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Speaker Feature: PIA explores the neuroscience of focus and productivity with Kognitive’s Ethan Glessich

Ethan Glessich
October 25, 2022
2 mins

Video transcript

Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) interviews founder and managing director of Kognitive, Ethan Glessich. Copublished with PIA.

With the Think Big Act Bold Conference just around the corner, we [PIA] interviewed keynote speaker and productivity expert, Ethan Glessich, to better understand how he became so passionate about focus, and how he will help us supercharge our concentration in the upcoming keynote.

PIA: I understand you’re an expert in human attention. When did you first become interested in focus?

Ethan: I think on some level I’ve always been passionate about focus, but the first time it really caught my attention (pun unintended) was when I was competing at the Paragliding World Championships in Austria. Paragliding acrobatics is where you take a little paragliding wing and flick it around you in a three-dimensional acrobatic display above a lake.

I had trained extensively and could do all the required competition manoeuvres perfectly, but as I started my run, part of my mind was focused on the audience and my nerves, and no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get the manoeuvres out cleanly. My ability to control my focus impacted my performance. I became intrigued to better understand why, and more importantly, what I could do to improve it.

PIA: Didn’t you also have a slightly more dramatic encounter with focus?

Ethan: Hahahaha. Yes, that’s right. I see you’ve done your homework. My interest in focus was supercharged when I lost control of my wing in an acrobatic training session at 1000m in Bright, Victoria, and began to fall towards the ground. My focus in this situation impacted much more than my performance—it impacted my very survival—but I’ll save the details of this story for the keynote.

PIA: Am I correct in that your expertise in focus also has a foundation in neuroscience?

Ethan: Yes, that’s right, for over a decade, I’ve been studying neuroscience, with our in-house neuroscientist at Kognitive Dr. Patricia Martos, and the nexus point between organisational and personal performance. Patricia has a PhD in cognitive neuroscience, a master in neuropsychology and a bachelor’s in psychology. She has been incredibly helpful in assisting me learn more about the human brain, instilling my passion, and building Kognitive’s science-based approach to improving focus and productivity.

Black and white transparent brain cloud.

PIA: Why are you so passionate about the human brain and focus?

Ethan: Every thought, every action, every decision is driven by the brain. The better we can understand how the brain works, the better we can craft our organisations, our education institutions, our communities, or our personal environments and tools to help us lead more productive, fulfilled lives.

Focus is known as a “core cognitive capability” of the brain as it is so fundamental to human cognitive function. It’s the channel through which we experience a beautiful sunset, a great conversation with loved ones, or a delicious wine. In fact, every moment of our lives is experienced through focus. Sometimes our brain’s attention system can help our performance and wellbeing, while in other circumstances, it can do the opposite. The better we can understand how our focus system works, the better chances we have of using it to our advantage.

PIA: Sounds interesting, but isn’t neuroscience too complex for the layperson?

Ethan: While it is true that neuroscience is an incredibly complex field, we work extremely hard at Kognitive to distil this complexity into simple, relatable concepts and practical tools which are easy to apply and get real-world results.

We find that games are a great way to help people learn about the capabilities and limitations of their brain, and that lays the foundation to exploring the science in a very relatable and meaningful way. In the keynote for example, through a series of games and activities, we’ll push the audience's focus to its limits in real time, have a laugh, and explore why that occurs. These insights often lead people to creating or tweaking their own tools, but we also present a suite of practical tools which individuals and organisations can use to transform their focus in a very short amount of time.

PIA: Is focus the only area of brain science you focus on at Kognitive?

Ethan: It’s certainly a key pillar, but there are a number of other key cognitive pillars we focus on such as decision making, planning, memory, emotion, to name a few. Leveraging data and flow to improve performance is also core to our overarching approach.

PIA: Is there any preparation work required for the audience to get the most out of the session?

Ethan: No, not at all. Just coming with an open mind and the curiosity to learn about yourself and your brain is all that’s required. If people were interested in doing some research beforehand, however, they could explore our free ebook: The Cognitive Revolution, or our free productivity video series—both of which provide some deeper insight into focus.

Ethan Glessich is the founder and managing director of Kognitive—a management consultancy which helps people and companies improve productivity and performance. He is a former aerospace engineer and management consultant and was the first person to represent Australia in the paragliding acrobatic world championships. Check out these free productivity resources and learn more about Kognitive here.

Gabriela Wilson

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