Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Harness Your Brainpower by Harvey Mackay

Knowledge is power.

How much do you know about everything? How much do you know about a lot of things? Okay, how much do you know about a few things?

If these seem like odd questions, stop and ponder what you know versus what you don’t. Then consider how you would get along if you needed good information on topics that were outside your comfort zone.

As former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson said, “I not only use all the brains I have but all that I can borrow.”

I would add this: and all that I can buy, if necessary.

I rely on experts for all kinds of information. I preach the importance of building a network of experts before you need them so that they are there when you do. Whether it’s a surgeon, realtor, auto mechanic or a master salesperson, I want the best. And I will return the favor whenever I can, whether it’s business advice, a reference, or tickets to a sporting event, concert or the theatre.

But let me make this very clear: I also rely on my own instincts, because, eventually, it all comes back to me. I weigh the information I receive from others, and make the best judgment I can. For instance, I am the first to admit that most technology baffles me. But show me how a new gizmo can make my life easier, make my business more successful, save me time, or just add to my fun, and I’m sold. That’s why I use a BlackBerry.

I try to absorb and retain as much information from my experts as I can. You never know when it will come in handy, or when you will find another application for it.

Carl Ally, founder of Ally & Gargano, one of the 20th century’s most successful advertising agencies, had an interesting take on knowledge: “The creative person wants to be a know-it-all. He wants to know about all kinds of things: ancient history, nineteenth century mathematics, current manufacturing techniques, flower arranging and hog futures, because he never knows when these ideas might come together to form a new idea. It may happen six minutes later or six months or six years down the road. But he has faith that it will happen.”

All of us have the ability to gain more knowledge. The brain is amazing. While the old theory that we use only 10 percent of our brains has been widely debunked, there’s plenty of evidence that we can increase our brainpower, retention and focus. Plenty of books and websites offer all kinds of help. I’m not endorsing any specific method, but I would encourage you to check out ways to expand your horizons.

In the meantime, you can take some basic steps to improve your knowledge:

Read. Pick out books, newspapers, websites, encyclopedias, anything with information that teaches you something you didn’t already know. Play Trivial Pursuit or watch Jeopardy. Learn something new every day. In my opinion, there are no such things as useless facts. If it’s part of our world, it’s worth knowing. I will get on my soapbox here again: embrace lifelong learning.

Listen. Sounds simple enough, but it’s so easy to be distracted. Focus on the speaker. If you don’t hear it the first time, ask the person to repeat it. Make sure you understand what’s been said. You will be surprised what you can learn.

Pay attention to what’s happening around you. According to MENSA, the organization for people with high IQs, current research shows that at least 52 percent of our intelligence is based on our environment.

Exercise and eat healthy. What’s good for the body is also good for the brain. Another reason not to put off taking care of yourself!

Get some sleep. Our country is chronically sleep-deprived, which negatively affects our thought processes. So along with “beauty sleep,” go for the “smart sleep.”

You will soon learn that you are capable of more than you imagined. You will also learn to recognize your limitations. If you know that you don’t know something, or don’t know how to find an answer, you’ll know it’s time to ask for help. Tap into all the brains you need—they just might not all be housed in your head.

Mackay’s Moral: Sometimes being smart means recognizing when you’re not.

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