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Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently [Hardcover]

Gregory Berns Ph.D.
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 2 2008
No organization can survive without iconoclasts -- innovators who single-handedly upturn conventional wisdom and manage to achieve what so many others deem impossible.

Though indispensable, true iconoclasts are few and far between. In Iconoclast, neuroscientist Gregory Berns explains why. He explores the constraints the human brain places on innovative thinking, including fear of failure, the urge to conform, and the tendency to interpret sensory information in familiar ways.

Through vivid accounts of successful innovators ranging from glass artist Dale Chihuly to physicist Richard Feynman to country/rock trio the Dixie Chicks, Berns reveals the inner workings of the iconoclast's mind with remarkable clarity. Each engaging chapter goes on to describe practical actions we can each take to understand and unleash our own potential to think differently -- such as seeking out new environments, novel experiences, and first-time acquaintances.

Packed with engaging stories, science-based insights, potent practices, and examples from a startling array of disciplines, this engaging book will help you understand how iconoclasts think and equip you to begin thinking more like an iconoclast yourself.

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Product Description

About the Author

Gregory Berns, MD, PhD, is professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University. He has written for numerous science publications and has been interviewed on National Public Radio, CNN, and ABC's Primetime. He has been profiled frequently in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and other media.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
If I recall correctly, it was in a world history class in an elementary school in Chicago when I first became aware of the word "iconoclast" while reading about an Athenian political and military leader, Alcibiades (5th century BC), whose enemies charged him with sacrilege after seamen under his command became drunk while ashore and roamed the streets, smashing statues of various deities and dignitaries. Curious, I recently checked the Online Etymological Dictionary and learned that an iconoclast is a "breaker or destroyer of images" from the Late Greek word eikonoklastes. Centuries later, an iconoclast was viewed as "one who attacks orthodox beliefs or institutions." This brief background helps to introduce Gregory Berns's book in which he examines a number of people who in recent years accomplished what others claimed could not be done. When doing so, these modern iconoclasts attacked orthodox beliefs and, in some cases, institutions. "The overarching theme of this book is that iconoclasts are able to do things that others say can't be done, because iconoclasts perceive things differently than other people." Berns goes on to explain that the difference in perception "plays out in the initial stages of an idea. It plays out in how their manage their fears, and it manifests in how they pitch their ideas to the masses of noniconoclasts. It is an exceedingly rare individual who possesses all three of these traits."

I was already somewhat familiar with several of the exemplars discussed in this book but not with others. They include Solomon Asch, Warren Buffett, Nolan Bushnell, Dale Chihuly, Ray Croc, Walt Disney, David Dreman, Richard Feynman, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Jr.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars How To Insult An Iconoclast Aug. 11 2010
This is clearly the worst business book I've ever read from a respectable business publisher. Turns out Berns argues as if he is a determinist who doesn't believe man has free-will. As such, while the cover informs us that "a neuroscientist reveals how to think differently," the neuroscientist himself informs us that iconoclasts are born, not made.

His argument is simplistic and circular in its reasoning, and is as follows:
Premise 1: Those who do things that others say can't be done are iconoclasts
Premise 2: The brains of iconoclasts are different from the brains of non-iconoclasts
Premise 3: Only those born with iconoclastic brains can be iconoclasts
Conclusion: Only iconoclasts can do things that others say can't be done.

Berns writes that "It seems obvious that there should be something different in the brains of [iconoclasts], but because these individuals are rare, it is difficult to pin down what these differences might be" (p. 119). The focus for Berns is on brains, not thinking, which is the result of his biological determinism. Furthermore, he provides no evidence in the book that he has ever studied the brain or the thinking processes of a single iconoclast, or ever interviewed one, so there is no scientific, or even anecdotal evidence to support his deterministic viewpoint. To put it bluntly, he's making the whole thing up through deduction from arbitrary premises, supported with weak to non-existent evidence that sorely fails to support his arbitrary assertion that the brains of iconoclasts are different.

Don't bother to read this book. I read it hoping to gain some insight into the minds of those Berns identifies as iconoclasts, people like Walt Disney and Richard Branson, Ray Kroc, and Warren Buffet.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but not enough material for a book Jan. 21 2010
By Susan
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The premise of the book is interesting but the meat of each section is summarized at the end of each chapter. The rest is examples of the-guy-who, the-gal-who, the study-that-shows.
A little short on meaningful analysis and concrete applications in real life.
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3.0 out of 5 stars I use this for my Exec MBAs Feb. 8 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I teach a business course and use this to highlight an important point that people think different...and that is a good thing. Easy read, leaves you wanting, but recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
If you want to be an original, influential thinker and doer, I recommend this book to you.

I admire books that can create a balance between story and fact. Iconoclast is quite well done from that perspective. If your mind is stuck in a rut, you'll get both some solid information and helpful inspiration to help you head off in a fruitful new direction from Iconoclast.

Before saying more, I must comment that this book is incorrectly titled. To me an iconoclast is someone who "attacks widely accepted ideas, beliefs, etc." at least as my dictionary puts it. This book is much more about "thinking differently" in a creative sense than it is about attacking the status quo as a rebel with a different perspective. As a result, those who want to be more iconoclastic may be disappointed in the content. Those who wish to be free of William Blake's "mind-forged manacles" will be pleased, however.

The book's main weakness is that not all of the stories are well chosen for the purpose. In addition, I felt that some didn't match what else I had read about the individuals. As a result, the book felt a little "off" at times . . . as though it was stretching too far to make a point.

The book could also have used more on the subject of how original thinkers can capture the popular imagination and rein in any anti-social attitudes that arise as part of their singular viewpoints.

It's a short book and a quick read. Don't be afraid to read about neuroscience. It's not painful!
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