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power points

Caffeine is the lubricant of work.

We nurse it in various forms – from coffee to Red Bull to pills – as we push against tiredness and exhaustion.

Psychologist Travis Bradberry says we need a different view of caffeine: It's actually keeping us from realizing our potential.

Dr. Bradberry, co-founder of the TalentSmart consultancy, usually writes on LinkedIn about emotional intelligence, offering a host of tips. He believes this suggestion has the potential to have a bigger impact on performance than any other single action he has advised.

The catch? Cut down on caffeine.

"And as any caffeine drinker can attest, this is easier said than done," he says.

The first reason to try this approach is that the good you expect from caffeine is deceptive. You probably drink caffeine to remain alert and improve your mood. Certainly many studies suggest caffeine improves cognitive task performance in the short-term. But those studies fail to consider the participants' caffeine habits, he notes.

"New research from Johns Hopkins Medical School shows that performance increases due to caffeine intake are the result of caffeine drinkers experiencing a short-term reversal of caffeine withdrawal," he warns. "By controlling for caffeine use in study participants, John Hopkins researchers found that caffeine-related performance improvement is nonexistent without caffeine withdrawal. In essence, coming off caffeine reduces your cognitive performance and has a negative impact on your mood. The only way to get back to normal is to drink caffeine, and when you do drink it, you feel like it's taking you to new heights. In reality, the caffeine is just taking your performance back to normal for a short period."

Second, drinking caffeine triggers adrenaline. And that's not good. Adrenaline arouses our "fight or flight" instinct, which sidesteps rational thinking in favor of a faster response. "When caffeine puts your brain and body into this hyper-aroused state, your emotions overrun your behavior," he says. "Irritability and anxiety are the most commonly seen emotional effects of caffeine, but caffeine enables all of your emotions to take charge." Beyond that, large doses of caffeine raise blood pressure, stimulate the heart, and produce rapid shallow breathing, which deprives your brain of the oxygen needed to keep your thinking calm and rational.

Third, caffeine hurts your sleep which in turn affects your self-control, focus, memory, and information processing speed. If you believe caffeine doesn't inhibit your sleep he offers some jolts of reality: Caffeine has a six-hour half-life, which means it takes 24 hours to work its way out of your system. "Have a cup of joe at 8:00 a.m., and you'll still have 25 per cent of the caffeine in your body at 8:00 p.m. Anything you drink after noon will still be at 50 per cent strength at bedtime. Any caffeine in your bloodstream – with the negative effects increasing with the dose – makes it harder to fall asleep," he advises. Worse, it reduces rapid eye movement sleep, the deep sleep during which your body recuperates.

Do you need caffeine to make it through the day? That may be only because you are using it now, losing sleep and seeking artificial arousal to return to normal states of focus and clarity. Consider his advice, counter-intuitive (and difficult) as seems.

The best interview questions to ask in each round

Job candidates are supposed to ask questions of their interviewers. But sometimes we're stumped, or the question that comes to mind seems inappropriate at the time.

"You don't want to imply that benefits are all you care about or that your No. 1 priority is flexible hours, and so there's a bit of a science to knowing what to ask and when," career development coach Dorianne St Fleur writes on Lifehacker.

Interviews can flow through several rounds. In the first round, you want a better understanding of company culture and clarity on the specifics of the actual job. She suggests asking the interviewer:

  • “How does the role I’m applying for contribute to the organization’s overall success?”
  • “What was your primary reason for deciding to work here?”
  • “Do you have any questions or concerns about my qualifications?”

In the next round, your questions should help explain how your career will be managed and what your overall expectations are for your future boss:

  • “How involved are employees in creating their own responsibilities and goals?”
  • “What are the immediate projects you’d like me to work on in the first 30, 60, and 90 days?”
  • “How does management measure employee growth and success?”

If you pass through to the final rounds, the company has decided you have the skills and qualifications. They'll probably be asking about cultural fit. At your end, ask:

  • “What can you tell me about the team I’ll be working with?”
  • “What opportunities do the members within the team have to work together on projects and assignments?”
  • “What type of employee does well here?”

Understanding K-waves

In the 1930s, the Soviet Union asked mathematician Nikolai Kondratieff to create a model proving that capitalism would fail. But academics Fabian Salum and Paulo Vicente dos Santos Alves note on Insead that he determined economics was better explained by technology than class struggle. His crucial finding was that technology did not evolve linearly but instead in leaps every 50 to 60 years that have been dubbed Kondratieff cycles, or K-waves.

The first cycle, from 1770 to 1820, involved initial mechanization. That was followed by cycles spurred by steam power, railroads and the telegraph; electricity, industrial combustion, and heavy engineering; mass production and nuclear energy; and, starting in 1980, telecommunications and informatics. This cycle will give way, around 2030, to robotics, alternative energy, and human enhancement technologies, they speculate.

Each Kondratieff cycle ends with a general crisis. "We seem to be in a period of struggle now. Based on past trends, the predicted crisis of the current Kondratieff cycle should take place between 2015 and 2030. When future economists or strategists look back, the refugee wave that hit Europe in 2015 may be considered the triggering event," they write.

Business models must adapt to the complexity of each stage, with understanding of the consumer likely to be critical in the future. "The next technological revolution will force another reinvention of capitalism. We have recently seen the invention of new extra-national currencies, such as bitcoin, and commercial transactions are focused on reducing bureaucratic barriers between the provider of labour and monetisation, like PayPal," they observe.

Governments can be critical, and for that they point to hegemonic cycles. Every 100 to 140 years, we move from an era in which one country is dominant, which is thought to be more stable, to a period of transition with power more widely dispersed. They say it remains to be seen whether we are at the end of U.S. dominance as the globe's hegemonic power.

Quick hits

  • Here’s another digital divide to consider where the rich actually lose: Information specialist Nathan Zeldes says senior executives, because of email overload, are often excluded from participation in the blogosphere and social internet, keeping them outside a “wonderful global conversation” and making them “the corporate equivalent of the proverbial couch potato.”
  • “Leadership isn’t about being great. It’s about enabling others to be great,” says consultant David McQueen.
  • Three questions that consultant Michael Hyatt suggests you ask about the next email you receive (and each subsequent one): Do I need to receive this email or could I unsubscribe from the list mailing it, do I need to put time and intelligence into processing it, and do I personally need to answer it or could that be delegated or automated?
  • Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Oprah spend at least five hours a week on deliberate learning, reading, reflecting, and experimenting. Do you?
  • Never take the last flight to anywhere, says Ottawa sales consultant Colleen Francis. Always make sure there’s another flight that night on your preferred supplier. As well, know what the back-up is – she takes a screen shot so she can quickly book it if she experiences travel mayhem.