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4:30 – Show Me the Data
18:50 – How PhDs Are Elevating Their Career Performance in 2019 w/ Steven Kotler
51:30 – Quality Manager Career Track w/ Ranjani Muralidharan, Ph.D.
Are you setting yourself up to perform well in your industry career?
Ready to learn how you can elevate your career performance?
In this episode of Cheeky Scientist Radio, we are joined by Steven Kotler Director of Research at the Flow Genome Project and expert on peak performance divulges how PhDs can improve both their job search and career success. We also have on Ranjani Muralidharan, Ph.D. Quality Manager & Cosmetic Chemist, who discusses her transition into industry and what PhDs need to know about quality management.
About Our Guests
Steven Kotler is a New York Times bestselling author, an award-winning journalist and the cofounder and director of research of the Flow Genome Project. He is one of the world’s leading experts on high performance. His most recent work, Stealing Fire, was a national bestseller and nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. It documents an underground revolution in peak performance that is rapidly going mainstream, fueling a trillion dollar economy and forcing us to rethink how we lead more satisfying, productive and meaningful lives.
Ranjani Muralidharan completed her Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry at the University of South Florida. She then worked in environmental remediation as a Scientist. Ranjani recently transitioned to a new role as Quality Manager and Cosmetic Chemist at Malibu Wellness. In her spare time, Ranjani likes to volunteer at soup kitchens and medical camps at homeless shelters.
1. Multitasking, or switch-tasking, inhibits your performance and can decrease your ability to think creatively.
2. When you are in a flow state is when you will perform at your peak.
3. Reframe anxiety by remembering that the same chemical that causes anxiety causes excitement. It’s all about your perspective of the situation. Try Saying “I am excited” outloud to your self a few times to reframe the situation.
Why Switch-Tasking Is Damaging To Your Performance And Your Career
An article published in PLOSone, found that media multitasking, or quickly switching between different tasks, was associated with a decreased size of the person’s Anterior Cingulate Cortex. This area of the brain regulates how we decide what information is important, a key skill for making good decisions. This area also contributes to emotional and social control, aka your emotional intelligence.
So multitasking is associated with a decrease in the size of the part of your brain that enables you to make good decisions and act appropriately in social situations, not good.
Also, a study published in the journal of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences found that those who are known heavy task-switchers performed worse on cognitive performance tests than those who were light task-switchers.
Employers want to hire people who will be performing at the highest possible state.
Constantly switch-taking is keeping you out of the ‘zone’ or out of your flow state and preventing you from reaching your peak performance.
How PhDs Are Elevating Their Career Performance in 2019: A Conversation With Steven Kotler
Isaiah: I know that you’ve recently went from being a journalist to co-founding this Genome Project, which is quite a jump, right? When you’ve gone to these transition points, what initiated them, and then what has helped you make the transition no matter what the new topic was you were getting into?
Steven: Those are interesting questions. So, one answer, I have found … Einstein famously said, “You can’t solve the problem you’re trying to solve at the level that you’re at.” I find oftentimes that’s very true in a career.
So, sometimes, for example, when I wanted to get, and this going to sound really weird, but when I wanted to solidify my career as a book writer, I started a dog sanctuary because it got my mind off the topic of writing. I was so focused on the thing that I was trying to fix at my career and everything else, that I was too tight.
And there’s a direct correlation between the amount of norepinephrine, which is essentially anxiety in your system and your ability to think creatively.
Think about it as a spectrum, right? When you have a ton of norepinephrine in your system, you’re in fight or flight and you have two options. You can fight or you can flee, right? Or you can freeze, which is what happens when your brain gets both signals at once and you’re paralyzed, right? On The opposite end of that spectrum is flow, where you’re at peak performance and you can go in any direction at your best.
So, the more norepinephrine your system, the less creative you can be. It basically shrinks the size of the database search by the pattern recognition system, if that makes sense. So, often times if you’re really focused on a problem, you’re not getting creative ideas. None of the insights are coming in.
So, when I’m really stuck and I want to sell something, I often start another enterprise that’s bigger, harder, more complicated, along those lines. So a lot of what you’re looking at in my career is me actually trying to solve a different problem than the one it looks like I’m trying to solve.
Isaiah: I love the way that you talk about basically hacking this and taking on another project to reframe your current project. So basically, you’re just reframing, right?
Steven: Yeah, and there’s scales of reframing. This is a crazy study they did at Harvard recently where they wanted to know, because anxiety and excitement are the same signal. They’re both norepinephrine. So the only difference is the frame you put around it.
So they asked at Harvard, they said, “Okay. Is it easier if you’re stressed out to reframe anxiety as excitement,” and I’ll tell you how to do that in a second, “Or to use breath meditation, mindfulness, to calm yourself down?” And they were looking at sympathetic and parasympathetic responses.
They found that breath meditation takes five to seven minutes to calm you down, to get you actually at the point where your brain is released and you have some cognitive freedom to be creative, to think, whatever.
Reframing, literally all you have to do is think about your problem. Get this feeling forth, the somatic egress, and say out loud, “I am excited. I am excited. I am excited,” three times. And literally, because it’s the same signal, so oftentimes, we’ll get the signal and we’ll think, “Oh my god, this is anxiety. I’m feeling anxiety,” when we’re actually a little excited.
We’re not even noticing it, so just that little shift is enough. Three times out loud. How is that for fast reframing? This is the thing I was doing, starting. That’s the extreme other side of it. You can go small all the way up to huge in terms of using reframing as a tool.
Isaiah: How can we trigger the flow state?
Steven: Well first thing it shows is that multitasking is a lie. We’re all serial taskers. Anybody who tells you they’re multitasking is lying to you. We can’t do it. Flow only shows up when all of our attention is in the here and now. What all these triggers do, is they drive our attention into the now. If I were to say this neurobiologically, I would say they either release dopamine and norepinephrine, which are the brains’ two principal focusing chemicals, or they lower cognitive load, so all the crap you’re trying to think about at once. But both things allow you to pay more attention to the present. So the triggers do one of two things.
What we found for creativity is, the first is complete concentration in the present moment. So no cellphone, no internet, no … I get up at 4:00 in the morning and start writing, and I don’t even have lights in my office. I write in Focus View, so if you’re not familiar with Focus View in Word it literally just shows you the text. Everything else is blacked out. Literally I’m in my office, no lights anywhere. There’s no phone. Internet’s turned … Everything’s off. All I can see is the words. And it’s 4:00 in the morning so nobody can call me, or you better have a good reason. So complete concentration really really matters.
Let me make this more practical for people. When we work with companies, first thing is we tell them, “If you can’t hang a sign up on your door that says ‘Beep, blank off, I’m flowing’ you suck.” You have to be able to … Open office plans are terrible, and if you’re in that kind of situation … WeWork has got these new little phone booth pods, right? This is about the fact that we can’t be distracted. The brain doesn’t multitask and open office plans are disastrous for performance because they’re disastrous for flow.
Quality Manager Career Track: A Conversation With Ranjani Muralidharan, PhD.
Isaiah: How did you learn about this quality manager career track? What was your initial touch point, in terms of making this transition to this promoted role?
Originally, when I applied for this role, it was a cosmetic chemist role. They had advertised as a cosmetic chemist, and since I have worked in pharmaceutical, not the cosmetic industry before, I thought this would be a good transition for me.
When I came in and I had the interview, and they’d look at my resume, I had a lot of other things that I had experience with, like making SOPs, writing work flows in my previous company. So they thought that I was not just … I can be hired … I can do more than being a chemist, also.
Of course, I have to thank Cheeky for tweaking my resume, and making it look … I had a three paged resume. Thanks to you guys, I brought it down.
So then, they actually changed the role. They made it the quality manager and cosmetic chemist after having the interview. Originally, it was just advertised for a chemist.
Isaiah: What do you do on a day to day basis?
Okay. So, as my responsibilities in the current job, of course the first thing is I am a cosmetic chemist. In a formulation for cosmetics, it’s very different than how it happens for drugs. So I’m learning to be a cosmetic chemist, which is good, because I have two really amazing chemists. One has been in this field for 35 years just doing cosmetics, and the other is more than 10 year. So we as a team, I’m trying to be in the lab to learn how to formulate all the different skin care, hair care products. We have shampoos, dyes, all different kinds of products here.
So that’s one role, and then the other one is quality manager. So what happens is when I come in, in the morning, first thing I do is go and check if everything is set for the production to happen. So, I do … It’s not like the confidence and stuff, but more the quality perspective, if everything matches what it says it should be. For example, the shampoo is being made, if it goes in the right bottles and how are … So, looking at the production floor, different parts in the production floor, the packaging and the filling, the making of the product. Just making sure everything is right for them to get started. During the day also, I have to go every hour and make sure everything is running the way it should be running.
So, a lot of wearing a number of hats. But it’s very … It’s good learning, and I enjoy doing it. I get to be a part of the lab also, and also get a bigger perspective. If I make a product, I’m gonna make in a smaller batch. But then when it gets approved, it’s gonna be zoomed up, and they’re gonna make a patent of that, and then they’re gonna 4000 lbs of that shampoo which was formulated in the lab.
Isaiah: And what are some of the people that you work with on a day to day, more in those cross-functional, lateral roles in other departments?
Yeah. So I work with the chief scientific officer who is in the lab, and then work with the production manager, work with the inventory manager. I’m also in touch with the director of the company. And of course the field, the manufacturing plant, the people who do all the manufacturing, I’m in touch with them. So I interact with close to 10-15 people on a daily basis, yes.
Watch the full podcast episode above to learn more about how to perform at your peak from Steven Kotler and learn more about the quality manager career track.
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Isaiah believes that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life right now, you should make a change. Don’t sit still and wait for the world to tell you what to do. Start a new project. Build your own business. Take action. Experimentation is the best teacher.