You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks, Or Can you?

So, I just finished reading a book that I can’t stop talking about; it’s called The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind by Barbara Strauch, which I came across while wandering around Powell’s Books on my recent vacation in Portland, OR.

If you’re a bookstore lover and you’ve never been to Powell’s, you may just have to make a special trip to Portland for no other reason than to spend a week roaming the rainbow-coded multi-floor, mega-mecca-emporium’s floor-to-ceiling stacks of new and used books. Needless to say, the hour I had was hardly enough to cover a measly corner of the place—but, oh, what a corner it was.

Strauch’s book immediately appealed to me on several-levels:

  1. It’s focused on how the brain works, which, let’s face it, as a strategist, has a lot or pretty much everything to do with my work;
  2. With middle age defined as between 40 through our 60′s, I’m definitely in the target demographic—there’s no denying it; and,
  3. Recently, my older brother and I laughed about our joint concern that we are experiencing signs of early on-set senility—no, not a laughing matter to be sure. Our paternal grandmother suffered from it, so the fear is real and the laughter a coping mechanism. Strauch opens her book with a lot of similar stories from early middle-agers, which are what inspired her to write the book in the first place.

So, it turns out that my brother and I are both actually experiencing the common signs of what I learned is middle-aged brain.  I’m sure you can imagine my relief.

Now, if you frequently find yourself:

  • Saying, “Now, why did I come in here?” as you stand in the center of a room that you just walked into, or
  • Thinking to yourself, “Where am I going?” as you sit in your car with the engine running, or
  • Asking every person around if they’ve seen your glasses as they give you funny looks until you look in the mirror and, oops, there they are right on the top of your head…

…Well, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you’ve got middle-aged brain, too.

But, here’s something to cheer you up and get downright excited about…(And, for those of you who aren’t quite in the middle-aged mindset, yet, this’ll give you  something to look forward to as you contemplate the onset of your own middle-aged brain episodes):

The Seattle Longitudinal Study is “one of the longest, largest, and most respected life-span studies, which was started in 1956 and has systematically tracked the mental prowess of six thousand people for more than forty years…

…The first big results from the Seattle study, released just a few years ago, found that study participants functioned better on cognitive tests in middle age, on average, than they did at any other time they were tested

During the span of time that constitutes the modern middle age…people in the study did better on tests of the most important and complex cognitive skills than the same group of people had when they were in their twenties. In four out of six of the categories tested—vocabulary, verbal memory, spatial orientation, and, perhaps most heartening of all, inductive reasoning—people performed best, on average, between the ages of forty to sixty-five.
(Excerpts from The Secret Life of The Grown-Up Brain [underline mine])

What does all this mean? While our middle-aged brains may get distracted (and there is a reason for that), they are actually performing many higher-level brain functions better than our younger selves. So, as Neil Charness, a psychologist at Florida State University says in the book, “if what you are doing depends on knowledge, then you’re going to do very well as you get older.”

Who among us, in today’s economy, whether a business owner or career professional, isn’t trading in knowledge and expertise, in some way or another? There’s some comfort in knowing that as we get older our experience actually does count for something—it really does make us better at our jobs, smarter than our younger selves (and competition), and wiser than even we may have expected (really, there have been studies to prove it). Read Strauch’s book if you don’t believe me.

Have you read The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain or another book, for that matter, that’s recently set your brain on fire with all sorts of insights and ideas? I’d love to know.

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Posted in Business Strategy, Career Strategy, Customer Engagement, Employment Strategy, Small Business

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