Do you have a hyperbrain?
A recent article posted up on HackerNews presented a list of symptoms (representing things that the author felt about himself). These symptoms are not common to everyone, but they are common to enough people to warrant this and further articles. Plus, I promised some of them that I’d write about this.
The characteristics exhibited there seem to touch on almost every so-called mental disorder out there: Bipolar-like ups and downs of energy and, sometimes, emotions; Obsessive focus (under certain circumstances); Compulsion to do certain things that just have to be done; Hyperactivity (with a tendency to start many things at once); Attention Deficit (hell yeah.. oh, shiny stuff!). Yet it is far from diseased. With that brain, you can achieve great things, so long as you apply a few simple, practical approaches to harness it.
The hyperbrain is full of contradictions
On the one hand, the attention-deficited brain can be easily distracted by almost anything (a dire condition in the age of blogs, RSS feeds, and social news aggregation). On the other hand, it is also capable of extraordinary focus on the right task, and can turn that temporary obsession into a spike of productivity that has a nasty tendency to result in previously impossible things being achieved over the weekend. Unfortunately, the typical productivity approaches simply don’t work very well for this kind of brain, perhaps because they attempt to cure the symptoms, not the cause, and perhaps also because while temporarily decreasing one’s distractibility, they also obliterate the focus ability that gives the hyperbrain all its power.
On the one hand, it is practically incapable of multi-tasking. On the other hand, it can, under the right circumstances, plough through an enormous to-do list in an astonishingly short amount of time. This makes it particularly galling when you go through a low-productivity day. Not only you haven’t done much that day, but you did so much only two days before! Not living up to one’s potential is always disappointing.
On the one hand, it seems incapable of organising itself, working in a glorious mess that would drive most people nuts. On the other hand, this very habit is a side-effect of its ability to make sense of vast, churning oceans of chaos, where most analytical approaches would fail repeatedly or take forever. The hyperbrain can devour a new, ill-defined topic, organise it mentally into a fractal tree of practical thoughts, and successfully apply it to a problem at hand or explain it to others - all in less time than it would take the normal brain to even decide to go on a training course, let alone book it, endure it, and apply it.
On the one hand, it is often extremely good at grasping technical subjects, such as physics or hacking, which makes it very likely to settle for an engineering career. On the other hand, it has powerful artistic aspirations, and a sensitivity to the world that is usually found only in dedicated artists - not in your stereotypical engineer.
On the one hand, it suffers from a truly compulsive obsession with details - for instance, it might be incapable of going through a document without noticing almost every typo and grammatical error, as if they were circled with a red pen. It might listen to a piece of music and hear every false note. This can make one wonder: “Am I some sort of minor savant?” On the other hand, it is capable of rapidly leaping to the larger picture and drawing big picture conclusions at the highest levels.
On the one hand, it is capable of extreme highs of energy and enthusiasm. On the other hand, it regularly goes through days or even sometimes weeks of bored semi-depression, where it simply cannot be moved into any sort of productive activity. Well, it can, but we’ll get to that later.
On the one hand, this brain is, I firmly believe, capable of acts of genius. It surprises and delights its owner with its irregular achievements, even as it disappoints with its unpredictability. On the other hand, the enterprise world values predictability more than excellence, and the hyperbrain is thoroughly incompatible with that environment, and so is regarded by many as inferior, worthless, a nuisance. It can lead to misery, as described by lispy in his follow-up post.
Many of these characteristics exist in most people, to an extent, but in the hyperbrain, they are essential, primary, central, and acute. It is not a superbrain (though it can occasionally produce some extraordinary results), it is a hyperbrain - a more extreme version of the average brain. Because of that, however, it can be quite challenging to make the best out of it.
Do you own a hyperbrain?
If you recognise yourself in this, like many people, then do stick around (bookmark this in your RSS reader, perhaps), as I intend to publish a series of articles going into various aspects of this. If it doesn’t sound like you at all (which will be the case for a large percentage of readers), you might still wish to read it to understand some of your friends who might exhibit these traits (and perhaps point them this way). Don’t feel bad about it - hyperbrains are not superior, just different.
What makes me qualified to talk about this hyperbrain? Well, I happen to be the proud owner of one such specimen that I’ve been living with for a while - as long as I can remember, actually. Moreover, having had to survive for 4 years in a large business consulting firm, and having since started my own business - both of which are activities rather unfriendly to the hyperbrain - I’ve figured out a good number of approaches to harness this gift of nature, and, since others seem interested, I might as well share what I’ve discovered, in hope that it may be useful to others who are similarly blessed.
For it is a blessing, so long as it can be harnessed successfully. Out of control, it will make you miserable, as you constantly fail to live up to the potential that you know you have, the potential to achieve things both great and just plain normal, including, perhaps, things that will make you happier.
As I post up these items, please do keep in mind that this is not an absolute, objective guide to all cases, but a series of subjective observations from my own case as well as from the cases of people I know. You should take each piece of advice as you would any piece of advice found on someone’s blog - with a pinch of salt. Then again, do try some of these, and see if they work for you. At the very least, they should provide a starting point to develop your own techniques, or interesting ideas to enhance your existing approaches.
Next: part 2, High-level approach to getting the best of the hyperbrain.
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This article follows a previous article. It's part of a series of yet undefined length. If you haven't read the first instalment yet, it might be worth going back and reading it. This is addressed mainly to people who recognise themselves in the d...