Over the holidays I read Iconoclast: A Neoroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently. It was a great book, providing an accessible overview of the aspects of the brain relevant to what’s described below, supported with a wide range of anecdotal and interesting descriptions of past iconoclasts. A lot of the book describes phenomenon and the brain’s activity that have only recently been made possible with the creation of fMRI, which essentially provide a live video stream of the brain’s activity.
For the record, in the book an iconoclast is a figure who creates and is the force behind new ways of thinking. In the book, familiar names like Bill Gates and Richard Branson abound, but there are also a lot of great historical references and lesser-known contemporary figures that are described as iconoclastic thinkers. Google defines “iconoclast” as:
- a destroyer of images used in religious worship
- someone who attacks cherished ideas or traditional institutions
- Perception: Iconoclasts “see differently,” which me means both literally and figuratively. Iconoclasts can envision and create solutions that cast aside predefined ways of thinking. The brain’s perceptual system operates by categorizing objects of your perception and even ideas, and the brains of iconoclasts are able to adapt and create new categories. This is how iconoclasts “see differently.” Interestingly, you have an influence on how well your brain is at this. The secret is to constantly bombard your brain with new and different types of experiences and ideas: read books, try new activities, live in a foreign country, etc. It makes sense, right? The more things you do, the more ideas you’re exposed to, the more able you are to identify new opportunities and envision creative solutions to problems that haven’t been encountered before.
- Dealing with Fear: There are three types of fear identified in the book: fear of public humiliation, fear of failure, and fear of the unknown. The book describes the neuroscientific and common sense reasons how and why fear inhibits action and rational thinking.Successful iconoclasts don’t lack fear, they’re simply able to either embrace it and use it constructively or rationalize and compartmentalize it in their minds. Again this is somewhat obvious, but its also important and the science behind it is also fascinating.
- Social Intelligence: So you’ve got a revolutionary idea and you’re ready to bring the force of its awesomeness down on the world, good for you. If you can’t get anyone to go along with you and embrace your idea, then you won’t get off the ground. This one is all about understanding people, and despite its promising potential was probably the weakest chapter in the book. But basically empathy is important, as is some level of social grace.