Interview with Theo Compernolle

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What's the story behind your latest book?

In my teaching, coaching and collaboration with hundreds of professionals I had the impression that the way they use their Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), like email and smartphones, has become very counter-productive: not only undermining the great potential of their brain, but also ruining the very promising synergy between their magnificent brain and their fantastic technology.
Next I dived deep into the research and found out that it was even worse than I expected.

The third step was to find out if this was true for the population of my clients too. Therefore I did a survey and 1200 responded, about 50% managers and 50% other professionals.
The results were such that at that point the working title of my book became: “How we unknowingly f***-up our brainwork by being always connected and multitasking”. The title expressed how bad it was.
Then I started asking hundreds of professionals in my workshops and lectures: what is your most important tool to be successful as a professional? 99% answered: my brain!
Next I asked: What do you know about your brain? The answer for 99% was: Basically nothing.
Quite unbelievable that 99% of professionals don’t know anything about their most important tool to be successful: their brain.

The sad result is that a huge majority of knowledge workers, unknowingly, ruin the performance of their magnificent brain, and obstruct the matchless potential of the collaboration between their brain and their ICT.
Therefore I wrote the book "BRAINCHAINS" to help you discover the science about your thinking brain and the very day-to day, down to earth consequences for your intellectual performance. It will help you to unleash the full potential of your brain in a hyperconnected, multitasking world. Taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of your brain you will also get the best results from your brain-ICT synergy.
As a medical doctor, neuropsychiatrist and scholar, with decades of experience in medical schools and business schools in many countries, I am able to integrate science from many domains. For this book I studied over 600 publications and turned this knowledge into an easy readable and practical book.

What is your writing process?

Let's start with what drives me.
> I am Driven by curiosity: especially about the modern brainworkers, their intellectual productivity, their life balance, their personalities, their brains, their leaders and their companies.
> I am Passionate about simplicity: burning the midnight oil to get to the essence of what I learn from research and conversations.
> I am Zealous about teaching; transmitting my knowledge in a simple, but not simplistic, lasting and useful way to professionals, students and the public at large.
> I am also very suspicious about mere opinions, especially of uninformed people, my own opinions included.

Therefore the first step is always a question, my own or the question of one of the participants in my workshops or lectures. If I don't really know the answer I delve in the research literature, sometimes very deep.
Helped by the fact that as a neuropsychiatrist I am trained in very different disciplines like medicine, psychology, biology, physiology, neurology, psychotherapy etc... etc... I then try to integrate the findings from different disciplines to really understand the issue.
Once I think I understood the issue, I further burn the midnight candle to find a way to explain this knowledge into very simple terms, in a text, a metaphor, an image, a slide for a presentation, an interview and ultimately in a book. I try to follow the advise of Leonardo da Vinci: Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication.

This process was perfectly described by Steve Jobs:
“If you read the Apple’s first brochure, the headline was ‘Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication.’ What we meant by that was that when you first attack a problem it seems really simple because you don’t understand it. Then when you start to really understand it, you come up with these very complicated solutions because it’s really hairy. Most people stop there. But a few people keep burning the midnight oil and finally understand the underlying principles of the problem and come up with an elegantly simple solution for it. But very few people go the distance to get there”

What are you working on next?

Publish my free book on "Badly designed open offices. The fifth Brainchain". This is urgent because these brainwork killing offices are still built and rented every day.
In almost all workshops and lectures lots of people react with: “I learned a lot today, but you know Theo, the worst negative influence on my intellectual productivity is my open office”. Some people call their office a "Brainjail", one participant called it a "Brain Torture Chamber".

This motivated me to study the research on this subject too. I found out that these people are 100% right, and wrote an additional chapter in my book "BrainChains" about “The 5th BrainChain: badly designed offices. Then, just before finalizing my manuscript, I removed that chapter, because "BrainChains" is about things people can do themselves to improve their productivity, creativity and health. There is not much you can do about it, if the executives of your company are so totally uninformed that they keep warehousing their brainworkers in these kinds of offices for all the wrong reasons.

Therefore, I turned the fifth BrainChain; “Badly Designed Offices” into a free booklet.
 You can download the manuscript at www.brainchains.org. It has no copyrights, hence you can make as many copies as you want and forward them as many people as possible to inform everybody about how to design or redesign an office (or to revolt). I want to turn this in a proper ebook before the end of the month.

If you read the chapter about the sorry myth of multitasking kids, you will understand that I want urgently to write a micro-book for pupils in high-school and students in colleges and universities (and their teachers).

Once that's done I want to make a thorough update of “Stress: Friend and Foe”, which is still a long seller in Dutch.

When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?

Internationally consulting; giving key-note and motivational speeches; facilitating workshops; coaching executives, managers and their teams.
Enjoying life, my wife, my kids and 5 grandchildren.

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?

Doing the research and reaching a real understanding. Next, when I get feedback not just that people liked my book, but most of all that the ideas and practical tips really made a difference and made their life better.

Who are your favorite authors?

I basically only read non-fiction like
Jared Diamond: especially: Collapse 
Bill Bryson: especially: A Short History of Nearly Everything

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?

My first article ever, at age 25, was about children's art, written for a journal for nurses specialized in child care.

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