Inside the Brains of Winners

July 3, 2013, 12:13 PM

Inside the Brains of Winners

By Jeff Brown

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Everyone knows a name dropper when they hear one. Buzz names like Gates, Jiwei, Jobs, Nooyi, Zuckerberg and Winfrey can give dramatic pause to a conversation and pique collegial interest. But their mere mention can also throw a name dropper under the credibility bus quicker than they can say “My cousin was college roommates with J.K. Rowling’s agent’s sister.”If you’re in the know, you’ve already gathered that success is more about the brain than ever before. Cognitive neuroscience has revealed and continues to expose the incredible capacities of the human brain, particularly as they relate to success and optimization. When it comes to your professional reputation, having others chatting it up about your super successful brain should be the goal. Here are four brain strategies that people who consistently grasp success claim as their own—and you can, too.

First, develop an Opportunity Radar. An Opportunity Radar is a successful person’s ability to recognize non-traditional paths or circumstances leading to positive outcomes. How do you do that? Make sacrifices to be in the right place at the right time, don’t let your confidence rest only in your salary, don’t just think outside of the box—create your own boxes, some of which you may never use, but that’s OK. You can either stand around in long line to ride the success Ferris Wheel, or figure out how you can build your own thrilling ride by finding the right non-traditional opportunity. Of course, getting on that wild ride may take some nerve. Truly successful brains have risk management figured out to a degree as well. Read on.

You’ll need to calibrate your Optimal Risk Gauge. Successful people know when and how to take risk and they most likely learned much of what they know about risk by doing things the hard way. We’re not just talking entrepreneurial risk, but all kinds of risks: time, relationships, financial, creative. Research amply explains that too little or too much risk leads to dissatisfying failure, but a moderate level of risk appropriately challenges us so we remain motivated, confident, and leave plenty of room for gaining knowledge and insight while we avoid stagnation. That means you‘ll need to find comfort outside of your comfort zone, take inventory of your risk and avoidance patterns, and closely examine what you believe about yourself and your ability to rebound when a plan fails. Are you a renegade or an ostrich? What if you’re new at taking risks altogether?  Don’t panic. If you’ve got room for professional growth, knowledge and skill, you’re still positioned well to reach success.

Your Talent Meter, the third factor, will help you unfold a critical part of your success story. You’ve got to have talent, regardless of how you get it. What is sadder than sad is someone believing they’re doing a particular task well and in reality, they aren’t even coming close to being competent (think “American Idol” audition reel here). Academia refers to this pitiful insight as the Dunning-Kruger effect, also known as the Double Whammy of Incompetence. Accomplished people have lively Talent Meters that are always assessing their knowledge and skills, informing them about their success potential from day to day. Knowing your strengths, but even more importantly knowing your weaknesses and not fearing them, is vital to your success.  In business world circles, it can be a career-branding faux pas to affiliate with failure, lacking knowledge, or skill deficits. That said, those people who embrace success consistently have their Talent Meters turned on 24/7. They are constantly learning, gathering information, watching for mentors, practicing, reading and rereading, evaluating personal and professional insufficiencies, and fearlessly doing something about all of them when they turn up on the short end of the talent stick. Even better, successful brains will still have room left to spare once they are jammed with new information and skills.

Speaking of information, it’s common to hear the expression of being on “information overload.” To meet with success, your brain needs a Focus Laser, the fourth critical ingredient to a science-focused, success-attaining strategy recipe. A Focus Laser defines much of what your brain is about: attention, intention, motivation, distraction. Successful people are able to use their brains to lock onto a goal in the future and not let other factors distract them from it. Culturally, we could also say we are on “opportunity overload” and fear missing out on something that could possibly be life-changing, even if we don’t know what it is yet.  The successful brain stays focused. That means saying no to oncoming opportunities unless they relate to the goal, reducing your commitment load at work and home when possible, learning a prioritization system based on your goal


and personal value systems (and use it), sticking relatively close to budgets, and throw multitasking out the window because your brain isn’t wired for it.

Research is handing over the owner’s manual to our brain at a robust pace, one section at a time.  Let’s admit it, name droppers like to talk about their latest e-gadget, but they’ll be talking about your most efficient gadget once you start using it to its fullest. The best part? You already own it—your brain.

Dr. Jeff Brown is an assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School, and the co-author of “The Winner’s Brain: 8 Strategies Great Minds Use to Achieve Success.” His website

The Winner’s Brain: 8 Strategies Great Minds Use to Achieve Success [Paperback]

Dr. Jeff Brown (Author), Mark Fenske (Author), Liz Neporent (Contributor)

Book Description

Publication Date: March 22, 2011 | ISBN-10: 0738214698 | ISBN-13: 978-0738214696 | Edition: First Trade Paper Edition

What can you learn about success from a robot? And why shouldn’t you take a test while wearing red? In The Winner’s Brain, Harvard-trained brain experts Jeff Brown and Mark Fenske explore the surprising science behind motivation, focus, and extraordinary achievement–identifying eight essential “win factors”–and why the key to success really is all in your head.

The book includes dozens of interviews with notable winners, from B.B. King and Olympian Kerri Strug to the Whac-A-Mole™ inventor. Compulsively readable, The Winner’s Brain will show you how to unlock your hidden potential and give yourself an edge.

Editorial Reviews


An American Booksellers Association Indie Finance & Personal Investing bestseller (4/13/11), 3/29/11
“The writers demonstrate how we can change our neurocircuitry to take charge of our fate.”

Spirituality & Practice
“Some of the most fascinating and impressive material in this book comes in small pieces: material on mirror neurons and their role in empathy, the skills needed to perfect your reading of the body language of others, the importance of focus and the problem of distractions, the art of reframing a highly emotional event, tips in constructing a proactive brain, and making memories durable.”

Newsday, 4/26/11
“A sophisticated blend of cutting-edge scientific research (written for nonscientists) and doable tips.”

Midwest Book Review, May 2011
“A highly recommended read for anyone who wants to put positive thinking to good business.”, 6/14/11

“Interesting anecdotes and exercises…The writers are also able to explain the brain without using too many medical terms to scare away or bore the person who just wants to be successful.”

Curled Up with a Good Book, 8/7/11
“[A] well-rounded book…There is enough science to satisfy the skeptical reader and plenty of real-world examples to emulate.”

Portland Book Review, September-November 2011

“This book is not only for business folks, but artists, musicians, inventors, athletes—anyone who wishes to excel. The book is delightfully accessible…With this book as a guide, there’s no excuse for failure.”

About the Author

Jeff Brown, PSYD, ABPP, is a cognitive behavioral psychologist at Harvard Medical School. He lives in Boston.

Mark Fenske, PhD, is a neuroscientist and associate professor in psychology at the University of Guelph. He lives in Ontario, Canada.


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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