146: Accessing Your Brain’s Hidden Potential with Dr. Barbara Oakley

By April 21, 2017Podcasts

 

Engineering Professor Dr. Barbara Oakley gives her best techniques for making mindshifts, whether they are dramatic changes or small tweaks.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why the Pomodoro technique’s 25 minutes of focus is indeed a magical number
  2. How you can make dramatic changes – and small tweaks – to improve your life
  3. How the imposter syndrome can actually be a strength

About Barbara

Barbara Oakley PhD., is a professor of engineering at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan; a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, San Diego; and Coursera’s inaugural “Innovation Instructor.” Her research involves bioengineering with a focus on the complex relationship between neuroscience and social behavior. Together with Terrence Sejnowski, the Francis Crick Professor at the Salk Institute, she co-teaches Coursera’s “Learning How to Learn,” the world’s most popular massive open online course. Dr. Oakley has received many awards for her teaching, including the American Society of Engineering Education’s Chester F. Carlson Award for technical innovation in education and the National Science Foundation New Century Scholar Award. She is the author of seven other books, including the New York Times-bestselling, A Mind For Numbers.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Barbara Oakley Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Barb, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Barbara Oakley
Well, it’s such a pleasure to be here, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy. Well, you have so much wisdom to share and I’m excited to dig into as much as we could fit in the time we have available. But could you start us off by orienting us a little bit to your own journey and the mind shifts along the way? They seem fairly stark or distinct in some of their contrasts.

Barbara Oakley
Well, yes, it’s kind of funny because I was a total math-phobe and I didn’t begin studying math until I was 26 after I got out of the Army and I was inspired because I sort of ran up into this career wall where I found that my previous training in the military, which was in language, I learned the Russian language attending the Defense Language Institute, actually gave me no real career skills at all that were valued in the marketplace.
And so I decided to try and retrain my brain to learn math and, lo and behold, it was not easy and if I knew then what I know now I could’ve made it much easier on myself. But I think what’s really important is that I tried to open my mind to a new career path or to at least changing what I know and trying to change what my talents and skills were.
And I think that a lot of people have the potential to change their skillset sometimes in a dramatic way. And in today’s marketplace, with everything changing so quickly due to artificial intelligence and the inroads of technology, I think that having a kind of a mindset where you’re more open to being able to change can put you in an advantageous situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is so fascinating. You said there, “I retrained my brain to learn my math,” and you’re saying that could’ve been much easier knowing what you know now. So, well, can you tell us a little bit, I think some people will say, “You know, I’m not just a math person.” And I’m guessing that doesn’t sit so well with your perspective.

Barbara Oakley
I totally get where they’re coming from when they say that, but here’s what helped me to be able to learn math, and that was that I had learned something else. And that something happened to be language. But when you learn anything – anything – you actually learn some meta skills, some sort of deep skills that can help you to learn something else.
And so, for me, once I’d realized that that, for example, for me, when I was learning a language I’d practice it and I’d learn little bits and pieces, and then I’d put the little bits and pieces together, kind of baby steps, and use that as a way to move forward in learning the language. That’s exactly what you do when you’re learning math.
And also I began to realize that just because I couldn’t sit down and understand something the first time I might read it that related to math didn’t mean that I was stupid, that that’s actually how your brain works. You often sort of look at something the first time and then you kind of get stuck and you have to walk away. And when you walk away that opens new neural pathways that allow you to with the different perspective that you need to be able to better understand that problem.

So, often, what you need in learning something new, especially something difficult like mathematics, you want to be able to go back and forth between these sort of two different types of neural connections that you have, what I call focus mode, task positive networks, and more diffused kinds of networks, resting state networks, that have broader sort of connections in your brain. And by going back and forth between these you can get the new perspective so that you can learn something new. And the thing is to simply be persistent and a little patient with yourself and it can work.

Pete Mockaitis
Now that’s so interesting. So we got two modes there of                the brain running and operating. And so I guess in a moment, when you’re sort of hankering down to learn something, how do you activate and sort of proactively shift gears between each of those modes?

Barbara Oakley
Well, here’s the thing, it’s kind of like saying, “How do you make yourself fall asleep?” You can’t really quite. You can set up the situation so that after a while you’ll fall asleep but you can’t command yourself to fall asleep. And in the same way you can command yourself to pay attention to something but you can’t command yourself to not pay attention to something because pretty much as soon as you do that you’re paying attention to it.
So you have to kind of get into that other more relaxed mode, the default mode network. Sometimes you’ll need to do things like, “I’ll go take a shower.” Go for a walk, get your mind off it by looking at something different. Go down to the kitchen, have a cup of coffee, anything that kind of get your mind off it.
But some things, like you may be in the kitchen emptying the dishwasher or something like that, but your mind is still on it, so you have to kind of do something or let time pass that really allows you to get your mind off it. And that’s the only way that those, that other network opens up and then it kind of tackles this problem in the background and puts things together for you so that when you go back, “Whoa, it actually makes sense.” And, in fact, it can make sense so much that you can be sitting there scratching your head kind of going, “How did I ever not understand this?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s so exciting. And I felt that so many times. Just this very morning I was doing a little bit of my morning exercise in terms of just some crunches and pushups and jumping jacks just to kind of get in the groove and wake up. And I was in pushup position and I just had this idea out of nowhere, it’s like, “Well, why don’t I just do that? And how come it didn’t come up before?”

Barbara Oakley
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
It was so dramatic. I’m staring at the floor. It’s like it could be a cinematographic masterpiece maybe.

Barbara Oakley
That’s so true. That’s exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then I’m already curious about optimizing this process. Is there sort of some research or science or data that suggest a particular balance or timing is ideal in terms of X minutes in the attentive state and then Y minutes in the diffused state? Or how does that unfold?

Barbara Oakley
Well, one technique that people do, they use quite often, in fact I teach a very large online course, like really large, and we have almost two million registered students, and this technique is one that they absolutely love. And so I hear from, literally, tens of thousands of students and they love this technique, and it’s called the Pomodoro technique.
And, quite simply, you turn off all distractions, so no little ringy-dingies on your cellphone or nothing popping up on your computer and then you set a timer for 25 minutes. Focus as intently as you reasonably can for those 25 minutes. Don’t allow yourself to go off and get distracted. Or if you find that then get your attention back as soon as you can and then reward yourself after 25 minutes.
So you may let yourself listen to a song that you like, or get up and kind of move around a little bit, go on Twitter, chat a little bit, anything to get your mind off of what you had previously been working on. Now, it’s often a really good idea to let yourself do something that’s using a different part of the brain. So it’s kind of like it lets that part – at least this is what I hear from people – then it allows you to… like if you’re writing a report and then you take a break and go onto Twitter, you’re still writing things.
And it’s like saying, “Yup, I’ve been lifting some heavy weights in my workout, and now I’m going to take a break and I’m going to lift boxes of books.” Right? You’re not giving yourself a little break. So you might say, “Well, why 25 minutes? And is there some magic to this?” There’s no magic. This was a wonderful technique developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s, the Pomodoro Technique.
And what he had suggested, 25 minutes, and my suspicion is that he just thought, “Wow, it’s a little less than half an hour so it seems imminently doable.” But, now, what researchers are finding, when you even just think about something you don’t want to do it activates the pain centers of the brain which causes you to like switch your attention to something else and that’s known as procrastination. But if you kind of work through it, like by using the Pomodoro Technique, that pain subsides after about 20 minutes. So the Pomodoro Technique can actually get you into the flow.
Now if I’m actually working on something and I’m really in the flow I’m not going to go, “Ugh, timer. Okay, I stop at 25 minutes. Oh, I’ll probably keep going and, hey, thank goodness. I finally got into the flow.” But if I feel myself tiring I will definitely stop, and using the Pomodoro Technique can get me started because I can always tell myself, “All I got to do is these 25 minutes and then I can stop.” And often that’s enough to get me into the flow and get me going.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is so brilliant, so 25 minutes. Actually there is some magic to it, maybe just by luck or happenstance, with that coinciding with a more recent research is, it’s small enough so that you’re not intimidated and disgusted and don’t even start, and yet it’s long enough that it can edge you into, “Oh, this isn’t so bad. I guess I’ll just keep doing it,” that kind of mode. So it is sort of a sweet spot there.

Barbara Oakley
Exactly right. And it’s a sweet spot that is, well, it’s just such an effective technique that people absolutely love it. Oh, and in fact, there are Pomodoro timers so you can buy timers, you can buy apps for your phone. People like it so much that you can kind of find all sorts of things out there that can help you use that technique.

Pete Mockaitis
So now, can you tell us, I think we’ve already sort of touched on it a little bit, but sort of what’s the main idea or thesis behind your book Mindshift here?

Barbara Oakley
The fundamental idea is that you can change a lot more than you think you can, and that don’t put yourself in a box about what your capabilities are. We often take aptitude tests and then we kind of think, “Oh, this is the area that I’m good at.” But what that really is telling you is what you’re good at right now, at the time you’re taking the test.
If I had taken tests when I was 25, say, and, “What are you good at? What field should you go into?” The last thing on that list, like rock bottom, would’ve been become a professor of engineering. But that’s what I am today and I’m a very happy one. So what I really want to help inspire people to do is to look at stories, like incredible stories, of how people have made changes, sometimes super dramatic, and sometimes just small tweaks, that have improved their lives, and to kind of give sort of a number of different templates that you can try on for size mentally yourself and use to inspire you with new ideas about things that you can do.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I like that. So, can you give us an example of a piece that could get spark from the template?

Barbara Oakley
Okay. So, let’s say, well, one example person that I speak of in the book is Graham Keir, and Graham was a musician. So, he played the guitar, he was a very good musician, and he hated math and science, like a lot. In fact, he burned his chemistry book when he graduated, yeah, because was so glad he got a C in the class and he had passed.
And so he was given the opportunity to create some musical sessions for kids who were cancer patients. And so he did these sessions and he started looking at it, and he felt like the doctors had such a communion with the kids and they were doing so much to help the children. And he felt like, “You know, I want to do that too.”
So he decided to become a doctor. I mean, it was crazy stuff because he had no ability. In fact, he’s telling his friends, “Hey, I’d like to switch to medicine.” And they’re like, “You’re crazy; a) you can’t do it, and; b) why would you give up something that you’re so good at?” And so he kind of did it covertly. He started taking classes and, to his shock, found that some of his background in learning a musical instrument was really helpful in allowing him to start learning math and science. And he also started discovering something interesting about his mindset.
Before he’d always been like, “Well, gee, I can’t understand this because the teacher isn’t explaining it very well and the task problems are bad,” and so forth. And now he’s starting kind of going, “Wait a minute. You know, I’m missing these questions but these other people aren’t, so maybe the problem is actually me.”
So he started changing his thinking and then, to his surprise, he started finding that he actually liked some of the things he was studying. In fact, he’d start chuckling at some of the problems as he figured them out and they make him feel really good. And so now he’s in his third year at George Washington University completing medical school. And it’s an amazing story that you’d say, “Oh, there’s no way this guy can do this.” But he did.
So there’s so many. I’ll just give you one more. An event planner decided that she would learn about computer programming because if she did she could get this great new job. And, to her shock, she knew nothing about computer programming but she found that her background as an event planner helped her to learn how to code. It’s a very sequential thing and you have to check certain things off in order to be able to, “If this then this.”
And so it was actually her background, which was seemingly completely unrelated, was actually very helpful. And now she’s very successful working as a systems analyst, and also she can talk to other people, so she does computer training as well, and she loves her job.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s so intriguing. And so it seems like in both of these instances these people discovered an opportunity that really enchanted them, like, “I’d like to help kids the way these doctors are helping folks,” or, “I’d like a job that pays more money.” And so they went after it, and so going after it they were pleasantly surprised that their own skills and backgrounds and learning areas that they’ve had some mastery in translated over here.
I guess I’m wondering maybe the lesson that you’re highlighting here is your prior background does not, in fact, limit you at all. Like, if something intrigues or entices you, you can just go for it and you’ll learn and have a good outcome. Is that what happens in most instances? Or do some people just crash and burn?

Barbara Oakley
I’m sure some people crash and burn but many, many more are successful in doing what they want. And even if you crash and burn – and I will admit there are times in my life when I’ve crashed and burned – you’re still learning something. You’re walking away with something that may not seem to be a marketable skill but actually can be extremely helpful in your life.
For me, for example, I was trying to learn to be, I was a Signal Corps Officer in the military, and I had trained, I even got a degree in Slavic languages and literature because the military sent me onto a Reserve Officer Training Corps and I got this great degree and I thought, “Great. I’m set for life. I have a degree in the thing I’m passionate about.” And so I thought they’d make me military intelligence. Well, no. they made me Signal Corps Officer and I knew nothing about technology.
And I tried to learn but I just kind of crashed and burned. I didn’t have the background I needed. And so that was part of what was an inspiration for me, was, “Okay, I couldn’t do the job.” I just couldn’t perform at it, I couldn’t understand it. “Well, maybe part of that was some of my training which I didn’t have.” And, sure enough, when I did go back and get the proper training it all began to make much more sense.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s good. That’s good. And so, in your book, you also mentioned that theme in a number of ways that what seems to be a weakness can really have strengths hiding underneath or within it. So I’m particularly intrigued by the notion of impostor syndrome becoming a strength. How does that unfold?

Barbara Oakley
Well, it’s kind of funny, because when you talk to psychologists, psychologists will tell you, “Oh, the impostor syndrome, in other words feeling like you’re kind of a fake when you’re trying something new and everybody else is better than you, and you’re just there by luck and so forth,” that that’s really not true at all, and it’s not really a right feeling to have, that you should be confident in yourself because you’d gotten there after all.
And I kind of politely disagree, shall we say, because I think the impostor syndrome is a powerful tool to help you become more successful. Because if you land in a new situation, let’s say that you want to retrain in anything, you’re going to land there, and you’re going to think, “Oh, I am not nearly as good as the other people around me.”
Let’s say, like sometimes I’ll have an engineering student come into my classroom, case one, a professor of engineering, and they might be 45 years old and they’re feeling really bad because there’s all these young hotshots that got good grades in high school that are around them and so forth, and they feel like impostors. They might’ve flunked out of high school and they’re just kind of trying to get on their feet and get a degree in something they think is worthwhile.
And what happens, almost invariably, is that these are the ones who actually do the best in the class. And part of that, I’m convinced, is that because they’re so unsure of themselves they keep a kind of a beginner’s mind about what is really needed. They don’t just like go in half-cocked or really cocky and thinking, “I know what’s going on here and what’s needed.” They’re going at it with, “Oh, my goodness. I think other people are better than me. I better sort of look around and really look at what’s needed.”
Even in the story earlier about Graham Keir, the musician who became a doctor. When he first started trying to change, at first he had that kind of cocksure attitude of, “Hey, if I’m messing up on a test it must be the teacher or somebody else.” But then he stepped back and began realizing, “Wait a minute. You know, it’s me. I’ve got to change.”
And so, overall, I think the impostor syndrome, feeling kind of like a fake, is actually an advantage because it keeps you from being too over-confident in yourself. And there’s one other thing, and that is that sometimes, like for me, I’m a woman in engineering and people will say, “Oh, if you’re someone who’s sort of the odd person out, a less usual type of individual in any particular discipline or something like that, that that can be a real disadvantage for you.”
And I think it’s a big advantage because if you’re kind of the odd person out you’re just different, and that gets you a little more used to being different. And if you want to be creative, creativity is almost by definition being different. So, in some sense, being the odd person out, prepares to be more creative. Well, and that also prepares you to be a little more compassionate and understanding for other people who are the odd person out so it’s a win-win all the way around.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. And that seems like a very positive perspective on this notion of, “Oh, my gosh. I don’t belong here. I’m not good enough.” And so your take is not so much, “Oh, sure you are, you know. You’re just fine and great.” But rather, your approach is, “Well, you do have some things to learn, and that’s an advantage because you have sort of the fresh beginner’s mind and that’s going to propel you to new ideas and all sorts of good stuff.”

Barbara Oakley
Precisely correct. You’re encapsulating things better than I could.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thanks. I’ve learned how to learn a little bit, so thank you for your contribution to that. In your chapter, you’ve got one specifically dedicated to avoiding career ruts and dead ends, which I think would be quite appropriate for folks listening here to the show. What are some of the key takeaways there to not fall into ruts and dead ends, and if you do, to keep them short?

Barbara Oakley
I think looking around you is probably the best that you can do. In that chapter of Mindshift I talk about my co-instructor in teaching the massive open online course Learning How to Learn, and also in my new massive open online course, MOOC, which is Mindshift. Terrence Sejnowski is my co-instructor and he is the Francis Crick Professor at the Salk Institute and he’s one of only 10 living human beings who’s simultaneously a member of all three U.S. National Academies. He’s just totally brilliant. He’s a legendary neuroscientist.
And yet, at the very beginning of his career, he was studying physics and he was at the bastion of the deepest place sort of on the planet for studying physics which he was studying relativity with John Wheeler at Princeton, and it doesn’t get much better than that.

And Terry looked around and said, “You know what, this discipline that I’m studying is actually going to get me in trouble. There’s not really enough money to fund the kind of research that’s going to be needing to be done in this discipline. And if I go into this I’m going to be spending my career battling for tiny bits of funding that won’t actually make any real advances in the discipline at all.” And so he bailed. I mean, in some sense, he switched to neuroscience.
And what he found was his background in physics was a phenomenal asset. Again, it’s that idea of you know something that seems very different but it actually brought him a lot of advantages. And now, in his career, he’s made phenomenal breakthroughs and really made sort of a big impact in the field. He would never have had that kind of chance to have an impact if he had stayed in conventional relativity theory in physics.
So, if someone as totally brilliant as Terry Sejnowski, in what seems to be the most important area in all of science can look around him and say, “Wait a minute. Everybody else is doing this,” because there were all this really brilliant students who were piling into that area, and he could back away and say, “Nope, there’s going to be some problems here,” that tells us all that we can kind of be looking around, “Well, what are we doing?”
Are you an Uber driver? Because if you’re an Uber driver it may be fine for maybe three, four, five years but it’s coming. Artificial intelligence is really coming. Are you working in a call center? Call centers, they’re going to be having reductions, it’s projected, in the next couple of years. There’ll be a 20% to 30% reduction in the number of people we’ll need because it’s going to become more and more, I mean, there’s more and more sophistication in artificial intelligence ability to intuit what we’re looking for when we make a phone call and ask a question.
And it’s not just sort of maybe more obviously automatable kinds of careers. If you’re a lawyer, artificial intelligence is coming for you. If you’re even a doctor, if you’re studying radiology, that’s going to be a career that’s going to be automated very much so. So, virtually, everyone’s career is going to be impacted to some greater or lesser extent. Even for me, I’m involved in online learning, and I can really see the power of online learning. People like to dismiss it but actually if you think about it half of all face-to-face teachers are below average in their teaching ability.
There are studies that show there could be a substantive improvement even in GDP, national GDP, if you just get rid of, or don’t have to deal with, the bottom 20% of instructors. So, no matter what you’re doing, just you want to be aware of the fact that you’re probably going to be having to up your game, change, learn and we’re all going to be doing that mostly through the rest of our lives but it’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing because keeping yourself open to learning keeps you flexible, mentally flexible and actually healthier.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you, that is a good perspective. And I also want to know, parts of this because of my own sheer curiosity, when you talked about instructional effectiveness. And so you’re learning how to learn MOOC is, well, I think it’s the largest course in the world. Is that correct?

Barbara Oakley
Yes, it is the largest massive open online course in history. And it’s so funny, too, because my husband filmed me in the basement, that’s where we created it. So, I went to Harvard. Harvard asked me to come and speak, and they were just really great there. But I walk in and the room is totally packed, like totally full, and I couldn’t figure out, “Why on earth is it full?” And then I come to find out that our one little course, made for less than $5,000 in our basement, actually had on the order of the same number of students as all of Harvard’s online courses put together made for millions of dollars with hundreds of people. So it speaks to the revolution that is occurring at least for those who are willing to seize the initiative in what’s available today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is amazing. And so I need to know some of your secrets or for anyone who’s in a position of having to lead or communicate and explain instructively, effectively, it seems you have a slam dunk both in terms of just the sheer volume but also the completion rates which are about double the norm. So what do you believe are some of the key principles or drivers behind this smashing performance?

Barbara Oakley
Well, as far as completion rates, I think our completion rates are a little higher than the normal. The big thing is just that people are so attracted to this from all around the world. We have people from over 200 countries around the world. It’s really virtually everywhere. And I think it’s because people are hungry to learn, and they’re hungry for information that is presented in a way that’s novel, that is, let’s see. How can I say this?
The way we did this was we took academia with the rigor of research and we mixed it with Silicon Valley and the presentation provider mechanisms that are available, and then we threw in some Hollywood to make it more exciting. And, in fact, that triple combo is what seems to really attract people’s attention. So I think part of it is we got lucky we hit at the right time.
But a big thing is that, for example, if you went to a school of education at a university, and said, “I want you to do a course on learning how to learn.” First they would’ve said, “Well, let’s do something for teachers because teachers are the only one interested.” So they would’ve missed the mark because people are interested, not just teachers are really interested but people are really interested.
But then they would have given you two weeks on the history of education, and two more weeks on theories of education, and two more weeks on how babies learn, and then, finally, a little bit in the end about how we really learn, and maybe one lecture on neuroscience but nothing too much because that’s too hard.
And we flip that completely around and based it on what we were doing, on neuroscience and then put it out using metaphor and analogy which can actually take you very deep into a new idea of you use the same neural circuits to understand the metaphor as you do the in-depth concept themselves, so, get you pretty close. And then we presented everything in a way that’s fun, a lot of humor.
It is strange but in the academic profession, I think, being funny is so seemingly spontaneous, and it is spontaneous if you have to do it in classes. That academics tend to poo-poo the importance of humor because it’s hard to do, right? You can’t pull it off all the time. And if you don’t tend to be a funny sort then it’s almost better to sort of say, “Well, humor isn’t important.” But humor is incredibly important. It establishes trust with the instructor and it gives you like a little mental resting place when you’ve been covering some tough materials.
And so we used a lot of humor. And, thank goodness, for me, I can just like script it in, put this funny thing here, and so then I could look funny even if I wasn’t funny. We got this one email from a fifth grader who said, “You know, I took this class and I did better than my mother, and I never understood that professors could be so witty.”

Pete Mockaitis
Alright. Well, kudos. Well, Barb, is there anything else you want to make sure that we get to cover before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Barbara Oakley
Oh, let’s see. Well, just come and visit me in Learning How to Learn and the new MOOC Mindshift, and the book Mindshift just takes you all around the world, and you’ll have a lot of fun seeing and meeting a lot of interesting people and looking at the science behind everything.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Barbara Oakley
Oh, a favorite quote. Well, this is very bad of me, but I’m going to give you one of my quotes, because there are like so many incredible quotes from people, but I think it’s in line with what we’re speaking about today. I always say, “Don’t just follow your passion. Broaden your passion and your life will be greatly enriched.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or a piece of research?

Barbara Oakley
Well, let’s see now. Well, okay, so I shall say this one because my biggest goal in life is to help other people as much as I can. And so I think it’s important in the back of your mind to beware of how helping can sometimes backfire, and so you have to be really wise about your helping. And so a tremendously important study was done by a woman named Joan McCord and it was published in the late 1970s.
What she did was, let’s see, in the 1930s they took 500 Boston schoolboys, split them into two groups. One group was given all the help you could possibly imagine. They were given tutoring, medical assistance, they had support for the family, they got to go to summer camps. It was kind of all the things today we would think would be beneficial in helping a kid to get off on the right start, the right foot.
And then 30 years later they followed up on these boys, and they found a remarkable – something like 98% of them – and they analyzed what had happened to these boys. And one group was the control group and they had done nothing with them, and the other group was the one they had done all this help with.
So what they found was that one group had statistically highly significant, much greater percentage of people in jail, alcoholics, drug abusers, had ended up in lower sort of career paths that were more dead end, had more problems with psychiatric disorders. Pretty the gamut of negative effects was in the one group, and the other group was much better. Which group was which?

Pete Mockaitis
Are you about to stun us with a shocker that the unaided control group flourished more?

Barbara Oakley
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Whoa.

Barbara Oakley
A real shocker, isn’t it?

Pete Mockaitis
And so that’s just because they presumed due to the grit and tenacity they developed by having to dig in and overcome challenges of their own? Or what’s their hypothesis?

Barbara Oakley
We don’t really know but it does make us step back a little bit and just look carefully at what is truly helpful for others because sometimes it’s not what we think it is.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Barbara Oakley
A favorite book? Well, my favorite one over the last few years is a book called War and Peace and War by Peter Turchin. And it describes a fantastic sociologist, Arab sociologist from the 1400s, his name was Ibn Khaldun and his ideas related to societal cohesiveness and how the ebb and flow of societal cohesiveness is what drives civilizations to form and to fall apart. It’s a wonderful book.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, interesting. And how about a favorite tool, whether that’s a product or service or app or something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Barbara Oakley
Oh, a computer. Except I live on the computer, so maybe that’s no fair to use that. I’d say, let’s see, what’s a favorite device? Sometimes I think that we get so enamored of the details that we forget the bigger picture of just the important devices in our lives, you know, like a car. I’m really happy that I have a car. I feel very lucky to have a car. Probably, if you asked me, “What do you like best?” Probably it’d be between a car and a computer.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And how about a favorite habit, a personal practice of yours that helps you flourish?

Barbara Oakley
Pomodoro Technique.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a favorite nugget, a piece that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks in terms of they retweet, they take notes, they really connect?

Barbara Oakley
I think the idea of broadening your passion is something that resonates a lot with people. So you’re not just following but broadening, and that’s one that people will frequently pick up on and retweet and so forth, and I think it’s a good philosophy to keep in mind.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And if we want to take these MOOCs for ourselves what’s that website again?

Barbara Oakley
Well, you can just go to www.BarbaraOakley.com and you’ll see the MOOCs there. So you can go to Learning How to Learn and that’s right there. And right shortly within the next week the MOOC Mindshift will be put up there. But Mindshift is coming out on April 10, so it’s coming like really soon. We’re so excited. Everybody is like, “That’s launch date.” And so, of course, I’m working behind the scenes.
If you just Google Coursera and Mindshift, or Coursera and Learning How to Learn, each one will come up. And then, of course, the book Mindshift is available on Amazon and it’s sort of the backbone of everything.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d put forth to those seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Barbara Oakley
I would say just think a little more broadly. Try to develop a new talent, a new skill because having a second skill or a little broader array of talents is going to serve you in good stead in the changing seas in front of us.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, Barb, this has been so much fun. I wish you tons of luck and just thank you on behalf of all those who love to learn for all you’ve contributed.

Barbara Oakley
Oh, well, thank you, and thank you for a really great discussion.

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