Tuesday, 18 September 2007

The new science of change

My first session is with David Rock, author of Coaching with the Brain in Mind.

David's belief is that we are at the early days of the age of the brain, and that some recent insights in neuroscience, aided by magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography and quantitative electroencephalography etc can help organisations improve the way they change.

One of these insights is that the brain is a connection machine. As we interact with the world we make hypotheses about why things are as they are, and in doing this, the brain makes new connections. As Marvin Minsky explains, "The principal activities of brains are making changes in themselves".

We love making new connections. On the other hand, disconnections cause people to get tired, shrink in themselves and become less open to new ideas.

To help someone change, we need to facilitate self-directed neuroplasticity ie to help them make new connections, getting energised in the process.

We also need to reduce threat in the environment (David talked about status, fairness, friend or foe, choice) so that people are able to process new information in working memory rather than the limbic system which takes over when there is too much emotional arousal (leading to Daniel Goleman's amygdala hijack).

David also talked about the degradation of information over time, so I don't feel that bad about forgetting about a lot of this content since my psychology degree.

Other than degradation, another barrier in using these insights may be the language that they use. HR functions that believe they can only use the language of the business and finance to facilitate management of people and change in organisations are going to find it difficult to do much with this.

I'd recommend that other organisations explore and use these insights when they manage change.