On Winning

Robertson
After getting my copy of the book signed by Professor Robertson. Guardian journalist Michelle Loubon is at centre.
Photograph by Peter Lim Choy.


A few weeks ago, I accepted (with no small concern) an invitation from NGC Bocas Lit Fest Programme Director Nicholas Laughlin to chair a talk by Professor Ian Robertson, who would be speaking at the Big Idea lecture on his book The Winner Effect. After reading most of the book, I wrote the following introduction for the eminent neuroscientist for his talk on April 28, 2013.

There's a really good chance that you aren't here to explore the literary merits of Professor Robertson's book. This is a book, after all, which has been titled The Winner Effect, and subtitled The science of success and how to use it.

There's the distinct smell of publisher enthusiasm about that title and the charming turtle with a rocket strapped to its back all but screams "self help" book.
But who, after all, doesn't want success. Wealth, women/men, fame, lasting glory. These aren't words that tend to send us into a depressed funk.

Unless, of course, we're considering just how far we are from attaining any of them in any sustained way.

So here are some interesting things that you should know about The Winner Effect.
First up, this isn't a self help book. It may help you, but it won't hold your hand and seek to assuage the agony you feel about your personal doldrums.

It is a work of science.

There's nothing I can use to convey this more clearly than to note that along with the thorough index, there is a footnotes listing with 193 links back to the reference works and publications that constitute the background findings that Professor Robertson has referenced for this work.

Second. It is a book, not a paper. It is written engagingly and often wittily, the author seeing both the charm and the quiet horror of some of the conclusions that science has reached about the way that brains work.

In this work, you will read the tragic story of Paulo Picasso, the strategy of Don King and the researcher who goes by the nickname Genghis Dan, all of whom contribute bricks to this remarkable literary construct about the way our brains manage the influences and inputs we think we're handling all day long.

It isn't the work of a journalist making sense of science. It's the work of a neuroscientist putting in his best effort to make the staggering science of the mind read like English and to engage a general readership in contemplating its nuances.

Some of it will seem headslappingly obvious. Damn, you'll think. So Norman Vincent Peale was right? I really should think and grow rich?

As you'll discover, most of the answers to the imponderables we've been living with since birth aren't answered with a simple yes or no.
There's a lot of "it depends" in here, an acknowledgement that every individual brain responds to wildly different external stimuli not only according to the specific chemistry and DNA sequencing that underlie each of our own, personal thinking organs, but also because we've all been conditioned to think about life and its problems differently.

There are answers in here, but these aren't easy answers. You won't come away from the book with a list of ten to-do items that will guarantee you future success, though I imagine that Professor Robertson's publishers would have been thrilled to advertise such a thing.
What you're most likely to do is put the book down. Pause to consider it for a bit, and say, "Wait, what?" and begin flipping back through it again to review a chapter or two.
I know I did.

 A writer who can do this hardly needs someone to mediate between him and his audience, so I'm here to have fun right along with you.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Professor Ian Robertson, Professor of Psychology at Trinity College, Dublin, Professor at University College London and Bangor University. Scientist at the Rotman Research University of Toronto. Trained clinical psychologist and neuroscientist and I can assure you, a man who writes.
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