151: How to Get in the Zone…Every Day with Dr. Hans Hagemann

By May 5, 2017Podcasts

 

Dr. Hans Hagemann talks about the biochemical ingredients needed to get into the groove of “flow” and optimally engage your brain for peak performance.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three-chemical “DNA” of peak performance
  2. Three simple steps to flow
  3. The benefits of intuitive decision making in a team

About Hans

Hans W. Hagemann, Ph.D., is managing partner/co-founder at the global leadership consultancy firm Munich Leadership Group, and he is a global expert on leadership and innovation who has led seminars, coaching sessions and in-depth workshops with top executives in more than 40 countries.

 

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Hans Hagemann Interview Transcript

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

Hans Hagemann
Hi, Pete. Thanks for having me in your show.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it is so good to have you, and thank you especially. It is 10:30 p.m. as we’re talking in Munich time for you, and so much appreciated. Tell me, do you do a lot of these late calls?

Hans Hagemann
Well, unfortunately, we have the time difference between the U.S. and Germany. And sometimes it’s even nine hours when I talk to the West Coast, but in this time, it’s perfectly for me. 10:30 is a good time for me. I’m not so much sleeping already and I try to keep me awake with lots of coffee, which is a very traditional way of doing it. On the other hand, I think there’s enough kind of adrenaline in my system that I stay awake.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, I hope that there’s adrenaline for this call. You’re fired up. I was wondering if you had these neuroscience secrets for managing late nights, or it’s just coffee is what you’re working with?

Hans Hagemann
I think in the end, coffee is not so bad. The other thing is if you feel under-aroused, you can imagine something really scary and then it helps you most of the time. So maybe you have a very difficult discussion with your boss the next day or some client is supposed to yell at you or something like that, which of course in reality never happens, but sometimes it’s enough if you imagine these things, and then you are really, really awake.

Pete Mockaitis
I see. Now, do you have a go-to these days, or is that too personal?

Hans Hagemann
No. I think this doesn’t happen to me and I’m very fine, and I think the coffee boost is very sufficient.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, that’s good to hear. Well, I have so many questions about your book, “The Leading Brain.” And so could you maybe give us a little bit of a backstory in terms of what was behind the desire, the reasoning, and the big idea behind this book?

Hans Hagemann
Well, actually, our clients forced us to write this book, I must say, because we started some trainings beyond the leadership development area. And when we did some programs and we tried to put something neuroscientific into it, more and more every time, there was lots of interest from the client because most of these people, they are scientists, they are technical engineers, and of course, they want to know facts. They don’t want to hear something of an esoteric kind of psychology behind these things.
And I assume that this is the case or something like this. No, they wanted to have hard facts and we found lots of facts in the neuroscientific world. And the more they heard from us about it, the more they said, “Well, is there some kind of literature that you can recommend?” And then of course, there’s a lot of literature, but there are two kinds of literature, as we found out.
One type of books seems to be very, very scientific. So what you’ll find in these books are studies over studies, and you’ll find lots of scientific data. And of course, an executive who has lots of other things to do is very quickly bored by this, or he or she simply doesn’t understand it.
And then you have the other kind of books that we called black box approaches. And that was kind of funny to us. We both are educated psychologists and neuroscientists, so what we found out is that many books try to jump on a train, which you can see here, and try to just put some stories together and try to sell it as deeply neuroscientifically proven.
And actually, we had some calls with some of these authors because in the beginning, we thought, “That’s a nice idea to collaborate or learn from their expertise.” But very quickly, we found out that there’s not so much deep insight on the neuroscientific side there. So then we were forced to write exactly this book. And we think it’s a good combination from deep neuroscientific insights absolutely combined with pragmatic knowledge or translated into pragmatic knowledge for executives. And that was the basic intention.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, you’ve got me so excited then because it sounds like there may be some myths debunked along the way. And you’ve got that blend which makes for some of my favorite readings. So I just want to jump right to the parts I was most intrigued. So could you start by sharing, when it comes to the neuroscience, what are the research insights that can be readily applied so that we can increase the odds that we’re going to get in sort of that zone, that flow state, and stay there longer and more often?

Hans Hagemann
Yeah. I think that’s a particularly interesting topic because most people want to try to reach their zone of peak performance. And of course, they have experienced it from time to time, hopefully at least. There are still some people in business who have not experienced it. And of course, we wanted to find out what are the ingredients from a neuroscientific point of view. What are the transmitter substances that play a major role when you reach peak performance?
And actually, if you see from the perspective of an executive, and also you, Pete, you will have experienced that several times, sometimes you are kind of under-aroused. And while you are under-aroused, you hardly can achieve peak performance. And then there is some area where you have…and then it’s possible to create peak performance.
And when we talk about peak performance here in this context, we are talking mental peak performance. We are not talking about bodily peak performance or muscle peak performance. That’s a different story, and you need different ingredients for that. But mental peak performance. And then if you follow on the arousal curve, that means if you get more and more, let’s say, excited in a way, in a neutral way, if you feel stressed in a way, then of course, you are over-aroused and then peak performance is not possible.
And so we tried to find out what are the transmitter substances that are relevant here. And actually, there are three transmitter substances, and that’s the reason why we call it the DNA of peak performance. First, the D stands for dopamine. This is something that you definitely need and that you get if you’re having fun, for example, or if there’s something which is new to you, which is kind of “Aha!” This is something that attracts your attention in a way.
And then the next thing, and it’s the interesting of the three maybe, it’s noradrenaline. Noradrenaline is something that kicks in when you kind of feel a mild fear. Let’s say the dose of noradrenaline that you need, it’s kind of a mild fear. That’s the point. And many people don’t know this. They think, “If I’m relaxed, if I sit back, if I drink a cup of tea, if I’m really, really listening to wonderful music, then I can easily reach my peak performance.” But actually, that’s not always true. You need to have kind of a challenge. And by the way, we found out that if you are slightly over-challenged, then it’s the best way to get into your peak performance. But I can come back to that later. I will first try to describe the third transmitter that we need.
And the third is Acetylcholine. That is something that helps you to focus on things. So that is the third ingredient that you need to focus on things. And guess what? Babies have that when they are focusing on things. You might have seen babies and observed babies when they are crawling around, and when they find something, you can hardly drag them away from it. If they see, for example, a little pen or something like this, they can stare at this pen for a very long time, and they examine this pen, and they don’t stop doing that, as if it was the most interesting thing in the world. And actually, it is at that very moment for them.

Pete Mockaitis
I can see the baby in my mind’s eye, with the fixed gaze and the open mouth like “Wow.”

Hans Hagemann
Yeah. That’s how they do it. And that gives you a good observation. Then you can see, “Wow, this baby is totally focused on what he or she is doing.” And actually, we are distracted these days. We have all these distractions around us, so we have to get back to focus on things. So if these three things come together—dopamine, noradrenaline, and acetylcholine – then you can say you have reached the DNA of peak performance. Or if you want to say it very easily, fun, fear, and focus. That is what you need.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s so fascinating. And I think I’ve been there. Just recently, I was doing some coaching with some executives, a bit more senior than normal, about a topic. It’s more depth than normal. And so it was very achievable, but it was a mild fear, I think I would say. And sure enough, as I was preparing, I found myself in a deep focus zone for like over two hours in terms of “Okay, here is the outline, and here is the system, and here’s kind of the key piece that we’re going to reference, and here’s sort of the follow up pieces that I’ll share if it goes in that direction so I could make the best use of this time.” All that stuff.
And sure enough, I was right there, so it’s resonating. So the fun, fear, and focus… Okay, so that’s what I should be doing in the moment or the characteristics of the work. But is there anything I could do to kind of kick it up a notch in terms of with my own mental approach or attitude or diet or exercise? How do I get a whole bunch of dopamine, noradrenaline, and acetylcholine beyond doing fun, fearful, and focused stuff?

Hans Hagemann
It’s depending on what is missing. Is the fun missing? So make it fun. Make it more fun even. You have so many meetings probably which are totally serious or you read stuff which is not really interesting for you. But make it fun for yourself. Imagine it in a different context, for example. Imagine what you read is happening to some enemy of yours or something that you have fun by reading it. That makes it stick and more interesting for you by far.
And if it is, for example, the noradrenaline, if you are bored by what you are doing, and very often that happens, then you can try to add some excitement to it. Imagine that you have to do a presentation the next day to your boss exactly on this topic. Or you can imagine that you have heard that your client is absolutely interested in what you are doing there right now. So maybe that gives you the extra kick noradrenaline because that makes you think about “Wow. What can I do in order to get that client going again?” or “What can I do in order to get a bigger order from this client?” or “What can I do to have an exciting presentation to my client?” It’s all about your imagination in that very situation.
Or you can take it to a different level also. If you want to have more emotion in it, you can even think about impressing a woman with it or impressing some person which you really love, where you say, “Wow, that would be great if I could attract this person. But I have to do it a little bit different to do that.” So that would be something.
And sharpen the focus. This is also very important. Very often, you have all these distractions. Your phone is ringing and maybe you are checking emails in between because you’re getting bored. Don’t do that. Shut off your cellphone. And when I say shut off, I’m not telling about putting it on mute. What I mean is really shut it off because that’s a difference for your brain. If it is on mute, it still can flash or it can ring or move, or it can give you a message or something like this. But if it’s switched off, your brain has got the order, “Oh, wait a minute. Nothing can happen with this cellphone. Everything is okay.”

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. And so a number of those pieces then, when it comes to the dopamine and noradrenaline, was you’re kind of manipulating those variables simply by imagining something. And so can you share maybe a study or research insight that says that that really does something? Some might say, “Well, hey, I’m just dreaming it up. Does that really have an effect?”

Hans Hagemann
There are some studies which even prove that your muscles are growing just by observing people who are doing their workouts.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that sounds easy.

Hans Hagemann
But it’s amazing. It demonstrates what our imagination can do. And I think there are some studies which we point out in the book especially on these effects. And the imagination is something that you can use for very many things, but there is one thing you have to be careful about. And that is, if you imagine, for example, to be a superstar, that’s very often this kind of positive thinking that people try to sell this whole idea of “Fake it until you can make it.”
That does not always work. There are studies that say that if you are not really believing in it, then it doesn’t work and it does exactly the opposite. So if you don’t believe that you are ready to be a superstar in a few months, but you are telling yourself all the time that you will, which also fosters your imagination about this, it gives it a wrong spin. It leads to a point where you, in the end, increase the difference between reality and what you really perceive in a way that the chance that you will fail is even higher than to succeed or even stay on the same level. And those are interesting things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is interesting. And I’m wondering. So maybe let’s take an example. Let’s just imagine that what it’s called for in the next hour or two of time and life is handling a ton of emails inside an inbox. And so that’s probably not particularly fun or fearful, and some folks may very well want to escape it, in terms of entertaining Facebook or some other distractions. So putting these tools to work, if that’s what I needed, if I want to enter the zone, the flow state of email dominance, what would you do?

Hans Hagemann
Well, I think it’s very difficult to get in a flow state by checking your emails. At least for me, that’s pretty difficult, and for most of the clients I work with as well because most of these emails are creating… I wouldn’t say problems, but come up with extra work, come up with negative things, come up with problems. So in most of these inboxes, you have lots of negative surprises and it’s hard to get into a flow.
If you really talk about flow, if we want to get into a flow state, which by the way creates five times higher productivity as a study by McKinsey has shown, then you need three things. And this is very interesting. The first thing you need is a well-defined goal. And here again, we are at the acetylcholine. It’s that well-defined goal that we need. So the best thing you can do: visualize things.
That means, for example, let’s say you are working on a presentation which comes maybe close to the mail checking sometimes, but actually you can determine much more. It’s you who are writing the presentation and you can determine what’s happening there. So imagine you think about “Well, I will do some slides on our successes.” That is not catchy at all. This is something which is not clear. It’s not a clear goal. It’s not a well-defined goal. It’s something that you might have in the end, but this is nothing that in any way creates an acetylcholine burst or something like this.
So instead of that, be more precise and say, “Hey, I want to have two slides which compare our service to the best competitor.” And make it specific. And then you can imagine. “Ah, that makes sense. Okay. Let’s see. I have some ideas what that will be.” And that creates more focus in that moment, so you can visualize and you have this well-defined goal.
Now, the second thing that you need. You need an optimal challenge. And here, we are back again to our noradrenaline because the optimal challenge means you need to be slightly over-challenged, as we said before. And that means instead of saying “We want it sometime next month,” for example, “It’s enough if I have it in two weeks’ time,” have a really clear timeline and say, “By the end of tomorrow, I will have these two slides done.” So that is the second thing that you need. A clear timeline. That helps a lot.
And then the third thing, you need dopamine, of course. We talked about that. That’s another thing. You need something that really gives you a burst of dopamine. And that is gotten by clear, immediate feedback. So very often, you are working on that presentation and you get no clear, immediate feedback. It’s something you say “Well, I’m not really satisfied.”
And let’s imagine you say, “Okay, it’s sufficient,” or your superior tells you, “Come back with the end result in two weeks.” There’s no feedback in between. You need feedback in between which is absolutely clear. So for example, you can say, “Hey, there are three milestones that I want to reach. I want to have the structure. I want to have Slide 1 done, and I want to have Slide 2 done.” And that is something which means I have a clear feedback for all these stages.
So again, these three things that we need. We need acetylcholine to visualize something. We need the noradrenaline to have this little fear, to be slightly over-challenged. And we need dopamine in order to really get things going and get the motivation going. And now, the interesting thing is if you see how video games… I have three kids, three boys. They are 14, 12, and 10 years old. And these boys are constantly playing video games. And actually, what are they doing there? You can hardly get them away from their smartphones where they are playing, or their iPads.
Now, what these guys are doing is they are exactly in a flow induced by these three things. The video gamers know exactly what to do. First of all, they have a well-defined goal because they want to reach the next level. This is something that they want to do, and all these games are kind of in this way. Then the optimal challenge means you need to shoot two or three enemies and hit them exactly in this and this place in order to have enough credits to reach the next level.
And then you get clear, immediate feedback, all these noises, “Ding ding ding. Bang bang bang.” Every time they do something, they get a clear, immediate feedback. And so it is no wonder that they are totally in a flow situation. And if we simply think about these things and apply them more to our workplaces, I think we are doing a great job in engaging our employees by doing so. That is something really fascinating if you see that in action.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is fascinating. And it’s true how sure enough, I think just earlier I was visualizing a slide about this podcast listener audience and comparing it to the typical podcast listener audience. By the way, it’s higher income and more educated, so nice job, everybody, for being such winners.

Hans Hagemann
Very good.

Pete Mockaitis
And so because I was visualizing that, it really did kind of galvanize my focus and attention and enthusiasm for “Well, where can I find the typical podcast listener? Where would I find them? Oh, well, that’s over in this study. And now let’s see. Do those categories match up just right? Oh, not quite. They’re slightly different buckets.” And so sure enough, the time breezes by and it’s exciting when you come away with it.

Hans Hagemann
So you are slipping right into a flow state, and that’s what we want, absolutely. But of course, you cannot keep the flow all the time. That would be totally exhausting. Some people think, “Well, we can stay in the flow state. The target should be we should have as many flow states as possible, and if possible, link them together, and then that would be some kind of an eternal flow.”
This is pure nonsense, of course. The systems have to recreate. They have to recover, of course, and we need some downtime. And that’s the magic between having enough sleep, having good nutrition, having exercises, and then perform. This is something that many people forget. If you see a 100-meter sprinter, for example, how often will he reach this peak performance in his 100 meters? He does that maybe 20 times a season, but not more, or let’s say 30 times a season.
What does he do the rest of the time? He’s preparing. He knows the rhythm. He’s exactly aware of how he can introduce his flow state, what he needs to do in order to get there at the right point in time. And that’s the magic. Find ways to create your flow state at any time you need it. That is the magic, not try to increase the duration of the flow state.
And by the way, there’s another very interesting thing pragmatically, how we use this. What we do is when we have teams, remember when I explained the connection between arousal, so the magnitude of your arousal, with the mental high performance? If you imagine this as two axes, and you have the axis which points to the sky is the axis that says this is the mental performance, and the other, the horizontal axis, is the arousal axis.
And then you would imagine on the left end, you are close to a coma. There’s no arousal. And then on the right end, you will have something close to a heart attack. That would be the scale. Then most of the people have pretty much in the middle their flow state, as I explained. But the interesting thing is that we all have this inverted U function. There’s the point where you are overexcited, and then of course, the peak performance declines.
But people have different locations on this horizontal axis. That means some of your team members might use less arousal in order to create their peak performance. And then when others are even starting to get into their peak performance, they are totally stressed out. They are already in the zone where they are stressed, where they are not performing very well anymore.
And now the interesting thing is when we do this with teams working in high performance environments, of course, in top organizations, in top companies, when we do that, what do you think most people want to be? They want to be to the right. They want to be these people whom you can wake up in the middle of the night and they’re immediately there, and they can be under high pressure and then they perform. This is something like a heroic idea of people in companies. And very often, if you see people at the top, this is exactly what got them there. They are people who can stand the heat, who can stand the pressure. And most of them even need the pressure in order to get to peak performance.
Now, here’s the catch. Those people, by the way, sometimes it’s a gene mutation that these people have. It’s nothing scary, but at least you can see it. We call it the sensation seekers. So those people totally to the right are the sensation seekers. So all the other team members might be spread over this axis, and sensation seekers are not sensitive to that. They think those people are losers. They are looking to the left and say, “What’s happening? These people cannot stand the pressure. I don’t want to work with these people.”
But here’s the interesting thing. What do you think if you see the distribution of people? Where are the Nobel Prize winners? They are very often to the very left because those are people who are easily aroused, if you want so. If there is a very small change in things that they observe, if you are a scientist, of course, you are looking, you are staring into some machine or something, and you observe what’s going to happen there, and you do this over two years, or even three or more years, and you go to work every morning at 8:00 and you go home at 5:00, and you have stared into this machine and you have seen patterns of prints which are totally boring for sensation seekers. But you need these people in order to find out, “Wow, this is kind of a high performance,” when you discover something really new.
And to give you an easy example, if you are close to a heart surgery, what kind of surgeon would you like to take? The one who tells you, “Wait a minute. This is my 200th surgery and I’m bored to death,” and I put you on the surgery equipment the other way around and I put my blindfolds on because then I get into my peak performance, or the other one who says, “Wait a minute. We should be very careful. We will have four or five machines which work at the same time and they are super independent. And if one machine fails, the other one will take over. And if the second fails, the third will take over. And I’ll tell you what. I’ll take the fourth machine as well for you.”? So which would be the surgeon you’d want to have?
So that means all of a sudden, they get a feeling, “Aha. Those people who are very sensitive towards stress, for example, or towards sensations, towards feelings, towards arousal,” all of a sudden, they see, “Wait a minute. These people are very valuable in our team. Talking about diversity, we need these people.” And very often, we have an instrument that measures exactly where you are on this arousal curve.
And that’s an eye opener for teams because now they say, “Wait a minute. Of course, I have totally misunderstood my colleagues so far.” And also, the people to the left say that on the people to the right because they think these are crazy idiots who totally exaggerate all the time and who are bringing them into danger. So there’s a misunderstanding on both sides. And by knowing these things, people are developing a better understanding for each other. That’s very helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think that is helpful, and I see that in my workshops frequently if we’re talking about Myers-Briggs or something. It’s like we tend to have an assumption that others are the way we are, or they should be the way we are. And then when you open up their eyes, it’s like “Oh, no. Folks are putting it differently, and that can really be an asset in different contexts.” It’s pretty eye-opening.

Hans Hagemann
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
And I also want to get your take, then. When it comes to these different levels of arousal and things, if we’re feeling too stressed or not stressed enough, you talked about the imagination approach. Are there other strategies of what you call cognitive jujitsu to regulate our emotions upward or downward on the stress continuum or on any other dimension?

Hans Hagemann
Yeah. That’s a very, very interesting and very relevant topic, by the way. It’s about regulating emotions. That’s very important. What we can see is there’s kind of a ban of emotions in the business world, so the only things that you can see is that people are screaming at each other maybe. But very often, other kinds of emotions, like being angry or being sad or all this spectrum of emotions, is somehow not allowed. People think, “Oh, these are weak people who demonstrate emotions.”
But the magic behind this is if you don’t confess the emotions, if you don’t stand to your emotions, then of course, you will inhibit your emotions. And that’s the worst thing you can do. Emotions stem from a system which we call the limbic system, and that is the system which is not in your cognitive control. Those are things that happen.
Imagine you are sitting in a meeting and somebody is saying something really stupid. What do you think how most people react? From my observation, people don’t correspond. They sit there, and then what happens is that they say, “Well, emotions are the wrong thing here right now. I have to stay calm. I have to stay rational. I have to stay cool.” While they are doing that, they are in a process of inhibiting, which means they are fighting with their cognitive system, which is basically based in the prefrontal cortex, of course. They are fighting with their prefrontal cortex against the limbic system. This is a fight you will never win. You will have done often times, but the limbic system in the end is stronger.
So a good technique to gain back control is labeling what happens. Labeling means give the feeling that you have an expression and say it. Tell this other person, “What you say makes me angry.” And by saying this, you are gaining back cognitive control because now your system is in line again. You are not working against something or trying to suppress something. Now, all of a sudden, your system is in line again and you have gained back cognitive control. And that helps you in order to stay on top of the situation.
What you also can do, and it is the second thing that we absolutely highly recommend, is take a deep breath. So breathing is a very, very good technique. Breathe very slowly, inhale, and then take a little bit of time, and slowly exhale.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, is that in through the nose, out through the mouth? Or is that irrelevant?

Hans Hagemann
Yeah. That’s a good idea to do that way. It helps, but that is not the decisive factor. The decisive factor is that you take the air into your belly. And very often… I don’t know how you’ve been educated. When I was a little kid, my parents always said, “Well, fill up your lungs with the air, with fresh air. And when you breathe, breathe it into your lungs and have a good body posture,” which led me to the point that I learned to breathe into my lungs.
And of course, everyone breathes into their lungs, but the question is what is your posture when you do it? And I always tried to make a good posture, and that means to make my muscles stronger when I’m breathing. You can just try it. Most of the executives do the same thing. Now, belly breathing is something where you are totally relaxed and you breathe the air that you inhale into your belly, and you can really feel that your belly gets bigger when you do that.
If you really want to relax, breathe into your belly. It’s a very good thing. And then slowly breathe out. Slower, then you have a breathe in.
And you can practice that everywhere. We have a colleague who does that at traffic light stops. He used to be very annoyed when he had to stop at traffic lights because “Oh my god. That takes my time,” and he got even more stressed. And now he replaced it by a new habit, which gives him a lot of stress relief, and that’s the inhaling/exhaling exercise. And that’s fantastic if you want to reduce stress.

Pete Mockaitis
That is good. Thank you. Well, there are so much stuff I want to talk about, but I want to be respectful of the time given. It’s later there. So maybe if we could go rapid fire and do a couple more tidbits, what should we know about habits, forming them and keeping them going?

Hans Hagemann
Well, habits are a little bit difficult because habits, of course, stay very, very steadfast in your system. What you can do is you have all these New Year’s resolutions. As you know, people try to find habits. “I want to change habits. I want to do something.” Actually, what we think, there is a nice way of getting rid of habits and learning new habits, which is taking small steps. If there’s one shot about habits, I would say don’t exaggerate because you’ll scare yourself. Most people say, “From tomorrow on, I don’t drink beer anymore,” or “From tomorrow on,” and that is around New Year’s Eve, of course, people say, “I’ll stop smoking.” That’s not a good idea because that takes away too much. Just do little steps.
For example, if you want to create a habit that you run, then it’s pretty much enough if you buy new running shoes the first day. And the second day, you just put the running shoes at the place in front of the doorway you want to use them. And on the third day, you just try them on and walk a little bit. And on the fourth day, you start to move a little bit quicker. So don’t try to run the marathon on the first day and then get disappointed, and you’re not motivated anymore for creating a new habit. Small steps are the most important things.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. And you’ve also got some work on the unconscious mind and how we can actually sort of tap into some of the wisdom that we don’t even know we have. How does that work?

Hans Hagemann
That’s all about intuitive decision making. I see a big future for intuitive decision making. We all want to be very rational, and most of the decisions we try to do very rational. That means we want to have all the facts and put everything together. Now, the interesting thing is if you’re an expert, and there are experiments about it and studies about it, if you’re an expert, intuitive decision making is better.
What does that mean? The more information you get when you are an expert, the worse your decision gets. The more you do it intuitively, the better the decision is. …did a lot of great work on this. Now, the interesting thing is, of course, you acquire intuition over time, only by experience, only by, let’s say, doing things over and over and see the consequences of the things that happen. And after a while, it’s automated. Those are automated processes. And you don’t have access to these processes anymore, but you know this is the right thing to do.
And the problem that we have in practical situations in teams very often, because we all have these diverse teams these days, is that we have 57-year-old experts around the table plus, let’s say, 25-year-old Harvard people coming from the university, being very fresh, gaining experience. Now they are discussing a topic and the 57-year-old guy says, “I know exactly how to do it. Let’s do it this way.”
And then the 25-year-old looks at him and says, “Wait a minute. How do you know?” And the interesting thing is then that the 57-year-old says, “Well, I simply know it. I did that over many years, and this is the right thing to do.” And as the nature of the intuitive decision is, he cannot explain how he does it. It’s like data which have been zipped into a folder. And of course, there are mechanisms how you can get it, but you need the key for it. And very often, these people have lost the key, but they do the right thing.
Now, the 25-year-old has the right to hear because he wants to learn. He doesn’t want to take a wild guess and he doesn’t know how the person does that. What happens now is that the 25-year-old insists on knowing how do you do that. And the more he does that, the more he puts the 57-year-old under pressure. And the more he puts him under pressure, the more nonsense the 57-year-old will tell. But still the decision is better.
And here’s the thing. That leads to the point that the 25-year-old will be very, very polite, of course, but turns away and tells his colleagues, “Well, you know what? In our company, we have crazy people. They do things they cannot explain. They don’t know what’s happening, but they do their decisions. So what kind of a company is that here?” And that’s an interesting thing. We have seen it so often now. And by understanding the most important facts about intuitive decision making, you can create much better decision making in teams and in companies.
Actually, there’s a very good tip about getting back your intuition. Sometimes, even if you are an intuitive decision maker, if you are an expert of something, some people might have given you so much information that you are totally overloaded and flooded. And as we know, the decision gets worse. So how do you deal with such a situation?
Jon Schooler, our dear friend and colleague from Santa Barbara University, he has a great advice. He says, “Take a coin and determine which side would be which decision. And then flip the coin. And then, the moment the coin lands, have a look how the coin has decided. And the feeling that you get in that moment is the right decision.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. Like “Oh, no!” or “Yes!”

Hans Hagemann
Exactly. Absolutely. And that always works. If you have the feeling, “Hmm, let’s flip the coin another time,” then you know. Do the opposite of what the coin tells you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Final thought here. You had a blog post mentioning there’s a common behavior that has been shown to decrease your IQ by as much as 15 points.

Hans Hagemann
Oh, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
What is that, and what should we do instead?

Hans Hagemann
That’s interesting. That’s multitasking. And that’s another so interesting topic because everyone wants to multitask. And there are so many myths in the world about multitasking. But as a matter of fact, multitasking doesn’t work. But now we have to have the right interpretation of multitasking. So what is multitasking? We are defining multitasking as doing two rational tasks at the same time that’s as important, because you have tasks that you can do not in your rational mind, not in your prefrontal cortex, but from your limbic system. And those things you can do together.
Now, let’s have an example. You can drive a car, for example. Most of these processes you do unconsciously. We have learned it once. And then, as I talked about, the intuitive decision making, you have zipped it somehow and you do it automatically. If you drive to work, most probably, nowadays, you cannot say how many traffic lights you came across. And you’ll remember your first driving lesson. I bet you can tell it was 12 traffic lights, and you exactly know what happened at each of these traffic lights because you did it consciously. Now you do it more or less subconsciously.
Now, while you are driving and all these processes are automated, they went to your limbic system, which means it gives you a lot of space for your cognition. It gives you a lot of space for your prefrontal cortex to do something. So it’s pretty easy. I wouldn’t say it’s always possible because when we are very stressed…, you cannot do it. But you can be on the phone, for example, while you are driving. But here you can see, very often, there are overlaps. You are driving a little bit worse. You are not so focused on the telephone call. This is difficult.
Anyway, but those are two processes you can do that’s possible. What is not possible is two processes at the same time from your prefrontal cortex. That doesn’t work. There are so many studies that prove now that you need… There’s the 50/50 rule, if you want so. You need 50% more time and you make 50% more errors that you can say. That’s also very interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
When you’re multitasking as compared to single tasking?

Hans Hagemann
Absolutely. What the brain does, it switches back and forth. And of course, in between these switches, you need extra time to readjust to the task that you are doing. And the myth about multitasking stems from a completely different thing. It’s about, let’s say, having these two things, the one thing from your limbic system and the one thing from your prefrontal cortex. That works. You can iron, if you’re an expert in ironing, and at the same time, be on the phone or text or do some mails. That’s possible.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this is such good stuff. Hans, tell me, is there anything you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear quickly about some of your favorite things?

Hans Hagemann
I think if there was one tip for everyone, it would be stop multitasking and start focusing. I think that’s what it’s all about. Get more focused. We are so distracted. I can see that when I work with my clients, when I do my coaching. These people are totally overloaded with stuff and then they decorate their desks in an improper way. They put too much stuff on their desks which distracts them. They have their phones on all the time.
So create some breaks. We call it the 20-minute rule that you focus on something for 20 minutes. Interestingly enough, from our experience, many things that occur during the day you can do in a 20-minute time window if you focus on that, whatever that is. If it is kind of scratching out a presentation or something, you can do that easily in 20 minutes if you are totally focused. And then do a break, check your emails, and then switch it off again and do the next 20 minutes. That’s something that works.
By the way, I have some interesting tip for those people who are interested in change. There’s a great movie. It’s an old movie, but it’s great if you really want to know the nature of change. I mean, it is as if somebody would have written that who has a deep understanding of all this neuroscience. Get the movie “Sister Act.” You know “Sister Act”? It was Whoopi Goldberg.
I bet most of the listeners will have seen it already, but see it again and see it through the lens of a change manager who wants to implement change. Whoopi Goldberg is the perfect change manager. She does everything you need in the right order and in the right dose, in order to create a peak performance. And that’s excellent. You would see it with new eyes.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s fun. Thank you. Now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Hans Hagemann
Actually, I’m not so much inspired by quotes. For me personally, art is something that inspires me very much. And I was, last week, in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, and I went to the Bergamot Station. And there’s an Andy Warhol exhibition right now, and I like to see the craziness that he provides.
He bought a Rolls-Royce, but he never owned a driver’s license. So what happened is he was proud of his Rolls-Royce, and what he did is he invited all his friends to drive him around. So everybody wanted to drive a Rolls-Royce at that time in the ‘70s. And they all were sitting behind the steering wheel of his Rolls-Royce, but he never drove. And I like these crazy things. I like these crazy little stories, and they always inspire me very much.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. And could you share with us a favorite research or study that seems to come up again and again in your mind?

Hans Hagemann
Definitely, I mean, the favorite study that comes to my mind is the recent Google study on what makes teams perform highest. So what are the things, the factors that create highest performance in teams? Because this is actually the area I’m absolutely interested in. I see so many teams underperforming. And what happened is they examined… It’s the Aristotle study.
They tried to find out what are the factors that really create highest performance. What makes the difference between the teams here? And if there’s a company that knows how to deal with data, that’s probably Google. They tried to analyze everything, every single factor that might have an influence on highest performance in teams. And then in the end, they were kind of desperate because there was nearly nothing, except for one thing that significantly was responsible for highest performance in teams.
And that was psychological safety. Psychologically safe means they can say what they think is the right thing. They don’t need to fear about some negative effects if they tell negative things to their superiors. They can be open about everything. They can speak out crazy ideas. All this demonstrates psychological safety.
And now, the workplace reality that I see very often is that our companies are full of fear, full of people who are threatened in a way. And this is something that really creates lower performance, that really hinders us to create highest performance. This is something I can see everywhere. So that is the study that I would recommend everyone to read.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, yes, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Hans Hagemann
I would say I have two favorite books, and they also have something to do with imagination. The one book is a German book, and it is celebrities have been asked, and very successful people in their best years, let’s say, have been asked, “If you think back when you were 16, what advice would you give? So write a letter to yourself at the age of 16 from your perspective now.” I like this playing with, let’s say, time and imagination and different states of being.
So it is an interesting book. It’s full of wisdom because what happens is that 30 or 40, or even 50 or 60 years later, you write to yourself, seeing yourself as a 16-year-old person. And all the wisdom that you have learned over the years and all the failures and all the mistakes that you did are in this letter. And reading this letter, that’s fantastic. I don’t think it exists in English, unfortunately, but that’s a great book.
And the other book I really liked, I came across this book years ago. It’s the UNICEF which deals with children, of course. They have asked small kids who have no clue how things work, “What would you think…? Draw a picture of how this thing works. Explain it to us.” And they showed them fridges and they showed them cars and planes and all these things. And then you can see how kids draw how these machines are working. And it’s so full of inspiration because we are very often stuck to our way of seeing things, and kids are much more free. They can think out of the box much better, and we can’t do that. We try to construct things from our experience very often. And here you can see pure innovational spirit. That is something that I like.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And is there a favorite tool you have that helps you be awesome at your job, whether it’s a product or service or app or something that you use often that makes a difference?

Hans Hagemann
I think I have a practice which helped me a lot over the last two or three years, when I discovered that that boosts my productivity at least. I get up one hour earlier every morning. I used to get up at 8:00 or something. Now I get up at 6:30, before my family even gets up, to just have time in this quietness of the morning to get some things done.
I don’t check my mails. That’s very important. I have something I work on. For example, I read a passage in a book which I wanted to read. And I’m looking forward to that the evening before already. And then I have my quiet 60 minutes in the very morning because in the morning, you can determine what happens. Once you have dived into the business life again, many people are determining what’s happening. You get phone calls. You get mails. You get distractions everywhere. But these 60 minutes in the morning you can absolutely determine, and that’s worth gold.
And the other thing is, which links to that very much, I used to start my morning with checking my mails, I must say. The first thing in the morning, even before I went to the bathroom, I came across my phone and just had a quick glance at the mails that I’ve received. I don’t do that anymore. This somehow distracts you so much. What I do is I enjoy sitting there with my family having breakfast very early. If it is possible, taking kids to school and then check my mail because I’m much more focused and family life is much better.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. And would you say there’s a particular nugget or articulation of your message that seems to really resonate with your clients or audiences?

Hans Hagemann
Definitely. What I can say is the DNA of peak performance. That’s what we explained before. Once people understand that peak performance is only possible if you have these three transmitter substances, as we said, it helps them a lot. They much more focus on these three things, and they are much more sensitive also for these different stages of the arousal curve of others. And that helps very much in understanding other people.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And Hans, is there an ideal place for folks to reach out or get to know more about what you’re up to? Where would you point folks?

Hans Hagemann
There are two points of contact. The one thing is our company’s website. It’s munichleadership.com. Pretty easy. And the other one, of course, is specifically for the book. It’s theleadingbrain.com. And these two are full of information and links and all the information you need.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks looking to be more awesome at their jobs?

Hans Hagemann
Yeah. Again, that’s stop multitasking. Start focusing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Hans Hagemann
I’m pretty sure that this boosts your creativity.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Hans Hagemann
And then maybe switch your cellphones from time to time. I’m really serious with this. Switch it off.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Hans, thank you so much for staying up late in Munich for us. This was a ton of fun. And I wish you lots of luck with your consulting practice and book and everything you’re doing.

Hans Hagemann
Thank you so much, Pete. It was a pleasure for me, although it’s very late here. But again, a pleasure. It was really great.

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