Sunday, March 3, 2013

Why Steve Jobs Never Gave a Zebra an Ulcer

So, I recently finished "Unconscious Branding" which J gave me for Christmas, bless her heart.

 Mostly a how-to guide about applying recent developments in neuroscience and evolutionary psychology, the book is a great foundational play-by-play overview for well-intentioned marketing. There are lots of case studies.

Another great book, that you might not think of as being chock full of case studies, is the Steve Jobs Biography. I just finished that one yesterday.

And now I'm beginning to read "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers", by a biology/neurology researcher and professor, mostly coming from a zoological perspective, which has always been one of my favorite perspectives because it tends to keep people from saying absolutely dumb things about people not being animals just like the rest of 'em.

And also because I heart Richard Dawkins, even if he, unfortunately, has decided to judo-flip evangelical creationism with equally short-sighted evangelical evolutionism.

 But I digress.

The branding/marketing book taught me that people respond to baser instincts, namely defensive ones- the brain is a homeostasis machine, first and foremost. To get someone to do something, appeal to the 'reptile' brain.

The Steve Jobs book taught me that dedication and single-mindedness help produce great things, as does that feeling of a good play: where the tension of the crew and actors is equal and palpable, and stress rises and falls as a group. 

In a play, for no particular reason all these people are going nuts, but the high level of camaraderie is equally nuts. I think if you tried to shut down a play in the middle of hell week you'd have a mutiny because in some ways a fully-invested performance is more important than life itself. And I've always wondered, what is it about certain circumstances, like a play or a rocket launch, or a climbing expedition or a sail around cape horn- that encourages this thicker-than-blood bond, this synergy in a group of otherwise extremely different people?

Then the Zebra stress book tells me animals don't get ulcers basically because people overcomplicate things.

 We get all bent out of shape over continual risks to our survival or perception. We stress out when there's no need to. 

 So I realized: Steve Jobs was successful because he was able to get everyone on the same stress playbook, so-to-speak, by scaring the shit out of everyone at the same times. He also forced people to either become experts at managing their own stress responses, or he burned them out of the company, increasing his odds of keeping only strongly motivated and dedicated people on his team. 

 He also used these baser instincts to propel people into doing nearly impossible feats- by forcing his team into picturing things at the bottom (this is shit), people are more willing to gamble for big payoffs. It’s a crucial part of “reality distortion”. 

 He somehow intuited a way to force himself and others to do amazing things by conducting that stress response. 

 This also explains why the saying “Stick with the system” (our new product slogan at RMS, whether people realize it or not) is nigh-magical to Andy and I. 

 It is playing off of people’s risk aversion. And when people are generally fairly comfortable, there is no reason they would want to break the system, because that induces a stress or anxiety response.

RMS has a system, we take care of the stress for you. 

 “System” implies the individual need not take the blame if something goes wrong, they are merely a cog in the machine. It allows a deferral of responsibility, just like in big corporations (or at RMS). We are taking on the accountability of you using our system. 

 Mirror-image: In order to get people devoted to really big hard scary tasks, Jobs had to make the individuals each personally accountable for perhaps even more than what was really within their control. 

 And this might also explain the paradox of why A-types tend to be super stressed-out in order to get really high grades but every once in a while you get a casual cucumber who can just waltz through with top grades.

 Most of the time, I don't think it's because that person is a genius- I think it's probably because they figured out a way to get their brain to focus single-mindedly on things for a while, and so they get to reap the benefits of that single-mindedness. 

 Most people have to get stressed out to get that focused. 

 And sometimes, we get so stressed that our stress responses go haywire and harm us. 

 And that's where the Zebra book seems to be headed. I'll let you know. 


 Maybe some people have figured out other systems, ways of accomplishing single-minded focus and dedication without triggering a stress response. 

 What if people had learned to flip the roles of what we generally consider the conscious and unconscious brain? 

 What about Zen Buddhism? 

 Could that be the secret key to unlock human potential without getting as bent out of shape?

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