Art Markman: Understand cognitive science to work better

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Neuroscience can help people better understand themselves and colleagues, according to academic and author Art Markman

"The fundamental problem with work today is that we start by assuming that everyone else is going to do things in exactly the same way that we would do them. We think ‘how can this person possibly be productive if they are not working in the same way as me?’,” the professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin said.

Speaking at the launch of his book Bring Your Brain To Work: Using Cognitive Science to Get a Job, Do it Well, and Advance Your Career, Markman explained how by having an understanding of psychology individuals can improve their careers and work more effectively with others.

“Science tells us that there are some issues at work that have to be fixed, but if we can understand the underlying psychological issues behind them we’ll be more able to help, and understand how we can use people effectively and help them reach their goals," he said.

Markman’s book explores how an understanding of neuroscience can help people get more out of work and better understand their motivations.

When people take a traditional approach to their careers they can often end up ignoring some of the complexities of working life, Markman said: “By looking at psychology in the workplace it allows us to manage our own jobs in a more effective way. It can help us think about how there isn’t always a seamless path from getting one job to moving to the next. It helps us to work a little better with people, because we understand why they work in certain ways and that they are different from us.”

One of the main reasons people feel stuck at work is that they feel unable to make mistakes, he explained. Learning how to improvise and move on from failures is key, he said: “The people who have the best ideas are the people who have the most ideas. A lot of them might be bad, but you have to be willing to throw a bunch of stuff out there – even if a lot of it is bad – before you can get to the good stuff. This has emerged from my experience of learning to play the saxophone.

“I would pick it up, play a wrong note, and would get annoyed at myself and stop. My teacher would say 'why did you stop? That note has gone, why are you getting worried about it? You did something, it was wrong, but stop worrying about it and try something else'.

“The ability to have an idea, figure out it’s a bad idea, and then have another idea is an incredibly powerful way to learn how to improvise.”

Employers can play an important role in allowing people to grow and continue learning, Markman added: “Success in your job should be about your ability to do that job rather than being able to know everything from day one. It should be organisations' jobs to help you do that."

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