of their goals, which is what that’s a test of. But more interestingly, they have a 210 point advantage out of 1600 points on the SAT. Now the SAT is an achievement test, it’s a test of what you have learned. It’s not an IQ test. And when I told this to the people at Princeton that make the SAT, they were stunned. Because they said, that’s bigger than the difference that we see between kids who come from a family where parents have only an elementary school education and those where one parent at least has a graduate degree. But these are all children of people at Stanford University.

So what’s emerging is that cognitive control is an independent asset– the ability to pay attention well. This was really nailed by a study done in New Zealand, where they took every child born in a city– I think 1,037 children– over one year, between ages four and eight. They tested them rigorously for cognitive control. And then they tracked them down when they were 32. You can only do this in New Zealand. Do not try this in Silicon Valley, I assure you. And what they found was that a child’s cognitive control between four and eight predicted that child’s financial success and health in their mid 30s better than IQ or the socioeconomic status of the family they grew up in. Think about that. It’s very, very compelling. And it’s made me feel– that and many other findings– that we should be paying more attention to this aspect of attention for children. It should be part of education. Because in the study in New Zealand, they found that children who between foreign eight managed to boost their cognitive control had the same benefits. And one of the conclusions was that, yes, we should teach this to kids. And in fact, if we taught it to all kids, it would help the productivity of the economy. People would be much more effective in their work.

So there are a number of ways to do it. One of them I find really interesting. I visited Sesame Workshop. Sesame Workshop is where they put together Sesame Street. The day I visited, they’re having a meeting where all the writers were meeting with two cognitive scientists. Because it turns out that every segment of Sesame Street is the translation of a finding in developmental science wrapped in entertainment. So they told me about one that’s aimed specifically at cognitive control in preschoolers. It’s called “the cookie connoisseur club.” I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Sesame– how many people have seen Sesame Street? So you may remember Alan. He has the store on Sesame Street. Alan wanted to establish the cookie connoisseur club, just like a wine club. You take a cookie. You examine it to see if there are any defects. Then you sniff it. And then you take a nibble. Cookie Monster, of course– this was meant for him. He wanted to be in the cookie club. But he could not manage to nibble. He only could gobble. So Alan used several reframes for him. And the one that worked was like the marshmallow test. “Cookie, if you can just nibble now, you’ll get a lot of good cookies to eat later.” And that was the one that did it for him. That is a lesson in cognitive control that’s aimed at toddlers, because the way toddlers learn is through modeling. When little kids watch other kids or grownups operate, their brain is taking that all in. So if they see someone manifest cognitive control, that helps them a little bit. Older kids.

I was in PS 112 in Spanish Harlem in New York City. And I watched the kids who are from a really impoverished neighborhood. Is East Palo Alto still poor? Sort of? Not like it used to be? OK. So– anyway, in New York, it’s a– the kids there live in a huge housing project next to the school. The teacher in this classroom said, you know, the other week, a child came in really upset. And I said, what’s wrong? And she said, I saw someone who was shot. And she said to the class, how many of you know someone who’s been shot? Every hand went up. That kind of childhood– very traumatic, very difficult. And typically you would find that kids who come from such a chaotic background manifest that in classroom. But this classroom was absolutely calm and focused. And I realized why when I saw them do what they call “breathing buddies.” Breathing buddies happens every day. Each child goes to their cubby and gets their favorite little stuffed animal, finds a place to lie down on the floor, puts the animal on their belly, and watches it rise and watches it fall. And they count one, two, three on the inhalation and one, two, three on the exhalation. Basically, it’s training in attention. When you train the circuitry for sustained attention, you get a “two for,” because it’s the same circuitry– it’s intertwined with the circuitry the brain uses to manage distributing emotions and impulse. So that’s why you get the calm along with the focused.

There’s another way to do this. Meng might know about it. It’s from SEL. It was developed by a friend of mine named Roger Weissberg. It’s called “the stoplight.” SEL is Social Emotional Learning. Many schools now across the country have a curriculum in emotional intelligence. Basically in managing emotions, being aware of them, in empathy, in getting along and collaborating. The stoplight is on the wall of every room. It’s a traffic light that says, when you’re upset, remember the stoplight. Red light, stop. Calm down. Think before you act. Yellow light, think of a range of things you could do and what the consequence would be. Green light, pick the best one and try it out. And that’s another way to teach cognitive control. Yet another way, I had my grandchildren play the beta version of a video game that’s being developed for the iPad at– a group at Wisconsin. Every time you breathe out, you tap the screen once. And on the fifth breath out, you tap it twice. And if you keep doing that, it gets more difficult– in other words, the challenge gets better and you learn more and more. And secondly, you get a visual reward– like if it’s a desert scene, flowers will bloom. They loved it. But that is also explicitly designed to teach– to enhance cognitive control. And then, of course, the best way is what Meng has developed for us. What’s that?

MENG TAN: We developed together.

DANIEL GOLEMAN: We developed together. I’ll give you the credit. OK. So that’s inner focus. Inner focus is both self-awareness and managing our inner world, particularly our distressing emotions. The second kind of focus is other focus– knowing what’s going on with people around us. There are three kinds of empathy. The first is– what time is it now?

MENG TAN: It’s 3:40.

DANIEL GOLEMAN: When am I supposed to stop?

MENG TAN: 4:00.

DANIEL GOLEMAN: You mean I have 20 minutes? Is that right? Well, forget other empathy. OK. So there are three kinds; cognitive, understanding how a person thinks; emotional, understanding and feeling what the person feels, and feeling with; and empathic concern. Empathic concern is not, I understand what’s going on in you, but if you’re in pain, if you’re suffering, if you have a need that I can help you with, I’m inclined to help you with it. It’s the basis of compassion. And compassion, by the way, starts with noticing what’s going on with the other person. There’s a spectrum that runs from noticing the person to tuning in to registering what’s happening within them, empathizing, and then, if you can help, doing so. And I have a lot more to say, but it’s all in my book. Because what I wanted to get to is the third kind of focus, because I think it’s very salient here. And there’s a real problem in the world that I think Google, or the talents in this room and in this valley, could really help with. Outer focus is a systems awareness. And I think we all need to be aware of systems. It could be organizational systems. In an organization, who do you need to influence to get a decision made that you are trying to put through? That’s a kind of systems awareness. There are family systems too. Family dynamics are systemic. And then there are the broader systems.

And it’s the broader systems I want talk about, because it’s really a mess. And I don’t know if you know the terms “wicked problem” and “mess.” They’re actually technical terms. A wicked problem is not understood until after the formulation of a solution. It has no stopping rule. You don’t know when you’re done. Solutions to wicked problems are not right or wrong. Every wicked problem is essentially novel and unique. Every solution to a wicked problem is a one-shot operation. There’s no chance for a learning curve. Now, to compound a wicked problem, you have to look at what’s technically called a mess. A mess is a wicked problem that interacts with other wicked problems. Another characteristic, there’s no authority in charge of solving the problem. The people trying to solve the problem are also creating the problem. And time is running out. Welcome to the Anthropocene dilemma. The Anthropocene Age started with the Industrial Revolution and has been increasing in ferocity ever since. Geologists use this term for the current epoch where we exist now to describe the fact that one species is altering the global systems that support life in the wrong direction. That’s the Anthropocene dilemma.

The real dilemma is that there are three systems operating that don’t mesh. One system is– one domain, rather, is human systems– systems of energy, transportation, construction, industry, and commerce on the one hand– are systematically degrading the eight global systems that support life on the planet. The poster boy, of course, is carbon. But that’s just one of many, many different kinds of problems. The real problem is that the human brain is not designed to notice the problem. The human brain does not have any perceptual apparatus that lets us directly perceive this, because it’s too macro or too micro. I mean, we’re– the human brain is designed to register, honey, we have to talk– that’s threat– but not what’s actually happening to the planet. The amygdala doesn’t care. It shrugs. So this is a big, big problem. And, you know, it puts us all in the predicament of collectively doing evil, just by living. Because everything we use has a footprint. And a footprint is another way of saying it has some level of destructiveness for natural systems. So there’s actually a metric for this. It’s called life cycle assessment. Some of you may have heard of it. It looks at, for example, these glasses. And it says, well, glass. In making– glass is not a product. It’s a process. You could start the history of glass when you get some sand. And you’re going to mix it with chemicals. And you’re going to transport it. You’re going to bring it to a place where you cook it at a high temperature for many, many hours, all of that. At every step along the way, you can break down what’s going on. And life cycle assessment does it in a very fine-tuned way. It says there are almost 2000 discrete steps in glass, from beginning to end. And at each step, you can analyze an array of emissions and impacts on the environment, on the health of the people who are connected with it, and on the social well being of the people that are connected with it. And the metric– there’s a science. It’s called industrial ecology. It’s a combination of physics, chemistry, biology, environmental science, industrial design, and industrial engineering. They are the ones who have this metric. So now there is a way to analyze precisely the damage we do just by living. So I have– this, by the way, is the depressing, guilt-provoking part of my talk. Sorry. I have a friend who teaches life cycle assessment at the Harvard School of Public Health. He has his students analyze their footprint. And they say to him after, and it’s a very depressing thing to do, the world would have been better off if I hadn’t been born. Isn’t that right? And he says, that’s the wrong conclusion. He says, instead of just looking at the footprint, we should look at our handprint. The handprint takes the footprinted baseline and then calculates the metric for everything good we do, everything that reduces our footprint. He says, instead of just moping around about the footprint, think about how you can keep building your handprint. People can do it. Families can do it. Schools can do it. Companies can do it. There’s an aggregate handprint as well as an aggregate footprint. If we’re really responsible to the generations who will bear the cost of how we’re living now, we would take this pretty seriously. And I’m hoping somebody will. My job is to tell you about it and to tell you what I think some fixes might be. But really, I don’t have the answer. There’s a group at Berkeley and in San Francisco that built something called Good Guide. It’s a website. G-O-O-D-G-U-I-D-E. evaluates consumer products in terms of their footprint using LCA, and compares products against each other so you can make a better choice. There’s one called “Skin Deep” just for personal care products. Personal care products might have 50 different ingredients you never heard of. They look in medical databases to see, well, is this a carcinogen? Is it an endocrine disruptor? And it ranks lipsticks, eye gloss, according to toxicity. Toxicity is one of the dimensions in this. And that gives people choice. I feel it’s great that these exist, but you have to look them up. I would like to see the cognitive cost of finding out the impact of what we do and buy reduced to zero. The cognitive cost is the effort you have to make to find out the data. So the cognitive cost is high now, even though the metric exists, because people have to look it up somehow. It should be– ideally, it would be there and evident the moment that we are about to engage in the activity or about to buy the product, or B2B if we’re going to purchase for an organization from another organization.

So one solution is transparency– at least, a partial solution. The second is handprints. The third– I think we’re in this predicament because most of the platforms that are used– chemically, industrial, and so on– were invented before we knew about LCA, before we thought about consequences, before it was really a factor. The chemicals we used are largely based on petrochemicals. Well, petrochemicals, excuse me, suck. The reason is that oil and water don’t mix. They never die. Plastics, bad idea. Styrofoam, bad idea. Better idea? Two students at Rensselaer Polytech invented a styrofoam, which also never dies, that is made out of rice husks and mushroom roots. And it works just as well. In fact, General Motors is using in the dashboard of cars. Who knew there was styrofoam in the dashboard of you car? But still, better they use this than the other kind, because it decomposes. And we really need to start thinking along the terms of bio mimicry. How does nature do it so elegantly? We do it so crudely. We could be much better at it. There are wonderful models everywhere. So that’s another thought I had about what we could do, reinvent everything. Another thing I’d like to see is systems education for kids in school, so that this way of thinking came naturally to kids because it’s embedded in the curriculum, K through 12. And LCA is part of your math. You could be– this whole science could be part of all kinds of courses. And the other solution, I don’t know. What do you think? I’m just leaving you with a question. Because, just to wrap it up, I went to a conference at MIT on global systems. And I struck by two things. One was John Sterman, who’s the head of the systems dynamic unit at MIT, said, our biggest problem is system blindness. And the other was what the Dalai Lama said. He said, whenever we face a decision, we should ask ourselves, who benefits? Is it just me, or a group? Just my group, or everyone? Is it just for now, or for the future? Thank you.

MENG TAN: OK, we have about ten minutes for questions. Jordan, do you have the mic? OK. So Jordan has access to Dory. He can ask the first couple questions. And then the rest, if you have questions, you can queue up behind Jordan.

JORDAN: Hello. What’s the relationship between focus and creativity? Often, if I pour all my focus into a problem, I fail to see better solutions that are obvious when stepping back a bit.

DANIEL GOLEMAN: Yeah, you named the solution. Actually, it’s the good side of this state. It’s daydreaming. Because the classical stages in solving a creative problem are begin with focusing, with effort, and gathering all the information, trying out all the solutions you can think of. And if you’re still baffled, you let it go. And you daydream. You go for a walk. You take a shower. The annals of science and math are full of instants where– for example, a mathematician grappled with an equation for years, could not solve it, and the answer came to him as he was getting on a bus. Because in that day-dreamy state where your mind is wandering, you have more access to the bottom-up part of the mind, which, remember, registers everything you know. And that can put together two discrete elements that have never been combined, but that operates in a useful way, which is a creative product. Then, of course, you have to focus again to execute. That’s another– I mean, then you need venture capital and oh my god, it’s like a headache. Did you have another question, Jordan?

JORDAN: Yeah. Can you give us the top three points from the Harvard Business Review article on leadership and focus, please?

DANIEL GOLEMAN: That’s what my whole talk was. It was that leaders need the three kinds of focus– inner focus to manage yourself and lead yourself, other focus to read other people effectively and to be able to communicate in a way which is persuasive, and that motivates and that has the right impact– I mean, you could say the art of leadership is helping people get and stay in this state. And the third is the systems awareness, because you need that for strategic thinking, for example. You need to understand what’s happening with the technologies. You need to understand what’s happening with the economy. You need to understand the larger systems that your organization operates in. And so, for example, with the economic problem, a lot of companies promoted people who were very good at getting the numbers but really trampled on people. And now they’re realizing that that lack of empathy is costing organizations. So what I’m arguing is that leaders need all three in balance. Will that do?

JORDAN: One more. People with ADD are told that they are most effective when they follow their impulses, instead of forcing themselves to control their attention in a top-down manner. How does this fit into your model?

DANIEL GOLEMAN: So ADD is a big problem during the school years, when there’s a premium on being able to focus on what the teacher’s saying and so on. ADD also means that people’s minds wander more, which is why it’s a problem during the school years. But it turns out that people with ADD tend on, average, to be more creative than other people. They are more naturally entrepreneurs, for example.

JORDAN: Does anyone else have questions?

DANIEL GOLEMAN: Someone’s behind you here.

AUDIENCE: So my question is about cognitive control. And you mentioned a lot of studies where certain children or certain people had better cognitive control than others. And my question is, what factors affect that? Do you think it’s something people are born with? And is it affected by things like their socioeconomic situation, by culture, by the education they’ve already received?

DANIEL GOLEMAN: All of it. In other words, it’s both something that people have some level of naturally– it’s innate. It’s genetic. But you know, the brain is plastic through life. And the centers for cognitive control are part of the brain that’s the last to develop anatomically– doesn’t mature fully till mid 20s. And during that period of plasticity, roughly childhood and adolescence, what you learn, and systematic training, has enormous effect. So the basic repetition for cognitive control is you focus on one thing, your mind wanders, you notice it wandered, and you bring it back. Does that sound familiar? And every time you do that, the neurons for that circuitry strengthen in their connectivity. It’s exactly analogous to being in a gym and lifting weights. And every time you do a repetition, that muscle gets a little stronger. So the more we can help children and teens do that– which reminds me, I actually have some instructional CDs for kids and teens on this, from, if anybody’s interested. Because I think it’s very important that parents do this for kids and that schools do it for kids. The more you do it, the better you get at cognitive control. Then you asked about chaotic childhood and all of that. And that is a negative factor. That’s why I was so impressed by the school in Spanish Harlem.

AUDIENCE: Hi there. I’m one of the fortunate Googlers that has teens. And I would like to know a little bit about the amygdala hijack and the response that different teens may have. I have one team when I think they’re hijacked that goes angry, and I have another that goes tearful. Is that a relationship to the amygdala hijack or something else?

DANIEL GOLEMAN: Angry and tearful, I don’t know. There’s a wonderful book coming out by Dan Siegel called “Brainstorms.” It’ll be out December 26. And it’s about the adolescent brain. It’s actually written for teenagers and their parents to read together. But one of the things he talks about is the phenomenon that during adolescence, there’s a wider discrepancy than at any other point in life between two neural systems. One is the system for instant gratification, which surges ahead, and the other is for delaying gratification, which lags a little behind. And so individual teens may differ in the gap between that circuitry, but I’ve heard a definition of maturity as widening the gap between impulse and action.

AUDIENCE: Thank you very much, Mr. Goleman, for this incredible lecture. I’m wondering with this structure that you have here and traditional medicine and what they look at in the mind. And as far as I can tell, being an epileptic, this really doesn’t apply much to us. We have cognitive problems that cannot be corrected and have been heavily– heavy medication has been used. I’m on medications that are very dangerous. And I’m working with a couple neuros, a Jim Fallon– I don’t know if you know Jim, he’s a guy– and I’m told that I don’t have much of a chance of doing a lot of this stuff. And for me to focus actually takes a lot of work. And I was wondering if you have any suggestions for epilepsy?

DANIEL GOLEMAN: I’m not a neurologist, not a specialist. I have friends who are in the same situation. But I think that– one of the things I didn’t mention is that there’s a decline in cognitive control with aging. And they’ve developed a set of training tools which are web-based to reverse or slow that process, and you might try those, because the medications are like a shotgun in the brain. They hit many different systems. And the brain still remains plastic. So you can go to the mental gym and see– that just might help you keep that focus.

AUDIENCE: Thank you very much.


MENG TAN: With that, for those of you interested in [INAUDIBLE], the CEO, [INAUDIBLE] is sitting right here. Feel free to talk to him. The book is Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, for those in the room, you can buy it from the back of the room. Danny will do a book signing after this. For those not in the room, it’s available where books are sold. So with this, Focus, Danny Goleman. Thank you, my friends.



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