As science is digging deeper into the human brain every day, you might start wondering what are the most important insights worth knowing about. I talk a lot about neuro leadership, but what is this actually and how can leaders use the science of the brain to improve decision making, strategy deployment and employee engagement?
This article gives a quick overview of practical applications of the neuro foundations of human behaviour. And at the end you’ll discover 2 practical tips to overcome the most annoying part of our brains.
1. What fires together – wires together
Every thought or idea that we humans have is linked to a series of other thoughts and sensations and the more sensations are linked, the easier we can access that idea. This concept of associations in the brain can easily be understood when you think of a special song that reminds you of a loved one. The same song will probably remind you of a place, an event, a smell or a sensation in your body. All of these associations come at once and uncontrolled whenever you hear the song.
How to use the associative brain in your organisation:
Whenever you want to install a working habit or a new way of thinking, never launch it stand-alone but always embed it into an existing routine.
2. Logic never triggers action
When our brains start to master a certain field they can develop a sense of logic – but what little people know is that only emotion triggers us to explore a new field. Close the the principle of “Start with why” it’s crucial to understand that logic strategies are only logic for those who developed them and that if you want others to act upon a business strategy they need to tap in to the feelings that that strategy brings about. Business communication must contain this emotional component.
How to use emotions to trigger actions:
When you feel like everybody has understood and agreed to the logic of a new way of working but no-one is actually doing it, this indicates that it’s time to take a step back and look at how clear the emotional message is. Let go of explaining the reasons, focus on how it makes you feel!
3. Songs on the radio
“At first I was afraid, I was petrified, kept thinking I could never live … “ can you sing along? When our brains hear about a new idea it’s kind of like hearing a new song on the radio – we usually don’t like it immediately (especially if it’s a bit different from what we are used to). Radio stations are well aware of this and repeat new releases until we learn to love them. Repetition is key for our brains: it enlarges the neuronal pathways and makes it easier to associate with other likeable memories. If your teams do like a new idea from day 1 it most certainly means they already have some previous associations with it.
How to strengthen the neural pathways:
Repetition is key, but repetition in various contexts, settings and by various senses. In essence the branding and marketing of a strategy are equally important to the strategy itself. The more predictable a new strategy becomes, the easier we tap in to its content.
4. Prefrontal adaptability
If there is only 1 region you can remember, it should be the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain, just under the forehead plays a crucial part for all non-automated functions and is essential for learning, thinking ahead, planning, creating, innovating and going beyond the status quo. It operates slower than automated execution (just try counting from 41 backwards in jumps of 3 instead – you never did this before and don’t have a routine for it yet, so you need to engage the prefrontal cortex massively and find it pretty intense, correct?) but makes all the difference when it comes to being successful in a changing environment. It’s the center of our human adaptability as it is the only region that can invent solutions to new problems. Everybody has this adaptive potential, but it needs to be developed and maintained if you want to use it easily. As you’ll learn in the last chapter, our brains are lazy and therefore prefer just to stick with routines whenever they can.
How to make use of prefrontal adaptability:
Start by realising how much routines there are in your business and begin questioning them. Do a standing meeting, change the spot of the coffee machine, give a presentation outside with no powerpoint, ask the boardroom to explain their ideas through a metaphor of lets say a farm, a circus or the roman empire, remember: there is no “too crazy”… brake rules for the sake of braking them and get out of the box you currently sit in. Look for fun but slightly risky changes and go first at all times – lead by adaptive example.
Think this will be looked at strangely, most certainly it will, but it will also allow you and your teams to develop adaptive power and in the long run, this is where your business can take a leap versus the neighbours.
5. Laziness of the brain
The last one, but most important to remember is definitely this: human brains are extremely lazy – whenever they can take a shortcut, they most certainly will. Staying in the comfort zone is just what brains are wired to do as it costs the least amount of electrical currents (or energy). Brains are energy-savers and this explains why it is so difficult to get everybody excited about a new idea: “what if I put time and energy into this and it doesn’t pay off?” is what our brains are constantly evaluating. Energy laziness is one of the main blocking factors for prefrontal adaptability. So how to overcome this?
- Kaizen: make mini-steps. Portion the change into ridiculously small challenges so that your brain has no more excuses not to do it.
- Make it an experiment: tell your brain & others that this is a just a trial, that there is no bigger purpose, let go of the result (& the strategy) and feel like a scientist who just wants to discover what happens if the green and the blue portion are mixed together. Don’t expect anything but “just find out”. Take off the pressure and make it fun to explore.