Episode 89 – The science of stories with Dr Lynda Shaw

Dr Lynda Shaw‘Neuroscience is the future of business,’ claims Dr Lynda Shaw, and once you’ve listen to her talk about how emotion drives our decisions and how being generous helps us be more effective, it’s hard to argue.

She also reveals how when we tell stories, we create neurochemical connections between ourselves and our listeners, which build trust and connection. But how can you use that powerful effect when your listener isn’t in the room with you, when you’re writing a business book, for example?

In the best traditions of The Extraordinary Business Book Club, this is a fascinating mix of rich information together with tips and ideas for making it work for you in practice and with a dash of the unexpected – this is the first mention of Coronation Street as a model for writing on this podcast or indeed any other, as far as I’m aware…


Lynda’s site: http://www.drlyndashaw.com/

Alison on Twitter (say hi!): https://twitter.com/bookstothesky

The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/


Alison Jones:                        Hello, and welcome to the Extraordinary Business Book Club. It’s an absolute pleasure to be here today with Dr. Lynda Shaw, who is a cognitive neuroscientist and business psychologist. She works with business leaders to help them better understand emotional responses, so they can improve business culture, and turn fear and stress into profit and loyalty.

She was lecturer at Brunel University, conducting research on brain function and impairment, and specialising in consciousness and emotion, and she’s also founded three successful businesses, so she has worked out that theory in practise. She’s the author of a book for children called “Beat the Bullies, Use Your Brain”. Her new book, which actually, I didn’t know this, but she’s launching the day we’re speaking, which is very exciting, is called “Your Brain Is Boss, Using Mind Power to Develop Influence, Creativity, and Work Satisfaction.” Welcome to the club, Lynda.

Lynda Shaw:                         Thank you very much.

Alison Jones:                        Good to have you here. What a fascinating set of topics to be talking about. Can we start with emotion, because I think that’s really fascinating, and something that often gets left out when we talk about business books? We talk a lot about the brain, we talk a lot about psychology, much less, I think, about emotion and consciousness. Why do you think that is?

Lynda Shaw:                         It’s because I think a lot of people, very senior people in business, think that emotion is that pink, fluffy word, that isn’t important in business, but research has shown for some years that everything we do is based on an emotional response. What I’ve done is I’ve weaved that in a lot. My doctorate was about unconscious processing of emotion, and it’s key to our decision making. It’s key to absolutely everything we do, everything we do, all communication. That’s why I’m very keen to put it in the book, and why I think a lot of businesses haven’t talked about it.

Actually, I correct myself. About three or four years ago I did a project for Standard Life, the big insurance providers and pension providers. They did a project on whether the emotional content in their marketing had any influence on whether people would buy it or not. What we did is we had people sit in front of a screen looking at three different types of letter from a fictitious provider. One was a typically, boring finance document that was like, “Oh my,” the sort of thing that goes straight in the bin, I’m afraid, in my world. Luckily, my husband reads this stuff, because it’s so important.

The other one was negative emotional words like “struggling” and “survival”. The other one was positive emotional words like “holidays” and “providing for your family” and so on. The results showed absolutely 100% that people were more attracted to the positive emotional words in the marketing content. What was extremely important is that it galvanised them into actually buying the products.

Alison Jones:                        So the more positive emotions were more effective?

Lynda Shaw:                         Yeah. You see, basically, in business for many, many years you’ve got the FUD principle, which is fear, uncertainty and doubt. That’s what sales has been base on for many, many years. You put this, “If you don’t do this, this is going to happen to you.” I think this is missing a trick a little bit because, yes, it certainly works, but equally more and more people are attracted to what is pleasant, what they actually might want. I think what’s going on is actually the brain habituates rapidly, so you put something, a threat, in front of someone. If that threat isn’t important right now, imminent right now, the brain will go, “Well, that’s interesting. I’ll think about it,” and they’ll park it.

Now, as a business owner you don’t want that. You don’t want people to say, “Oh, yeah. That interesting.” As soon as they say that word “interesting” you know you’ve lost the sale and you’ve lost the lead. It’s straight away because they go, “Oh, yeah. That’s really interesting,” not, “Oh, god. I really need that.” That’s what you’re looking for. We need to remember that if you are using fear, uncertainty and doubt in your sales and marketing efforts, if it’s not of an imminent threat right now people are not going to be attracted to what you’re selling. However, if you are using as well attractive words and words where people are moving towards the product as opposed to trying to push it away they’ll want it anyway. Even if it’s expensive they’ll want it if you package it properly. That’s why emotion is so important to understand in business.

Alison Jones:                        That’s fascinating, too, for any authors listening because one of the most important job that you have as an author is pitching your book. Obviously, you do that by communicating some sort of emotion. Many, many authors do it by sort of, “You don’t want this to happen. Read this book and stop it.” It’s really interesting to think about that and what it is you’re offering and how you hook somebody emotionally by the promise of your book as well.

Lynda Shaw:                         Yeah, absolutely right. “Your Brain is Boss”, I agonised over the title for absolutely ages because I didn’t want it to be sort of mainstream. I wanted it to be slightly different. The book isn’t all about emotion, but there’s a lot about emotion in there. When we have an emotional response to something it’s often very quick, it’s certain, it’s automatic. Therefore, we have no control over it, but very quickly we can gain control, and that is what is so important, is to gain control and be in control of our brain apart from the times when it’s running amok because it’s trying to survive or help you survive, which is correct, which is how is should be. Mostly in a business situation we are able to control our emotional response to things and our emotional behaviour. That is what’s another key to being successful.

Alison Jones:                        That’s interesting as well because I think it’s reasonably well. I’ve certainly heard that thing about making decisions, engaging buyers’ emotions. That’s why storytelling is so powerful, isn’t it? I think what’s less-talked about, or certainly I’ve read less about, is the way that emotions affect your decision making as the business owner and understanding what’s going on there. When you make a decision very often you kind of retrospectively justify it, and you don’t realise that it was made in the moment under the influence of a particular set of emotions.

Lynda Shaw:                         Yeah, absolutely. Funnily enough, you can use storytelling very well in business as well. Basically, what happens is if you think anthropologically in villages of bygone days, and some villages even now in indigenous cultures, the storyteller was one of the most important people in the tribe. The reason for that is because through the stories they taught their children, and they also communicated with other tribes in other villages, highly important. What people seem to forget, or maybe not aware of, is that when we tell a story we change it slightly according to our audience. That means that subconsciously our audience is a part of that creative process.

Once they’re part of that creative process, they feel more empathy for us. We actually start to stimulate a neurochemical called oxytocin, which is all about bundling and trusting. You have this delicious dance between the storyteller and the listener. It doesn’t have to be a grand, elaborate story. It could be something that is incredibly relevant, a case study or a client that you’ve had or something that relates to that person. They will trust you far more, and they will feel bonded far more, and they will want to be onboard with you. It’s a great persuader.

Alison Jones:                        I love that idea about the dance between the listener and the teller. I can that working beautifully when you’re face-to-face with somebody, even when you’re presenting, maybe. How do you work that when you’re writing for somebody and you haven’t got that kind of real-time co-creation going between the teller and the listener?

Lynda Shaw:                         Quite right. Absolutely. Excellent question. You don’t have that same creative process. Therefore, it’s wise when you’re writing a story that’s a case study in a business book environment, is to make sure that at least one of your stories will relate to your target market, your target audience. My book has real case studies that I have experienced myself or interviewed people. I’m very keen that all the stories are original. I think that’s very important, too, when you’re telling a story. Each story is of maybe a head of a corporation. It might be a small SME, it could be a one-man business. There is something for everybody in there who is interested in using emotion in business and, indeed, just becoming more human in very much a digital age. That’s the only competition we’ve got is our humanness.

Alison Jones:                        It’s our USP.

Lynda Shaw:                         Yeah, it is, really, honestly. People think, “Oh, my goodness. The latest technology, isn’t if fantastic?” Yes, of course it is, and as a business owner, yes, you want to streamline everything you’re doing and get processes in place and systems in place. What will set you out from the rest, what will set you out from keeping your job, what will set you apart from other business owners, what will set you apart from maybe starting your second, third or forth business is how human you are because if everything else is put into artificial intelligence, that’s all we’ve got left.

Alison Jones:                        I love that. When you’re writing for your readers now and you’re writing for business owners and you’re speaking very directly and compellingly to people who’ve got to make decisions and who are kind of in the arena, how different is that? Obviously, your background is in academia, and when you’re writing a PhD you’re writing for a very different audience. There’s probably less emotion, I’m guessing, and less in the way of capturing people’s attention. How do you make that transition from writing for academics, really, really chewy science at a very high level, to making that accessible to somebody who’s reading in their lunch break on the tube with just a few second to spend and no background in the topic?

Lynda Shaw:                         You make the transition really badly to start with.

Alison Jones:                        That’s how you do it, oh right. I did wonder.

Lynda Shaw:                         Yeah, it’s really not good.

Alison Jones:                        It’s hard, though, isn’t it?

Lynda Shaw:                         What was helpful for me is my doctorate thesis was about emotion. It was an 80,000-word document, and we had somebody come into the university to explain the best way of writing an academic thesis. She told us the best way of doing that is writing it like Coronation Street. It was like, “Really?” We were sitting, looking at one another, and she said, “Yeah, absolutely. If you actually study the script of Coronation Street every single word moves the plot forward. There are no wasted words whatsoever.” Of course, that’s what a doctorate thesis is about, so it’s all boom, boom, boom. Every word is justified by either a literature review or results of your study or your interpretation of the results of the study based on the literature that’s already happened and, “Oh, no, my goodness.”

It is really, really quite tough to move over into more of a commercial way of writing, and when I started it was awful. I did it very badly, but I got much better at it because I love my topic. I love neuroscience, and I want it to be accessible for everyone. I want people to understand why people do what they do because when we do that it’s the future of business. Psychology and neuroscience is the future of business. If I can be a tiny little thread of helping people go understand that, that’s great. I worked on it very, very hard. I give bite-sized bits of neuroscience that are only used as a practical explanation or to support any other information I’m giving.

Alison Jones:                        Did you find it made you feel vulnerable stepping out from behind the big words and the very clear structures of academic writing? Was it difficult to take on a more everyday vocabulary and idiom?

Lynda Shaw:                         I didn’t feel more vulnerable, but because I was working at it hard I actually got lonely. I’m much better when I’m working with people. Sitting in my study or in my kitchen or in my car or in a coffee shop or anywhere where I was sort of changing the scene to work on this. There was a lot of false starts, but I’m very proud to say that my tenacity, and I didn’t think I was that tenacious, but, clearly, I have got some, my tenacity paid off because I’ve had some great feedback about the book. Although it’s only being launched today, the pre-orders have been coming in for the last few weeks, and the feedback’s been excellent, practical. In fact, one trainer has even started using it in her training for companies, which is lovely. It’s a good tool.

Alison Jones:                        That’s what you want, isn’t it? Now tell me a little bit about your business. How do your books, particularly this book, how’s that going to work in your business?

Lynda Shaw:                         It’s going to work in my business because it gives clarity as to what I actually do. It’s like, “Oh, yeah. That Lynda person. She talks about brain stuff.” It’s like, “Oh, no. That’s not good.” It’s helped me, first of all, focus my messages more clearly. It’s a lovely product for people to read and go, “Oh, yeah. Lynda can do that. She can talk about problem solving. She can talk about decision making. She can talk about perception or emotional intelligence or how to have fun in business and how to use feelings in business and how to create trust in influence. Yeah, she can do all that.” It’s really quite the soft skills in business that will increasingly become more difficult, but quite hard to get over in one’s marketing. It’s hard to pinpoint. If I was selling sales training, easy, bang, sales, but I don’t. The book has been very helpful for me for that reason.

Alison Jones:                        Because it allows you to speak in greater in detail in a longer-form way about difficult stuff, and it gets people aware of what you do?

Lynda Shaw:                         Yes, absolutely. Spot-on. You said it much better than I did.

Alison Jones:                        Just making sure I understood. Also, what does the book make possible in the business, do you think? How does it move you on sort of personally and professionally?

Lynda Shaw:                         There is a bit of self-development in there as well as business development. Every chapter has, on average, 10 things, tips to use and techniques to use on that particular topic. For instance, if it’s on the self-help side of things it talks about well-being. There are many ways of looking at well-being, including financial well-being, which, a lot of people ignore. They think about their emotional well-being and their physical well-being and social. Emotional well-being can be exceedingly stressful if we put our head in the sand and ignore it. Once we are aware of what our bank balance looks like, even if it’s not what we want it to look like, we can then put a plan in place to do something about it, which is incredibly useful to be a bit of a stress management or a stress buster. On the self development side that is one of the things that goes in there.

In terms of business development, decision making and problem solving and creative thinking are incredibly important for not only the business owner or the senior business person but for the whole team. You don’t want to have those sitting in the meetings, the usual one having lots of ideas and taking over, and the quiet ones actually thinking what they were going to have for supper this evening or on Facebook, and or walking the dog or whatever they’d rather be doing. You actually want to tap into everybody’s creativity and help everybody feel valuable and valid as members of the team. Then you’ve got a much stronger workforce and far more engaged. There’s a huge amount in there, and that’s just a couple of snippets, to be honest with you.

Alison Jones:                        Obviously, that’s you giving tips for other people. In terms of the self development for yourself and the business development for yourself with the book, just tell me a little bit more about that.

Lynda Shaw:                         The self development, you really can’t understand any development until you understand perception. That’s why the perception is the first chapter of the book. Basically, when people say things like, “I know exactly how you feel,” no they don’t. None of us do. No one ever knows exactly how someone feels, and I cringe when I hear people say it. It’s, basically, even when we’re in the womb we have perceptions that we’re developing thought taste, through the amniotic fluid and so on and so forth. We develop upon that from birth right at the beginning. Each perception we have, each thing we perceive, our perception of it is based upon our experiences so far.

Therefore, by the time we’re adults the pyramid of experiences and the way we are perceiving them is totally unique to only us. If you and I have just lost our father on the same day of the year, and he was exactly the same age, of exactly the same illness, we still don’t know how we are both feeling, how each of us are feeling, we don’t. Unless we understand that we are going to ride rough-shod over everybody in business and our own development because we will stop listening.

Alison Jones:                        I think that must be one for the most irritating phrases, “I know just how you feel,” cue my story.

Lynda Shaw:                         Exactly.

Alison Jones:                        But I’m like a dog with a bone here, I’m still going to pull you back to it. I want to know about you, Lynda, how the writing of the book developed you personally and professionally.

Lynda Shaw:                         Oh, how it affected ME? Okay.

Alison Jones:                        Yeah, and how it fits in to your business rather than how it helps other people. I know that most of the time when you talk about the book that’s exactly what you’re talking about. It’s about the content and how it helps people who read it. We try and go under the hood for the author. I just want to unpack your experience of writing it, and how it has, up till now, impacted you personally and professionally.

Lynda Shaw:                         Okay. It has helped my confidence. It has helped my confidence because it showed me that I have more of one genre of writing. I can still slip back into academia or I can write an academic paper, but I now know that I can also write with clarity and be able to get across to a much wider audience. That’s helped my confidence a lot.

It’s helped me to understand who I am. It’s helped me understand the core of my messages, or the core of my message, and that has been delightful. I thought I knew it, but I didn’t think I could express it through everything I’ve written, and I do. I was actually afraid of it. To be honest with you… would you want me to tell what this core is? Would you like that? Would that help?

Alison Jones:                        Yes, do.

Lynda Shaw:                         Yeah? Okay. About eight or nine years ago I developed a concept called The Pleasure Umbrella. The Pleasure Umbrella basically means if we put the brain in a pleasurable state we’re the most effective and efficient we can be. The best way of doing that is through kindness, generosity and altruism. I could give you all the neurochemicals around that and the science behind it, but the point is when we are being who we know we should be in our hearts, everything works much better. Our own health, our mental capacity, our efficiency and effectiveness at work. Our relationships and our profit margin because it’s all people who we work with and clients, customers shareholders, everyone else. So, everything works much, much better.

I shelved The Pleasure Umbrella because somebody said, “It sounds like a brothel.” I thought, “Oh, no. That’s not what I mean. That’s really not good,” so I stopped talking about it. I’m very keen that everybody who writes anything, any author, we need to come across as authentic because if we don’t people will realise there’s some kind of dissonance going on, and they won’t be drawn into the book. There’ll just be a bit of discomfort, which means that people won’t enjoy the book, and they won’t act upon the book, and they certainly won’t recommend it.

When we’re authentic we are much better at writing and getting our message across. I have been bugged by not talking about The Pleasure Umbrella, so this book, “Your Brain is Boss”, actually includes The Pleasure Umbrella, which has sort of exorcised any ghosts or any debilitating ideas I had. I was very careful how I worded it without sounding as if was being too risqué. Nevertheless, that’s part of the philosophy of the book, and that’s my core being. That is how I know I’m very effective when I work with people in a business environment, so that’s how it’s helped.

Alison Jones:                        That’s absolutely fascinating to have articulated it in the way that you repeated, but then to hide that because someone else didn’t receive it right. That’s fascinating.

Lynda Shaw:                         Yeah, it’s surprising isn’t it? One throwaway comment can make a big difference.

Alison Jones:                        Wow. I always ask my guests, what’s their one best tip? You’re here on launch day, and, oh, congratulations. There’s going to be people listening who are still in the trenches. What’s your one best tip to help them get to the end of writing their first business book?

Lynda Shaw:                         Just do it, get on with.

Alison Jones:                        No, no, come on.

Lynda Shaw:                         Just junk all of the la-la. I’m not going to give you any psychology on neuroscience on that one. Just it can be an absolute slog, get on with it.

Alison Jones:                        I was expecting from your profile some sort of great neurological trick here.

Lynda Shaw:                         No. Get out of your own way and just get on with it. I read up on the great writers in our history, the way they’ve written books. There are all sorts of ways and they have their quirkiness. Descartes wouldn’t get out of bed until midday because he was thinking, which is great. It was only when he started getting up early that he died. It’s got to work for some people. If you are going to be working, if you are better in the mornings, then work in the morning. Get it done. If you’re better not even jumping in the bath or shower, then stay in your pyjamas and go and get some toast and tea and stay in bed and write. If you’re better at writing where there’s a lot of chaos, then go to a coffee shop. If you’re better at writing in the evenings, then do that. Just do what fits with you and get it done.

Alison Jones:                        Brilliant. I love that. Thank you. It could not be more clear. Okay? Everybody heard that? Brilliant. Now, you are on the show because Rebecca Jones recommended you as a guest, so pay it forward. Who do you think would be a really good guest for listeners of the Extraordinary Business Book Club, somebody with something interesting to say about the business of business books?

Lynda Shaw:                         Nicki Shaffer is a friend of mine. She is an extremely clear-thinking, practical, no-nonsense woman. She is a delight, absolutely delight. Whatever she says has been well-researched and thoroughly thought about and practical, so I recommend Nicki Shaffer.

Alison Jones:                        That’s terrific. I actually happen to know Nicki. I haven’t seen her for quite a while. She lives not far from here. She’s in Reading, isn’t she?

Lynda Shaw:                         No, she’s in Henley now.

Alison Jones:                        Oh, she used to be near Reading. Great, oh brilliant. It’d be so nice to talk to Nicki, so thank you, a lovely recommendation. Now, Lynda, if people want to find out more about you, if they want to find out more about “Your Brain is Boss” where should they go?

Lynda Shaw:                         Well, my name is Lynda with a Y, so it’s L-Y-N-D-A, S-H-A-W. My website is www.drlyndashaw.com. You can email me at lynda@drlyndashaw.com. Doctor is D-R. It’s very hard, isn’t it, to say all this when your spelling’s not normal?

Alison Jones:                        It is. The good thing is that I do have show notes, so I’ll put the links up on the show notes for the confused of listening.

Lynda Shaw:                         Thank you very much. Yes, you’ll find me on drlyndashaw.com. That would be great. I’d love to hear from anybody, especially feedback on my book, if you’re so kind to buy it.

Alison Jones:                        Fantastic. Sounds wonderful. Thank you so much for your time, really, really fascinating stuff. We could have talked a lot longer here.

Lynda Shaw:                         That’s true.

Alison Jones:                        But we’re going to have to end it there. Thank you so much, Lynda.

Lynda Shaw:                         Thank you very much.

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