Let’s get anchored here. This post is about technical excellence and good design. Agilists will recognize this Agile principle: Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.” When Brian and I wrote the corresponding Agile Best Self principle, we reframed “technical excellence” as “science”.
Agile Best Self Principle #9: Continuous attention to scientific research enhances best self.
March 2020, I suddenly had a significant amount of time on my hands. No more hockey; no more going out; no more working out at the gym (which hadn’t been doing much of anyway); no more visiting friends. I went from being awake and at home about 1-2 hours to having 24 hours at home a day. Every day. How may times had I said: “I wish I had more time to hang out in my PJs and read”? Wish granted.
I looked at my book list, trued it up with the Agile Best Self principles and thought: “I’ll take on Sapolsky’s Behave.” Dr. Robert Sapolsky is a neurobiologist and primatologist at Stanford. Do you understand the photo now? Multiple friends recommended this book. Eighty percent of reviewers gave the book 5 stars. Twelve percent gave it 4 stars. That is a whopping approval rating from 4,122 readers: 92% gave it a solid thumbs up. I was hooked, but intimidated. I ordered the audible version – 26 hours and 27 minutes long.
I was transfixed by the premise, the story and Sapolsky’s writing style. With truly exceptional books, I have both the audible and hardcover. For normal people that may sound odd, but it is common practice for us bibliophiles. Doubling up like this can can be expensive, in terms of space and monetary investment. But starting with the audible version was a great first step. I instantly fell in love with Sapolsky’s writing style. However, I quickly discovered that I needed to buy the book to keep up with the terms (sympathetic nervous system, parasympathetic nervous system, norepinephrine vs epinephrine, parietal, occipital, basolateral amygdala, etc). So I bought the book because I needed to see the pictures and the words.
When the book showed up, with the inch and a half spine, I just held it trying to figure out if I was up for the task. So I alternately used the book as a monitor stand or carried it around for about a month. I was like a mother with a newborn child: it was constantly in my sight and I thought I could unlock its potential just by having it near me. Then I took the plunge. A 720 page book is an ambitious commitment – especially knowing that I have a tendency to get sucked in to great books.
Many of the reviews mention that the first part of the book can be tedious. I was mesmerized by the first part of the book. I was learning new words and concepts that could help me understand the science behind behaviors. The initial chapters are not quite as dense as a neuroscience textbook (trust me, I have read a few textbooks), but it is not light reading. I turned on my audible version just listened to the words wash over me as I fell asleep at night. Yes, I fully embrace it that I’m a bit odd.
Ultimately what Sapolsky’s research tells us is that we are much more hardwired than we think we are. Many of our decisions are made by complex interactions of our brain before we even know we have committed to an action. Throughout the course of humanity, genetic predispositions have turned us into who we are as a species and as individuals. I’m not going to try and summarize a 720+ page book, but I’d highly recommend that you read it or check out his YouTube lectures or TED talk. The lectures run about an hour and a half each, and are engaging if you are a neuroscience geek or student of the human condition. The TED talk is shorter, and recaps the book.
“Behave is the best detective story ever written, and the most important. If you’ve ever wondered why someone did something—good or bad, vicious or generous—you need to read this book. If you think you already know why people behave as they do, you need to read this book. In other words, everybody needs to read it. It should be available on prescription (side effects: chronic laughter; highly addictive). They should put Behave in hotel rooms … the world would be a much better, wiser place” —Kate Fox, author of Watching the English
Every Agile Best Self principle is intended to be applied within and individual’s specific context. In other words, what works for me and energizes me is not the same as what works for you and energizes you. So I’m curious, how are you applying the principle around scientific research?
Copyright © 2021 Michaele Gardner and Brian Hackerson