Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How To Think Differently

by Gregory Berns, Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston, Mass., 2008, 224 pp., $29.95 hardcover

Have you ever been informed of a solution to a problem nagging you or your district or read about the latest breakthrough academic program and had one of those moments where you asked yourself, “Why didn’t I think of that?” or “How could I have not seen that?”


In Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How To Think Differently, Gregory Berns provides a scientifically focused discussion that explains how some individuals, iconoclasts, develop breakthroughs and manage to achieve what others think cannot be done by literally thinking differently. Berns, a researcher on the relationship of brain functions to decision making, offers neurological evidence that iconoclasts truly see the world differently and isolates three brain functions — perception, fear and social intelligence — that lead to a block or production of novel ideas.

From Bern’s viewpoint, our brains block us from innovative thinking by tending to incorporate shortcuts for efficiency that are based on current knowledge (perception), minimizing fear or ridicule for unconventional ideas (fear or risk aversion), and poor skills in influencing others (social intelligence).

While the neurological focus on the underpinnings of these functions may be more than some of us want to know, it does offer a clear view of the link between the brain and behavior.

Berns also offers the reader some practical strategies and tips that one can use to challenge one’s brain’s typical way of thinking to improve outcomes. He says experiencing novel situations and confronting categories of thinking with real feedback are ways to bombard the brain with new experiences that confront old ways of perceiving information that block innovation.

Reviewed by Lane B. Mills, associate professor of educational leadership, East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.