Podcast #193 – Mark Jaben, MD on Lean, Change, and Our Brains

Mark Jaben

My guest for episode #193 is Mark Jaben, MD, talking about our brains, Lean, and change. Mark has been a guest blogger for me before and it's great to talk to him today about his research and experiences.

In our conversation, Mark talks about “the troublesome features of our brain's operating system” (such as our “hidden brain”), how the A3 problem solving process fits with the way our brains work, and how to deal with “resistance” to change. Mark has also helped talk to some healthcare organizations about KaiNexus and we both presented at a conference last year.

For a link to this episode, refer people to  www.leanblog.org/193. Also check out this “video remix” by Mark Poole (also embedded below in this post).

Below are some links and material that Mark wrote to share with the listeners (and he'll have a guest post soon that expands on the thoughts in the podcast).


How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

The Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Dan Pink (listen to Mark Graban's podcast with him)

To Sell Is Human by Dan Pink

Start Up Selling: How To Sell If You Really, Really Have To And Don't Know How by Scott Sambucci (Mark's podcast with him)


A Matter of Trust,” Onora O'Neill, 2002 BBC Reith lecture


1)  Our brain is into plausability, not reality-

The Split Brain: A Tale of Two Halves,' Nature, vol 483, issue 7389, mar 2012

Spit brain surgery was used to treat intractable seizures in the 1950's and involved cutting the corpus callosum, the connecting pathways between the left and right hemispheres. It did not work well for seizures, but it did create an opportunity to better understand the function of each half of the brain. This is how we learned about the differing functions, including that vision is split by visual field, not by eye. In a classic study, participants were shown a picture of a chicken claw in the right visual field. This is processed in the left brain, which is where we assign a word to an object. A series of pictures were placed In the other visual field, and the participant was asked to pick the most appropriate one. They would pick  the image of a shovel. When asked why, their response would be that they needed the shovel to clean the the dung from the chicken coop. There were no images of this, indicating that their brain concocted a story that fit the data they were given. When challenged with this reality, the participant would hold to their story and defend it as accurately depicting what they had seen.

2) Memories are selected–

Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient, HM; Suzanne Corkin

HM had surgery to treat his intractable seizures by removing the tips of his temporal lobes. When he awoke, he was unable to remember anything said to him. He could recall remote events from his childhood, but otherwise he was totally amnestic for current information. He eventually was able to learn and retain information about very  mundane tasks. Eventually he could remember how to get from one part of his house to another, demonstrating that recall occurs in different parts of the brain depending on the emotional context of that event. The more immediately impactful memories store in the hippocampus, close to the amygdala, and may explain why these are the first memories that come to mind when we feel challenged, ie, those that would have the biggest affect on making decisions about survival. In a subsequent study, it has been demonstrated that we are better at remembering things we think about more often, presumably because we think about things that are most important to us and select those to remember.

3) Memories can change—-

Elizabeth Loftis has had a career of demonstrating that however a memory is imprinted in the brain, it can change over time. She has been involved as an expert in many trials that hinged on someone's memory of a crime that had occurred in the distant past.  In an interesting twist, she recently had just such an example from her own family background.

4) Where do we process——-

The Price of Your Soul: neural evidence for the non utilitarian representation of sacred values
G. Berns et al, Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society, Mar 2012, vol. 367, no. 1589, pg 754-762

They took people who had a very strongly held belief and put them in a fMRI to find out that their amygdala lit up when talking about that belief. They then  offered each person a sum of money if they would vote on a survey differently from that belief. Some would; some would not. Those that would were then put back into the fMRI, and now they were processing in an area of their prefrontal cortex, suggesting that options and alternatives are processed in different parts of the brain from closely held beliefs.

 5) The effect of power on mirror neurons——-

Power Changes How the Brain Responds to Others‘, Hogeven, Inzlicht, Obhi, Journal of Experimental  Psychology, June, 2013

Each participant was given a series of scenarios while in an tMRI. As the scenarios unfolded giving the participant a greater degree of control and power over the outcome, the researchers observed that there was less and less activity in their mirror neurons

6) Creativity requires getting past the prefrontal cortex—–

Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Musical Performance: A Study of Jazz Improvisation,' Limb and Braun, PLOS One, 2008

Researchers took professional jazz musicians and placed them in an fMRI with a keyboard. They were asked to play a written piece of music, and a certain area of their prefrontal cortex lit up. Then ,they were asked to improvise anything they wanted. Now that prefrontal area was quiet and a different area of the brain was lit up, suggesting that the ‘rules' area of the brain must be turned off in order to get creativity which occurred in a different area.

Here is a video remix of the podcast that was created by Mark Poole:

For earlier episodes of my podcast, visit the main Podcast page, which includes information on how to subscribe via RSS or via Apple Podcasts.  

If you have feedback on the podcast, or any questions for me or my guests, you can email me at leanpodcast@gmail.com or you can call and leave a voicemail by calling the “Lean Line” at (817) 993-0630 or contact me via Skype id “mgraban”. Please give your location and your first name. Any comments (email or voicemail) might be used in follow ups to the podcast.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. You absolutely must add Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow” to this reference list. Kahneman is a psychologist and economist. The book is about exactly the thought processes that Mark describes here. I love the way he’s tied them into A3/PDCA thinking. Great insight!

    • I started trying to read “Thinking Fast and Slow” after it was recommended by about 100 people. I thought the book was slow slow slow. Maybe it should have been a magazine article? Too much stuff about Kahneman and his professor/mentor for me… What chapter should I skip to? :-)

  2. No doubt, it’s a bit of a grind. I borrowed the book so I can’t refer back to it for some advice. I just powered through stubbornly–probably put in more time than the value that I got from it. Jaben’s book will solve that problem for us! ;-)


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