Management Rewired: Why feedback doesn’t work and other surprising lessons from the latest brain science

by Charles S. Jacobs

This book is applies neuroscience research to the field of management.

The trend in business has been toward making data-driven decisions, but Charles Jacobs explains why using only the logical side of our brain would lead to myopic decisions.  Fortunately, the prefrontal cortex is connected to the amygdala, the portion of the brain which deals with emotion and memory, and this helps us make judgments based on previous experience.   This reminded me of what Jack Welch has written about managing from the gut, which Welch says is basically pattern recognition.

Most of the book is about managing people.  Jacobs shows how extrinsic rewards can diminish intrinsic motivation.  This is consistent with the writings of the late quality-guru W. Edwards Deming.

Rather than trying to manage behavior, it is more effective to “change the thinking that drives the behavior.”  Jacobs explains that stories are a much more effective way to shape thinking than a logical argument. “The most successful CEOs I’ve ever worked with… convey a narrative about what they’re trying to do with their business that gets me as excited as they are.”

Jacobs also has some interesting insights on conflict and dissonance.   “We should think about actively seeking out dissonance. It is dissonance that teaches us and changes the way we think… [However,] we should also accept that no one ever wins an argument.” He encourages the use of questions to resolve conflict.

On page 139 the author describes an experiment with a dolphin conducted by Gregory Bateson.  On subsequent pages, the animal is sometimes referred to as a porpoise and other times a dolphin—a bit sloppy with the facts for a nonfiction book which claims to be based on science.

Overall, the book is engaging, thought-provoking, and well presented.  And in the author’s words, “Just the act of reading this book has rewired your brain and established new neural networks. Continuing to think about the ideas that are in it will develop habits of mind that will make you more effective in both work and life.”

Jacobs, Charles S. Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science. New York: Portfolio, 2009. Buy from