Mark Bowden, Tame the Primitive Brain

Mark BowdenI’m speaking today with Mark Bowden, a friend, co-conspirator and accomplished author. In his new book, Tame the Primitive Brain: 28 Ways in 28 Days to Manage the Most Impulsive Behaviors at Work, Mark taps into the latest neuroscience to help us understand what drives our subconscious behaviour, so we can manage it better. I’m going to talk to him about how that can improve our relationships and our work, and increase our happiness.

In this interview, Mark and I discuss:

  • How our primitive instincts can be maladaptive in the business world
  • Why being indifferent to others holds us back from business success
  • How to move beyond learned behaviour
  • Why being authentic to a goal can be more beneficial than being authentic to a feeling or impulse
  • How emotional intelligence can help you manage disappointment

(Scroll down for more in-depth podcast notes.)

Listen to my interview with Mark Bowden.

0:00:00: Mark outlines the basic physiology of the brain, explaining how increased pressure leads people to default to their primitive instincts.

0:03:56: Mark explains that his book explores how to identify the triggers that will cause people to resort to primitive behaviour.

0:05:16: Michael asks Mark to elaborate on the four categories people fall into, according to his book: friend, enemy, potential sexual partner or indifference. Mark explains that most people fall into the “indifference” category.

0:07:02: Mark outlines how to test his theory on indifference and points out that, by recognizing how indifferent we are to others, we can choose to alter our behaviour and view new people as friends.

0:08:28: Michael asks Mark how people can start to change the way they connect with others. Mark says that it helps to approach a networking situation by adopting behaviours with strangers that you would normally reserve for friends – for example, talking, listening and agreeing.

0:10:06: Mark explains that his good humour at networking events is learned behaviour, but that in deciding to move beyond his primitive instincts and see new people as funny and intelligent – rather than as irrelevant or threatening – he realizes that they actually are funny and intelligent.

0:10:56: Michael and Mark discuss whether adopting learned behaviour is inauthentic. They point out that we mistake what feels authentic with what is actually a default setting from our primitive brain, and that it can be more beneficial to be authentic to a goal (e.g., meeting and connecting with people) rather than to a feeling (e.g., the desire to stay in and avoid new people).

0:13:21: Michael asks Mark why it’s important for people to connect with their “tribe.” Mark responds that our primitive instincts seek out people who share our values and beliefs because there’s a greater chance of survival among people with the same language, customs and signals. But in our international world, it isn’t always adaptive to hold onto old tribal behaviours.

0:15:32: Michael points out that many organizations are focused on increasing diversity and that it leads to more robust business insights. He asks Mark how we can stay open to new people, given that we’re programmed to fear them or worry about them. Mark notes that the most diverse ecosystems are the most successful, and that we need to make a conscious effort to block our primitive instincts and embrace others.

0:20:02: Going back to Mark’s book, Michael asks why it’s important to manage disappointment and how we can go about doing that. Mark says that by drawing on our emotional intelligence, we can express our disappointment without being vengeful or aggressive, and can learn to expect disappointment in future situations. He points out that in key situations it can pay to err on the negative.

0:22:58: Michael asks how Mark’s own behaviour has shifted as a result of writing his book. Mark replies that he is more aware of the degree to which he follows his own advice, and that he gives himself permission to choose when to challenge his instinctual behaviours.

0:24:40: Michael wraps up by directing listeners to where they can learn more about Mark and his book.

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