At first glance this book does not have a lot to do with management or marketing, and even less with the practice of veterinary medicine (the three focus areas do my blog. However, Subliminal by Leonard Mlodinow, deals with how the subconscious mind influences us in everything from our daily interactions, teamwork, and hiring, to our business and product choices.

Although the book starts off slow and in a manor that one might expect of a research based science book. The revelations start coming about half way through and don’t really stop.

Using, and citing research, as well as history and personal experience, Mlodinow draws a compelling picture that we rely on our unconscious mind more than we realize. The book does assure us that we can overcome the influences of the subconscious mind; however, it is difficult, and on the whole we are far better off with its input than without it. The real insight of the book, however, is the window it opens into the behavior of others – particularly for managers about their staff and their customers.

Possibly one of the most startling revelations of book is the scientific experiments that prove that our expectations of others are self fulling. In other words, if you believe that an employee is going to underperform, the chances are that they will because of your non-verbal cues and unconscious actions, that as a manager, you give to that employee. Researchers gave two teams of research students two sets of mice. One set they were told were normal, the other set had been genetically modified to increase their intelligence.

Both sets of mice were given the same intelligence tests and the results proved that the genetically modified mice were indeed significantly more intelligent. But in reality the mice were not the subject of the experiment but the research students themselves – both sets of mice were normal. The only difference between the two groups was that one had been labeled “more intelligent.”

As humans, we are very good at showing our emotions, but hiding them takes great effort. As the book points out, great method actors are successful because they actually try to experience the emotions they are trying to portray. The subliminal mind controls muscles that the conscious mind cannot. That is why some politicians, and car sales men, can come over as “sleazy.” Non verbal communication forms a language more complex and nuanced than our verbal communication. In schools, a child’s popularity has been found to directly correlate with that child’s ability to read the non verbal cues of their peers.

Non- verbal cues can also extend to surroundings, logos, and uniforms. Our subconscious mind takes these elements and if they resonate with our expectations of an business, for example, we will actually thinking better about that business than we would if these trappings are not there. It may not overcome a bad customer experience, but it could make the difference between a client returning not if the experience was neutral. The subconscious mind stets the stage for our interactions before they take place. Designers of lobbies and logos, as well as job seekers please take note! Presentation matters, even when we think it doesn’t or shouldn’t.

Another fascinating insight is the area of categorization and groups. As humans we automatically put ourselves into groups and categorize almost everything we see and interact with without being aware that we are doing it.

This explains why departments in a business that have a strong identity can actually harm wider team work. Examples of this abound where people spilt themselves into groups and then have issues with similar groups who should be working towards the same goal. With some fantastic examples from social research, that would now be considered unethical, as well as historical, and scientific examples, the author paints a picture of how we ignore the subconscious mind, and it’s influence at our detriment and peril.

That goes for mangers, employees, wives, husbands, children, parents and humans as a species.

(Clicking on the cover above will take you to the book’s Amazon page and contribute to my book buying habit / problem.)