Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Book: Richard Restak, M.D., Mozart’s Brain and the Fighter Pilot: Unleashing Your Brain’s Potential (Harmony Books, 2001).

Why You Should Care: Your brain never loses its capacity to learn, and the more you learn, the stronger this capacity is.

Last week, Dan Tenenbaum gave us a look at the world of musical theater from the inside. Dan, a highly skilled and accomplished lawyer in the entrepreneurial “space” (not to be confused with a parallel universe), also has been giving the right side of his brain a thorough workout for the last few years, with very impressive results.

 My office is next to Dan’s, and I have been treated to the working versions of librettos and snatches of tune now and then through the paper-thin wall that separates us (makes a nice change from the conference calls about Series A Preferred Stock and other venture financing terms). Once or twice, I was even flattered by consultations on matters of historical trivia that may or may not have triggered a thought that found its way into a rhyme or two.

 Let’s just say this process has been almost as interesting for Dan’s friends to witness as it has been for Dan to experience.

 Who knew that Dan is also doing what, according to Dr. Richard Restak, we all should be doing to maintain our mental capacity and performance as we age? As Dr. Restak observes, “[W]e describe a person possessing varied and far-ranging knowledge as a ‘Renaissance’ person. That is the model we should all strive to achieve.”

 We used to think that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. And, indeed, it is true that, with respect to a learned skill, you either use it or lose it—“if you stop learning, your overall mental capacity and performance will decline.” Not a great message, but something all of us would intuitively endorse.

 It turns out that medical research over the past decade or so has revealed that “the brain retains its plasticity across the entire life span.” A person’s capacity for new learning “remains and may increase as you grow older.” Those of us like me with loved ones who have suffered from mental impairment as they have aged may doubt this, but studies indicate that a person who thinks of education as a lifelong project (and regularly engages in new learning over the course of a lifetime) measurably reduces his or her chances of developing such an impairment.

 I guess serial entrepreneurs, who repeatedly approach new products, services and business models as they build business after business, often in varying industries, are doing more than just scratching an entrepreneurial itch.

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