Neuroscience in Business?

You may wonder, "Why now?" Is it a fad?

While some may be buzzing that way, I think not. A number of factors have converged in the last decade, which result in most workplaces actually minimizing the abilities of the human brain. A combination of technology; 24/7 information bombardment; inadequate breaks, sleep and exercise; prevalence of stimulants like caffeine, sugar, and alcohol; prevalence of multi-tasking; the pace of change; the demand to work - quickly - with people we've never met and whose face we may never even see on a screen; plus the increasing concern of whether we're high-enough on the hierarchy to be respected and, indeed, to stay employed, means that our brains are constantly stressed. Not a context for good brain function. Quite the contrary.

For example,

  • Some very important tasks cannot be accomplished when multi-tasking: Neuro-plasticity - the condition required for any new thinking, or for learning and innovation - will not occur. Neither can trust be built while multi-tasking.
  • Working memory is smaller than most managers realizes. New information cannot be processed when working memory is full: a common occurrence in an information-bombarded world. People simply cannot absorb multiple power point presentations. "Death by data" has become commonplace.
  • New thinking, learning, new responses will not take place when people are afraid of danger or concerned about their status - their place on the hierarchy. Few organizations know how to proffer status.

Neuroscience offers a number of opportunities for competitive advantage.   Fear in response to downbeat economic news can be minimized by focusing on ways that employees can band together to address new client vulnerabilities and concerns.  Leading with inquiry - including people in new questions -  is a powerful way to neutralize status, and will greatly boost learning, innovation, and responsiveness - not to mention morale. These two alone can breed a best work environment.

Are you using Neuroscience to build a high-performing business culture?  Please share...

It's One of Those Moments

When we most need courage and ingenuity. Our economy begs for sparks: fresh thinking, elegant ways to re-deploy resources and help constituents thrive together. Enterprises need our minds to be at their best.

Unfortunately, the brain’s first response to downbeat financial news is the opposite. Our neurons are highly sensitive to anything that looks like ‘danger’. In its presence, as many have observed, natural responses are Fight, Flight or Freeze. The pre-frontal cortex does not fire up - it shuts down.

Fear does more than blunt ingenuity; it all-but-obliterates the kind of intelligence we most need to maneuver.

We can develop better reactions - the human brain is enormously plastic. We can build high-performing business cultures that respond to market changes with curiosity. People can learn to respond with highly effective collaborative inquiry, like the engineers in the famous Apollo 13 crisis, “Houston, we have a problem.”

Neuroscience has a lot of value for business. Integrating some of those lessons into management practices for several years now, I’ve been deeply concerned about the ways that most workplaces dull brain function, rather than putting people at their best.

The current financial crisis makes the matter urgent. There’s much we can do. Two especially juicy items for the brain are experiences of belonging and of contributing. Leaders can re-kindle the spark of enterprise by responding to financial news with focus on customers’ increased vulnerability and by providing ways for employees and suppliers to band together to address them. Brain juice will flow, and new value will be generated.

Maybe you have somne other ways you’re using to make employees, customers, and suppliers smarter when we need them most? Please share.

Initial reflections January ‘09

I began my consulting practice in 1980, after an 18 month sabbatical.  Rested and thinking about going back to work, I noticed how many of the smart, educated, innovative people I knew were struggling.  Not satisfied with what they viewed as their opportunities.  Depressed or teetering close to it.  (Know anyone who's feeling that way??)

As an Anthropologist, I saw this as a dangerous pattern:  society needs its best and brightest to be enthused about tackling challenges; business needs its best and brightest engaged in the trenches.

And I want to live in the world that those people create with their best work.

So – as only a babyboomer would do - I created The BestWork® People to make all that possible.  28 years later – and at least 3 years behind – I’m launching this blog as a forum for all of us who know that:

  • Commerce is as old as the first human community
  • Exchanging is essential to the way people thrive together – and a glorious opportunity for service and innovation
  • Commerce has to serve human beings, not the other way around
  • Our work has to make a difference that matters to us.

As I write this first blog entry, the Industrial Age dinosaurs of the 20th century are dying.  Some don't know it yet; for some who do, it’s a frightening specter.  To me and many other,  it’s a moment of opportunity.  Jean Houston calls it Jump Time.  I agree; it's like the time -  around 65 million years ago – when the earth cooled, and the huge dominant reptiles couldn’t adapt.  The small warm-blooded mammals – our ancestors – were advantaged.  They could maintain their body temperatures without depending on the environment.  They could survive with far less fuel, because they were small.  They could pass on adaptive habits to their young.  They quickly explored new niches and grew thriving communities.

Enterprises who know how to learn – who do not cling to the ways of the past – who do not depend on the market climate for their vitality - can do the same now.  As the 20th century monsters shrink, let’s re-invent their industries. Let’s be ingenious about including our neighbors who can no longer be employed by them.  Let’s join our thoughtful young president about re-building Main Street.

Commerce is a powerful force.  Let’s reclaim it.

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