Become A Better Leader: Join A Band

Recently I had the good fortune to come across the work of the British neurobiologist Semir Zeki, author of Inner Vision: An Exploration of Art and the Brain, a seminal book in the field of neuroaesthetics.

Why am I so excited about finding Zeki? In his own words, “In our studies, we found that whenever subjects experienced beauty, regardless of whether it was from a musical or visual source, the experience always correlated with activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex.”

If you read my recent post, Save Your Brain, you know that I’m thinking a lot these days about how the brain works, and more specifically, how to keep your brain healthy

In that previous missive I wrote about how finding your way without a GPS strengthens  the hippocampus, which controls mapping skills among other things. Now I’m pleased to share that the brain’s frontal lobes, which control decision making, are stimulated by art.

Other recent research has found that artistic expression can mitigate trauma and stress while augmenting healing and recovery. It also can help lower your blood pressure.

There is so much focus these days on pushing every student into STEM (science, technology, engineering, math). I have nothing against these subjects and certainly understand their value to society and to the job prospects for graduates in these fields.

But this push has come at a terrible cost. It has caused us to push to the side the very things that underlay and give voice to our shared humanity.  Music, art, and other forms of artistic endeavor are no longer an important part of early education. They fight for survival every time the budget comes up. Better to put all the salary funds into STEM instruction.

I’ve always felt that those with an arts piece to their life have a different way of looking at the world. A different way of putting things together. A different way of seeing connections and noticing what occurs in the spaces between things where inspiration creativity, and innovation often live. And now we have proof that the decision making process is enhanced by exposure to art.

Think about how many well-known business and political leaders have a sideline in art. They paint, they’re in  a garage band, they spend their spare time in museums or at the theater.

George W. Bush paints, as did Dwight Eisenhower, and Winston Churchill. Dick Costello, former CEO of Twitter actually was part of Second City improv.

It has me wondering how much better some leaders who never participated in the arts or found them the least bit interesting would be if they picked up a paintbrush every now and then or learned to play guitar and then went off to play a gig in some local bar.


Paul Allen

Co-Founder Microsoft


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