Book Review: Your Brain at Work

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Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long by David Rock makes sense of a lot of things. When you’re done reading this book, you’ll understand why you and the people around you act in certain ways and you’ll have a workable strategy for improving the way you work and the way you work with others.

I originally picked up this book in 2014 because I had read several of David Rock’s articles and I thought he was knowledgeable, practical, and made a lot of sense. That turned out to be a great decision because this book was one of my top five books for the year.

The time between reading the book and writing this review gave me the opportunity to try to put the lessons and suggestions into practice. Today I’m more enthusiastic about the book than I was when I first read it because I know it’s made a difference in my everyday life and I think it will do the same for you.

As an author and a book-writing coach, I know how hard it can be to figure out how to structure a book about a topic as big as the brain at work. David Rock came up with a novel solution: he structures the book like a play. Here’s his description of how that works.

“In the stage metaphor, the actors represent conscious information. The audience members represent information in your brain below conscious awareness, such as memories and habits. Then there is a character I am calling your director. The director is a metaphor for the part of your awareness that can stand outside of experience. This director can watch the show that is your life, make decisions about how your brain will respond, and even sometimes alter the script.”

I think the structure works very well. You get to see people carrying on in a work setting and then some interpretation of what’s happening to them and how you can do things differently.

Instead of chapters, Rock refers to his chunks of material as scenes. He also includes two devices, one called “Surprises About the Brain” and the other called “Some Things to Try.” Those devices appear at the end of scenes and give you a quick review of the key points as well as some applications.

If the book only included what I’ve described so far, it would still be worth the price, but there’s one more very important piece and it’s the one that’s helped me the most when it comes to putting the book to work. It’s David Rock’s SCARF model. Here’s his description of it.

“I noticed a surprising pattern while putting this book together. I saw that there are five domains of social experience that your brain treats the same as survival issues. These domains form a model, which I call the SCARF model, which stands for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness. The model describes the interpersonal primary rewards or threats that are important to the brain. Getting to know these five elements strengthens your director. It’s a way of developing language for experiences that may be otherwise unconscious, so that you can catch these experiences occurring in real time.”

Most of the stuff that I’ve read about brain function and how leaders can use the way the brain works more effectively fail on one of two counts. Sometimes, there’s a lot of good academic research but it’s highly fragmented and written in academic journal-ese, which makes it difficult to understand and more difficult to apply. David Rock cites a lot of research but puts the important stuff in context and draws conclusions about the practical implications.

Other material about brain function are more flash than substance. They’re often based on little research and sometimes on no research at all. One great strength of this book is that David Rock shows you the sources of several of his conclusions and recommendations.

In a Nutshell

You’ll be a better person and a more effective leader if you buy Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long, read it, and do the work of learning to put it into practice.


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What People Are Saying

Youcef Benchouk   |   12 Feb 2018   |   Reply

Understand what people are saying without responding so that your experience is a comedy dialogue

Wally Bock   |   13 Feb 2018   |   Reply

Thanks for adding to the conversation