Episode 55: Nurturing Executive Functioning Skills in Modern Organizations

Below you can view or listen to Episode 55

Episode 55 of the personal brain trainer podcast 

Listen to Our Podcast: 



Brought to you by:


Erica: Welcome to the Personal Brain Trainer podcast. I'm Dr. Erica Warren.

Darius: And I'm Darius Namdaran and we're your hosts. Join us on an adventure to translate the scientific jargon and brain research into simple metaphors and explanations for everyday life. We explore executive function and learning strategies that help turbocharge the mind.

Erica: Come learn to steer around the invisible barriers so that you can achieve your goals. This podcast is ideal for parents, educators, and learners of all ages.

Darius: This podcast is sponsored by dyslexiaproductivitycoaching.com. We give you a simple productivity system for your Apple devices that harnesses the creativity that comes with your dyslexia.

Erica: This podcast is brought to you by goodsensorylearning.com, where you can find educational and occupational therapy lessons and remedial materials that bring delight to learning. Finally, you can find Dr. Warren's many courses at, uh, learningspecialistcourses.com. Come check out our newest course on developing executive functions and study strategies. Hey, Darius. Nice to see you. I'm excited about this podcast that we have scheduled today.  Tell us a little bit about it.

Darius: So, I'd really like to talk about executive function in organizations and how we can nurture executive function in organizations. And also, uh, the heart of this is that if we can research our brains and understand the executive functions our brains have for us individually to get things done and how to orchestrate things in our own minds and in our own lives, using these three elements of working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility, and combining them to have meta executive functions of organization, planning, and all this sort of thing. Well, all of that's also happening within the hive minds of organizations, teams, classrooms, schools. Any kind of organization is where minds are meeting. And therefore, those minds, when they come together, they must also, in my opinion, have some forms of the elements of working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility in their own way. And, uh, I'm not saying that they're exactly the same as our brains, but because these are all governed by our brains, then there must be reflected somehow within the way the team works. And I suspect in a slightly different way. And I thought it would be a great topic for you and me to really just. I've not heard much about this talked about, and, um, I know it's a very dyslexic way of approaching this, where you take one area of expertise and subject knowledge of how the mind works in a person, and then saying, well, what about thinking about an organization as a brain or as a mind? And, um, how do the same lessons translate over and help?

Erica: Yeah, I love this topic because, in fact, we've actually borrowed from organizations to help us understand our brain. We've often talked about how executive functioning is like, being a functioning executive. So what we're doing is we're actually flipping, uh, it right back again and going into that metaphor and saying, hey, we've used that as a way to describe how we can conceptualize executive functioning in our own brain. But there's even more wisdom to that organization of executive functioning and how it can benefit organizations. So I think it's an outstanding topic.

Darius: Yeah, I love that. Actually, uh, we flipped it the other way around. That's so true. And in many ways, I think sometimes maybe just like you use the analogy of the conductor for executive function of an orchestra, whenever we use these metaphors, these real-life scenarios where executive functions are being expressed, they're being externalized in a way that we can then understand and then re internalize for ourselves. And also, I think, for our teams, and I think that's really the heart of where I'd like to go today, because the heart of so much that gets done in life is doing things as a team. M and it brings this added dynamic of when you have a team, you've got, let's say, five brains together, five minds working. And as we've talked about is all of our ways of processing, all of our ways of thinking and our strengths. We might have more working memory strengths and then cognitive flexibility weaknesses and so on. These can be complemented by other people in the team. These can be accentuated. So it's going to be really interesting just to think through this well, and.

Erica: I like the idea of thinking of an organization as a big brain with all these little brains that can kind of compensate for each other, because there are going to be those that have a great working memory, and they are going to be best at certain tasks, and there are going to be others that are really good at cognitive flexibility, and they're going to be more in the creative realm because they're going to be able to think of new ideas and new innovations versus those. There are people in the organization that need to be really focused, and there are other ones that need to be really good at nurturing the team. And so they've got really good social relations and social skills and that you talk about even there's an HR, ah, department, right. That keeps everybody working together as a team. So it's really interesting that you really could look at an organization as a big brain, in essence.

Darius: So let's say we did. Let's just do this as a thought exercise. Okay? So let's take an organization. Let's compare and contrast a school to a company. Okay? So they're both organizations. You really know a lot about schools. You produce a lot of resources for class teachers, for schools themselves, for tutors. You're also working in the workplace, creating profilers and things like that, which we'll talk about. And I've got similar experiences and also really thinking about executive functions in the workplace, especially with those with ADHD and dyslexia. So let's look at those. Comparing both of those got school and a company. What do you think? If we took those three elements of working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility, and mapped them onto how they would express themselves within an organization like a school, how would we do that? What would be working memory?

Erica: Well, working memory is really your capacity to learn, right? So it's your, uh, capacity to perceive the world around you and encode it into knowledge. And that's really the purpose of education, is to share knowledge. And you need to have a strong working memory in order to assimilate that information into knowledge.

Darius: Okay, here's what I'm thinking to help me sort of do this. If we go from a person to a step up, which would be a team, and then a, uh, group of teams become an organization or a department, and then a group of departments becomes the company. What if we just did it like that? Rather than launching straight into the whole organization? We've got a team of people, let's say seven people in a team, five is an optimum amount. So we'll say five. And we need to think about in that team, what would be the equivalent of working memory now, for an individual, working memory would be. I'm looking, I'm hearing, I'm experiencing information, temporarily capturing it in that sort of stage of the working memory, which is limited, and deciding whether or not it's useful, or filtering out the irrelevant stuff, unpacking it, and saying, right, this is the important bit that I need to then put into my memory, short term or long term, uh, which I can process later, but I'm deciding where it's going and what's being done with it. What would be the equivalent in a team of capturing information, deciding what you're doing with it?

Erica: Well, first of all, I guess, for looking at a school, I would call it a class.

Darius: Class. Yes.

Erica: Right. So you could really. It's funny, and this is one of the things that I don't like about traditional education, which is more pedagogy. Traditional education would see the teacher as the conductor of cognitive skills, and they would be dictating what the children learn. I much prefer andragogy, which is typically used for adult education, but I like to use it with children, where you are facilitating learning that individuals have a, uh, wealth of information and knowledge, and facilitating that model works better, I think, for executive functioning, and I think it works better for learning as well, because I think one of the biggest problems we have in education is so many young children are, uh, passive learners because they've really been force fed education, and they're not really actively involved.

Darius: You know what's interesting about that is that the moment you become the facilitator, then it becomes executive functions within that team become much more important, don't they? Because if the teacher takes on the role of the executive of your learning, then you can, um, abdicate responsibility for that to the teacher, and you just say, all right, I'm doing this, I'm doing that. There's not much executive functions going on there.

Erica: That's right. It's too passive, and it's not very engaging. And, of course, the fallout is that kids aren't very motivated. They're not invested in the learning process and like to think that we're moving away from that model. I know that I do, and I have so much more success when I'm acting as a facilitator, because then the kids are invested, then they're active in the learning process. Then they learn to develop their executive functions, where they're able to be cognitively flexible and creative, and they can learn to be focused because they're a part of the process. When you're a part of the process, you are focused. When you're not, you're bored, and you tend to drift away.

Darius: Brilliant. So we've got that key thing about the facilitator happening, whether you become the conductor or the facilitator. And the moment you become the facilitator, you're then empowering the conductor within each one of the team to rise up and start conducting.

Erica: Right. And then they can also be a team member or a class member. And instead of having an environment of competition, you have an environment of cooperation. And when learners can work together, they build on top of each other, and then they learn at a much faster rate and, uh, a much more motivating rate. And then all of a sudden, you're creating community.

Darius: Okay, so let's take the company equivalent, which would be, uh, a team of some sort, and we've got the same dynamic happening there. So the team leader could either be the conductor or could be the facilitator. And both have a similar effect, don't they? Because if you become the leader, who says, right, you're doing this, you're doing that, you're doing this, you're doing that. There are fewer executive functions required as well.

Erica: I love that you're right. Then it's more like a pedagogical platform where they're dictating, and as soon as you're dictating, then when you think of it, when you think of a dictator, then all the other people are just following all the rules, and there is no sense of creativity. It's just one person's executive functioning that's controlling everybody's, and everything else is shut down, so to speak. So I love that. Yeah. So a healthy organization, a healthy business would be taking on the role more as a coach, as a, uh, facilitator, as adult education, which is all about embracing lifelong learning, also about creating community and cooperation so that the organization can work as a whole and not as separate entities.

Darius: In many ways, the classroom, as a learning, uh, environment, which is being facilitating, is starting to mimic in your environment what's happening in the world a lot more, where people have to take more responsibility for what they do, what they learn and explore and so on.

Erica: Well, we want to teach children how to learn so that they can be good learners, so that they can be invested lifelong learners. And it's the same thing in a workplace. We want to teach them how to work and not be these passive workers, unless you're in a factory, and that's all you're meant to do. They do want passive workers. They don't want them to be actively involved in it because they just have a boring, very simple role that they have to play. But in most organizations, we want some kind of business that works together as a whole unit.

Darius: But actually, that's a bit of an unfair characterization of a lot of factory work. Know, it's interesting, if you look at Toyota and how they developed, they had a fascinating rule in Toyota that they developed where if anyone on the factory line had an idea, instead of having to go through, uh, hierarchy, they got to the point where they said if someone had the idea, they would write it down, they take ownership of it, they would put it there, and they would be given permission to implement it straight away. And what would happen is they would implement the idea straight away, but then other people in the factory line could also have their idea to reverse it back if they wished, and if the idea had enough merit and stood the course of your peers seeing it and saying, yeah, that's quite good. I quite like how you're arranging it like this, or moving it through in this way, or changing the timing slightly or whatever. And, um, what Toyota did was really revolutionized the way engineering systems worked, and it's being picked up across the board in so many ways. Okay, there's some exceptions to this, where you are just asked to be like a robot, but what they find is the people on the factory lines are the ones who often see the problems and have the solutions. And so even in factories, they've got to the point where they've created systems where the people who are finding the problems, the solutions to problems, are closest to the problems, closest to the solutions, are being empowered to implement them. So, uh, I'm amazed at what factories have actually done over the last decades. Uh, even in our, we think they're just factory workers, and let alone all the other environments which are much more dynamic, have many more options than a factory line where we're asked to find problems and bring solutions.

Erica: Well, I think when I initially talked about factory workers, I'm talking about kind of the old fashioned, traditional, going back to the industrial age. Absolutely. I think, yeah. What they're learning is that whether its pedagogy or traditional factories is not effective. Because anything where you are passive and not valued as an active member of a community, I mean, you think about executive functions. If you don't value yourself, you don't value community. You're going to have poor inhibitory control issues because you're going to have difficulty regulating your emotions. And as human beings, you even look at the research on centenarians, people that have lived over 100 years, the one thing that they all have in common is community cooperation. It's like they're living in an environment that has good executive functioning skills, where everybody is valued, and there's cognitive flexibility, and it's very interesting.

Darius: Yeah, I like it. I like where you're going with this. So we've got those three elements in terms of a team. You went straight to inhibitory control, and that's fascinating, isn't it? Because a team really requires inhibitory control in different ways. Not too much inhibition, not too little inhibition, but it needs that regulation. It does, yes. And also inhibitory control in other ways. This is fascinating. So let's just do that. Let's look at a team, actually. How about we simplify even further, and we think about a team meeting.

Erica: Let, uh, me add to this. Let's make it a healthy team meeting.

Darius: All right? A healthy team meeting. Yes. I love it. Okay, so we're simplifying it down to healthy team meeting of executives, people who are used to being the executives of their own lives. So we're giving them a, uh, meeting of executives. An executive meeting of executives. Let's observe the executive functions of executives coming together, and a healthy team meeting in terms of the working, uh, memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility. So you brought out inhibitory control first. So why don't we go into inhibitory control? Where do our lessons of inhibitory control outwork themselves in a, uh, team meeting?

Erica: Well, first of all, it needs to be focused. If the meeting is not focused, then everybody's going to get frustrated and annoyed, and then you're not going to have any kind of goal addressed, and it's going to be a bit of a mess. Right. M how can you possibly have a good meeting if you don't have a focused agenda? But then on the other piece of it, you also need to have executives in the executive meeting that are respectful to other people's time. Like, if someone's showing up late, that's not good executive functions. Right? And if somebody's not respectful of somebody else speaking and they're talking over them, then that's not good executive functions. It's not good inhibitory control, because you're not regulating your own self.

Darius: Oh, I get the link.

Erica: And you're not giving people the respect, because, uh, to me, the emotional regulation piece of it is what enables us to be good community or team members.

Darius: I see. So you're thinking of respect as an expression of inhibitory control under emotional regulation.

Erica: Oh, but there's one more piece I almost forgot about. Inhibitory control, and that is metacognition, which would be the cognition of the group, which is allowing everybody to share their thoughts in a unified way so that they can work together to come up with the best thought for the group, or, uh, the answer to the agenda.

Darius: I just read this book called Death by meeting by Patrick Lencioni. I don't know if you've heard of the author Patrick Lencioni. He's a, uh, really interesting management consultant type guy, written lots of different books, and his style of writing books is both the practical how to manual type thing. But he also does the type of book where he creates a, uh, scenario like it's a novel, where he outworks how different team members would do X, Y and Z. And this is a story of a bad team turned into a good team, and then at the end of it, he shares his lessons that have been expressed in that. That's his style of writing. Kind of like the richest man in Babylon, where it turned, uh, a really great fable into the principles. So one of the things that he shared in this about how to make a great team meeting was two unusual things. And you mentioned the agenda. And this relates to cognitive flexibility here because he said there are four types of meeting. Daily meetings, weekly meetings, monthly meetings, and seasonal meetings. And each one has a different focus and a different cadence and a different outcome. So your daily meeting is like five minutes long, quick stand up. Everyone shares what's happening in that day, and that's it. Disperse. So you just have an awareness of what's going on. And if there's any meetings, it's a coordination, quick coordination. No longer than ten minutes. Then the weekly meeting is like somewhere between 45 minutes and 2 hours. And its very much a, uh, tactical meeting about what's going on in that week. And the third thing is the monthly meeting, which is the strategic meeting. Now, the reason I shared those two different meetings is the strategic meeting, in his opinion, should have an agenda created beforehand, and the weekly meeting should not have an agenda created beforehand. And this is why cognitive flexibility. So he believes that the weekly tactical meeting, everyone, all the executives, should go around quickly for 1 minute and just say, this week, these are the three main issues that I'm going to be thinking about the most. Blah blah, blah, bum. And everyone gets a quick overview. Cognitive, it's like a working memory. That's the information that's just come in filtered through. I'm just making this up right now and relating it to working memory. It's been filtered through. These are the important key things. And then there's a, uh, really quick overview of, uh, the missions and objectives that have been set out, say a couple of months ago, three months ago in the strategic team meeting. And then people say, what do you think are the most important things we should put on the agenda for our meeting today? And people go, well, it's obvious that this is a really top priority, that next. And they actually construct the agenda on the top items that are there. And if anything is too big and juicy, they say, oh, that's a strategic meeting topic. It's not a tactical thing for this week. We'll put that into the strategic pile for the end of the month, when we have our meeting, and everybody knows it's going to happen, so you don't get sidetracked. But the point of it is that they are being cognitively flexible enough as a team. Instead of saying, I'm finances, I should have my 15 minutes of finances in the agenda. We always talk about this, we always do this, that they actually adapt to what the team is wanting and feeling the company is needing at that moment as executives.

Erica: Yeah, that's really interesting.

Darius: So it's fascinating. You still need an agenda, but is the agenda set in the meeting, or is the agenda set way before the meeting, like a month or a few weeks before, so you can research it? And he's saying there's a place for both, but you definitely need an agenda in order to have that inhibitory control, that focus, but you also bring in that cognitive flexibility side of adapting well.

Erica: And it's reminding me of the facilitation versus not so much of the facilitation, but someone taking control of the big picture, so to speak. Yeah, that's interesting. And where does the working memory come in?

Darius: That's a good question. What is working memory in a team?

Erica: Oh, it's that daily check in, that momentary check in where you're just seeing what's, you're pulling in that sensory information, and you're getting to work and you're accessing your knowledge.

Darius: Yeah, I mean, working memory, in essence, is the organism of the human being is taking in information through all of their senses, primarily, uh, in the visual spatial loop and the auditory phonetical loop, and then deciding where it's going to be filtering it. Now, that also involves other senses as well, obviously, touch, movement and so on. But within the organization, the senses that it's got are those personal meetings, but it's also emails. Slack channel information coming through. It's basically every form of information streaming at you, um, is coming at you, comes into one place, our working memory of our mind, and is filtered. So the big question here is, where is that information filtered to decide what's important and what's not important, what needs to be stored and what needs to be discarded, like recycled paper and packaging. And that is an executive function, because what you do with your working memory if you don't manage your working memory properly, and I see this with executives all the time, the moment a person's like, oh, I've got 2345 really important things going on in my head right now. Someone shares another important thing; it becomes a hard decision. Do I delete one to take in the new information or not? And if it's not stored in the right place. It goes in one ear and out the other. And that's a big issue in our busy lives, and that's inhibitory control.

Erica: Again, what am I going to focus on?

Darius: Well, it isn't. It isn't in that I, uh, don't want to contradict you, but I agree with inhibitory control and what you're going to focus in on. But sometimes it's just as simple as my inbox is so full. I know you sent an email to me, but I can't take in anymore, so I don't have the information to work with right now. It's that inbox full thing. So it doesn't even get to inhibitory control or focus because it didn't get through the front door to even be focused in on.

Erica: Yeah, well, it's the blinkers. Yeah, but it's marrying of inhibitory control and working.

Darius: Yes, absolutely.

Erica: But what I would love to talk about a little bit, too is how do we assess the needs of a class or the needs of an organization? Because you're right, everybody does come with different ways of processing, and there are going to be those that are very good at the different executive functioning skills. And technically, you could assess an organization, or a class based on their executive functioning skills and see who's good at each of the different types, working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility. And I do have, actually, an assessment called the executive functioning competency screener that can do that. But there's another screener that I like even better, which is for students, the student processing inventory, which looks at how they process best. And then I will be releasing, uh, probably almost about the time that this podcast is released, something called the employee processing Inventory, which is helping employers figure out how their employees process so that they can give them the best tasks, the best teams, and maximize their output and empowerment. What are your thoughts about that?

Darius: Yeah, I think that's going to be a great, uh, tool for people in the workplace to understand how people process information. It, uh, makes me think about the difference between processing and executive functions. And remember our conversation a while back about the difference between processing and executive functions, where we talked about the difference between dyslexia and ADHD. I have this mental model of the interrelationship between processing and executive functions that goes like this. If you think of processing as a, uh, foundation band or base, a block visually on the bottom, and then executive function is a block above it. Okay. But executive function is split into the three pillars or segments, the left hand one, working memory, moving to inhibitory control, moving to cognitive flexibility. And that sits on top of processing, and they interrelate. And the interesting thing about this is, for example, sometimes someone can have a difficulty with processing that looks like it's a difficulty with working memory, but it's not actually a difficulty with working memory, it's a difficulty with processing, and they interrelate with one another. So sometimes a person can have difficulty with inhibitory control or looks like they've got difficulty with inhibitory control. But if you look further down, it's actually a difficulty with processing certain information, and they kind of relate. And so I think both are very closely related, but still distinct. Like when you do a dyslexia assessment, you're assessing for phonological processing. And often it relates directly and is, uh, close. Often people with difficulties with dyslexia and phonological processing have difficulties with working memory, but they're not necessarily one and the same, but they're related.

Erica: I like this image. I love the layers. I love the idea that almost like, you could think of it as thinking of two different metaphors right now, you could think of the ground as being processing, because you have to take in the sensory stuff and process it. And then once you process it, you have the three blocks of working memory above it. There's one more above that. It's a sky, or you could think of it as a hamburger and the hamburger buns, if you want. The top is higher level executive functions, which is really the mixture of everything below it that enables us to plan, manage time, organize, and reason. But that's what higher level executive functioning is, is it's really uniting those three blocks below it, because it's very rare for any of them to work independently. And in fact, it's quite challenging to create activities that are just purely working memory or just purely inhibitory control. And I'm, um, not even convinced that it's even possible. But it's interesting how we do break them down to get a conceptualization of it. But what's really beautiful is when organizations, because think about it, what makes an organization healthy, higher level executive functions, is it organized? Is it planned? Do they manage their time effectively?

Darius: Does it adapt to the changing circumstances? Round about it, changing marketplace?

Erica: Uh-huh.

Darius: Changing needs of customers, competition, workforce, and.

Erica: That’s all-cognitive flexibility.

Darius: Yes, absolutely.

Erica: But I guess even within that, adapting, it does require some focus. It does require some, um, processing, but I love that kind of three tier. And I think my favorite metaphor is probably the earth as being the processing. And then the middle piece, which is kind of, I guess you could think of it as the atmosphere is the working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility. And then the outer space maybe, as being the higher-level executive functions. Do you like that metaphor? I see you look a little uncomfortable with that.

Darius: I'm being more attracted towards another metaphor, which is very related, which is the earth, the ground, and then the plant, the tree, the element, a, uh, plant of some sort, which is that organism of the executive function, which is taking the substance of what's being given to it, organizing it, putting it, giving it some structure, and then coming into flower and fruit, which is that higher level.

Erica: Uh, I thought you were going to say the sun.

Darius: No, I think they're so much more interconnected in a way that, uh, closer, as it were. I'm looking for something that's much more.

Erica: I like. The flower is beautiful because. Right. You want your organization to thrive and to flower and to blossom and to produce or even the fruit, which, um, gives the product.

Darius: Yes. And, um, even if you think about. I find in my permaculture training and so on, this idea of mycelium. Have you heard of the mycelium network of mushrooms and the threads?

Erica: I have but tell the audience.

Darius: So they've discovered that mycelium mushrooms, that the threads of the mushroom in the soil can connect the roots of one tree to another tree or one plant to another plant. And what they do is one plant can exchange nutrients to another, and they can swap. So there are certain trees that are nitrogen fixers, for example, they'll take nitrogen from the air and lock it down into the roots of the ground. And then they disperse the nitrogen from their roots into the soil. But that nitrogen is needed by other plants because that tree has got more than enough. So the mycelium transfers that nitrogen quite a long distance, meters and meters and meters to another tree. And what happens is the Trees pay a tax to the mycelium. So the mycelium takes some of the sugar and the SAP of each tree as a sort of tax. It gets fed by the tree's SAP. So it's kind of parasitic in a way because the tree loses some SAP for that. But the tree is okay with that.

Erica: Because wouldn't that be symbiosis? Because they're both benefiting.

Darius: Absolutely symbiotic, yes. But it could be perceived as, uh, parasitic if you didn't see the connection. So if you just saw one end, which we've seen in the past. Oh, this mushroom is taking sugar away from this tree, and it looks parasitic. But once you see the mycelium network, you realize actually it's transmitting nitrogen to the other tree and the other tree is transmitting its excess across this network. Basically, mycelium becomes like the Internet of the soil, transmitting signals and minerals and so on. Trace minerals through the mycelium. Now, the point I was sharing there was that the natural environment has a lot of good metaphors for us. And using this analogy of processing this information in the soil, bringing it up through the tree, the tree or the plant has like a DNA, and it produces a unique plant according to its nature and seed, and so do people. And, uh, they're still following the same principles of SAP rises up, photosynthesis. And these executive functions are the same for every person, but the way that they're expressed in that unique individual are different. Just like every tree is going through photosynthesis has SAP needs water, needs certain amounts of nutrients, et cetera, to different measures. Anyway, that's why I was attracted to that analogy and linking it into executive function.

Erica: Well, and I love that analogy because it really talks about how each member in an organization can be parasitic, and those are the ones that fail. But when they have a symbiotic relationship across employees, where they're working together to make the company bigger and better, that's when they thrive. I know Google spends a lot of time nurturing their employees and creating community because they know that if the individuals are empowered and they respect their ability. And so in other words, Google, if it's functioning as well as I think it's functioning, is a very powerful, strong organization.

Darius: Yes. So it's easy in a team to see the inhibitory control aspect of it because it's the way we're communicating with another. We've got, uh, the cognitive flexibility side where we're deciding our agenda, what we're going to talk about, adapting to the need’s roundabout and the contributors, we haven't completely nailed the working memory, in my opinion. And I've got an idea on that, which is working memory. It's kind of like meeting notes. I'm fascinated by how many meetings happen. There are 11 million meetings happen in the USA every day. 11 million meetings every day. Meetings comprise 20% to 30% of every organization's time and payroll. It's incredible how much time we spend in meetings. We spend time in meetings because they're actually incredibly valuable. Even though half of meetings people think it's death by meeting and it's deadly. Other half of people in research from the Harvard Business Review say that if it's a well facilitated meeting, it's one of the best ways to share information and solve problems. If it's not a well facilitated meeting, it's, uh, really inefficient use of resources and time and a time suck and an energy suck. And so it really does come down to how that meeting is facilitated. Now, the working memory side of things is so many meetings, people don't take notes. The information in that meeting is literally in one year and out the other, and people forget from one meeting to the next. And that's what working memory is about. You get the information coming in, but it needs to be captured, the valuable bits need to be captured and stored for later use. And I'm thinking working memory is that flow within a meeting, for example, of what notes are minutes. I'm not a huge fan of minutes because sometimes they're more officious than actual useful meeting notes. But when someone takes really useful meeting notes, it's incredibly valuable. And for me, that's actually an expression of working memory in an organizational sense, working.

Erica: What's interesting, though, I mean, I'm thinking of some of my students that when they take notes, they actually don't digest the material at all. They're just taking notes. And for them, just listening is what they need to do because they have fine motor issues or something of that sort. But what it comes down to, I think the seed of everything you're talking about is it's about digesting the meeting.

Darius: Yes.

Erica: How do you digest it? Some people might digest it by taking notes, others might digest it by doing mind maps. Others might digest it purely by listening, because they have really great auditory processing skills and a great auditory memory, and that's enough for them to encode the information. I think that tends to be less. People are, uh, that way. I mean, I know that in the research that I've done on the different way of processing, auditory is one of the least popular ways of processing, and it's only one way of processing. Of course, when you're taking notes, you're also listening, so you're doubling up on your processing, which makes it doubly easy to digest. But I think ultimately, the idea is that we have to process the information in order to digest it. In a way, working memory is that digestion of taking the sensory information and assimilating it into our minds, like we assimilate food into our bodies.

Darius: Oh, I was going down the food route as well. So it's like working memory is the mouth and the chewing, but then it needs to be digested in our stomach. And if you take these two layers of executive function and then processing underneath it, you've just talked about something coming through the working memory, but that not being enough, it needs to be processed.

Erica: That's right.

Darius: Processing layer to then have some inhibitory control to go through executive functions and some cognitive flexibility. And it being anchored down, embodied in actions.

Erica: In actions and enlarged into long term memory.

Darius: Yes. So interesting. I, uh, love that because we did that big series on processing styles and so on, and how processing is so closely related to executive functions, and it's just useful to see that interplay.

Erica: Right. So in order to have a healthy organization or class, I guess it's important to consider how everybody processes. It's important to nurture a single brain kind of idea of working together as a team, so that the organization, it's interesting. Organization and organism, uh, are really close in name, and I'm sure there's a reason behind that. But an organization that functions as a healthy organism. Right. And then you think of, even within our own bodies, there are millions, probably trillions or more organisms within our body that keeps our body going. It's the same thing as the workers or the students in a class that really work together to make either a school or a business.

Darius: Yeah.

Erica: They're all vital in the health, and if one isn't that healthy, it can affect the whole organization or organism. It's interesting.

Darius: It is interesting. And what it's made me think is reflecting back over the last 52 episodes that we've done. I don't know what number this is, but over 50 episodes so far. We keep talking about executive functions, and then we start talking about processing and so on, and we're moving around. We're the Brain trainer podcast. So it's not just about executive function. It's also about processing. It's also about other things. But it's just fascinating to see that really what's coming out more and more is this interplay between executive functions and processing, and, um, that they have this very close relationship. Because often, if you look at dyslexia and ADHD as an example, dyslexia is very much a processing-based identification of the way of your challenges. In the school system, for example, it's a different way of processing information. We talked about how often people with dyslexia are more manual at processing information. They can do it, but it's like manually going through the gears as opposed to automatic and dyspraxia, manually moving, uh, dysgraphia, manually writing that manual process, it can still write beautifully, but it's much more manual than automatic. These are so many processing differences. But then ADHD is very much in that realm of inhibitory control, working memory, some cognitive flexibility, but very much centered around that inhibitory control and working memory difficulties. But then you can have dyslexia and ADHD, and a good percentage have both. And it kind of reflects, again, the closeness of these two areas of executive function and processing. And in a way, we've decided to distinguish them. They are distinguished in science, but they're very, very close, aren't they?

Erica: Well, I'm really glad you brought this up, and I'm at the tail end of a project which is now just gone public, where I have created the executive functioning competency screener and the comprehensive dyslexia screener. And the whole purpose of these is to define what type of dyslexia do you have, what type of executive functioning challenges do you have so that you can remediate them? Because the interesting thing is, these diagnoses are complex, and they're not all the same. So not all dyslexics are the same. Not all people with executive functioning difficulties are the same. I've met some kids that their working memory and their inhibitory control is excellent, but their cognitive flexibility is terrible, and that's enough to just send them on a tailspin. So it's so important to figure out what's behind it, what's the processing issues behind it, because once you know it and you can target the issue, you can strengthen it. I mean, I've seen that over and over again in my practice. For example, a, uh, kid in the 7th grade came to me with visual spatial problems in the first percentile. Within three months, I had him at the 98th percentile, because that's all we focused on, was visual spatial. He had avoided it his whole life because he wasn't good at it. So he had never strengthened any of those skills. But as soon as we focused in on it, and I think the moral of the story is, we all have the capacity to work through areas of weakness. If we completely focus on it, if we have the time and the energy to do that, we can strengthen areas of deficit. Some people never choose to do so, and that's fine. You can work around it. You can work around. There, um, are many different ways of approaching it, but I have found that in my work with kids and adults with executive functioning deficits there are ways, and even within. Take it right back to what we're talking about, organizations and classes. You might be in an organization that is falling apart, or a school that's about to lose its licensure, but you can get in there and remediate and strengthen and build those skills until somebody or an organization or a school is now functioning at a healthy level.

Darius: Absolutely, yes. So true. It is so true. And there's also the other avenue where there's often tools that can help in those areas. I'm super fixated on tools that help with working memory, for example, and inhibitory control, because, for me, I often need to externalize a lot of my thinking and put it on paper, draw it out on boards, externalize a lot of these executive functions, because I don't naturally do them inside. I have to externalize it and use tools like a pen and paper, like a mind map, like voice to text, or apple notes, or like we've talked about in the past. I use apple notes very intentionally just to empty my working memory, because there's a part where my brain is just holding onto that thing. I've got to let go of that thing. I know it's important. I've got to let it go. I'm not going to lose it. And I can open that, uh, empty my hands, as it were, the hands of my working memory. So there are lots of tools, too.

Erica: Yeah, I think you're right. I think it's really combining internal and external strategies, where I see the most success, because if you externalize too much, you're weakening your own inner skills. And then if you are focusing too much on developing your inner skills, sometimes you just get cognitive overload. So I think, really, the sweet spot, uh, is in doing a combination of the two.

Darius: Yeah, it reminds me of my physiotherapist. I had a really sore shoulder, and I was struggling with it for about four months, and I couldn't sleep, and I was worried, is this going to turn into a frozen shoulder? Is this going to become a long term problem? Um, what am I going to do? I went onto YouTube. There’re so many different suggestions and so on, and I was just overwhelmed. So many different exercises, so much different advice. In the end, I said, I'm just going to a physiotherapist. I'm going to ask them to diagnose exactly what's wrong with it and just do the exercises. And that's exactly what she did. She said, don't worry, Darius, you're not damaging your shoulder. It's not a frozen shoulder. You've not damaged your rotator cuff, you've got an impingement that is muscular caused, and you need to do these particular exercises. And she gave me a rubber band and gave me some repetitive exercises that had to do repeatedly. And she said, it all comes down to, if it'll take three months, if you do these exercises once a day, it'll take one month. If you do them three or four times a day, it all comes down to how many repetitions you put in. And I did the repetitions, and sure enough, my shoulder got better because of those specific exercises. And that's another metaphor for exactly what you're saying, isn't it? You pinpoint exactly what the difficulty and where the pain is actually coming from, and then you've got targeted exercises. Do that with a tool, and often that tool is that rubber band. So sometimes there's a tool that you use that you repeatedly use to identify it, to help you practice it and strengthen it. And you also could strengthen it to the max. And then you use another tool so that you can maximize the strength of your shoulder. It could be, uh, a throwing arm for your dog's ball, one of those plastic things. You can still use your shoulder full strength, but then enhance it. So there's this extra combination of using tools and also having, strengthening that innate ability.

Erica: I often say to my clients that I use, uh, another body metaphor for the brain, which is a, uh, full body workout is not going to strengthen a bicep.

Darius: Yes.

Erica: And it's the same thing with the brain. Giving a student just some general cognitive exercises isn't going to necessarily improve their visual spatial skills.

Darius: Yes, that's what was happening with my shoulder. I was doing the biceps, uh, muscles and trying to lift up and so on. But it wasn't this specific exercise for that specific muscle.

Erica: The brain is, I, uh, really believe what I've witnessed is that it's all about focusing in and really trying to get rid of all the other cognitive processing areas. What can we do just to focus specifically on this area? And yes, on a daily basis, same thing. If you're going to be doing it multiple times a day, we'll get through it much faster. If you're going to do it once a week, it's going to take much longer. But, yeah, it's amazing when you really do hone in and you start off at your ability levels, often what happens is you'll start at an ability level that's too complex, and people give up. But if you start at a level that matches where they are, where they're in their zone, what they call it, the zone of approximal development, then you can really make a big difference. Maybe this is a good place for us to stop. This was a really interesting discussion.

Darius: Yeah. There's so much more direction. We are going to take this kind of thinking as well. That executive function isn't just about the way you get your own stuff, um, done. It's also about the way teams get stuff done. Departments, organizations. These lessons can cascade ah out.

Erica: Absolutely. Well, thanks so much, Darius. This was really fun.

Darius: It was a great conversation. Erica, thank you.

Erica: Thank you for joining our conversation here at the Personal Brain Trainer podcast. This is Dr. Erica Warren and Darius Namdaran

Darius: Check out the show notes for links to resources mentioned in the podcast and please leave us a review and share us on social media until next time. Bye.