Thursday, 26 September 2013

#2013NLS some reflections on NeuroLeadership

I normally try to ensure my conference blog posts capture the key insights of the speakers and add on my own interpretation and perspectives.

Today I've been reporting pretty much verbatim (though please don't assume I've necessarily reported what the speakers have said that accurately) and not adding much insight to what I've been reporting (though I was trying to do that a bit more on Twitter (using hashtag #2013NLS).

Sorry but there was just so much new insight coming at me, partly because a lot of this was reasonably new to me, but mainly because of the design of the day and quality of speakers.  And I guess I felt I didn't have that much to add.

But I have come away from day 1 with two key questions:


1.   Why such a downer on Twitter? ('Tweeting makes you stupider')

Actually I'm not so sure about this.  David did ask everyone to switch off their mobiles, but they were also promoting the hashtag, even offering a report to the most prolific tweeter.  And as I tweeted earlier, I still suspect that their suggestion not to tweet might have been some type of reverse neuro psychology brain thingy to get us doing exactly the opposite!

But to the extent they meant this, I do understand some of the reason for it:

-   Tweeting or any form of multi tasking will reduce attention obvious making it harder to learn the content that hasn't been attended too.  There's also an issue about adding to cognitive load possibly reducing the amount of time it's possible to remain in a good learning state for.  But I'd argue the same point David made for shorter input sessions with more breaks and activities - I may be missing some content, but I generally manage to attend to the content which I find most interesting, and when i do attend and tweet what I'm attending to, the learning becomes more 'sticky'.


But there are also some additional positives from tweeting:

-   Tweeting something reinforces my learning.  Writing it down, reviewing it later, responding to other peoples' responses - all these activities help embed the learning I've got from the day.

-   More importantly, I am being prosocial - I'm writing as communication for other people - so this activates the social circuitry Matt was speaking about, ensuring that my learning doesn't remain in analytical model alone.  I've got no idea whether this is try of course, but it feels right to me.


Of course, it's difficult to argue with David and his team as they've got evidence and I've just got my imagination and introspection as well as what I think is reasonable common sense.  But I did take note of Jessica's reference to Carol Dweck's research suggesting that if we believe we are fixed or open to growth sets the basis for what we become..

So how about the possibility that their research is right - for most people multitasking does make you stupider.  But that this depends on what you believe about multi tasking!  If you believe you can you can (or at least you can process sequences of different short activities productively).  I do, and I think I can.


2.   Do we need to educate people internally about neuroscience?

I was thinking about this in the morning, and then we had a session with Jose **** discussing how he is trying to extend his understanding of neuroscience within HP.  And my question, which I didn't get time to ask, before moving into the session on trust, was do we need to?

I'm not arguing that we shouldn't take account of neuroleadership.  There is clearly some great insight emerging out of this field, even if most of it is actually from other areas of psychology, not neuroscience itself.  We need to understand it, which is why I was at the conference.  Eg I'm perfectly prepared to accept that HP may have made a different set of decisions over Awareness if their deliberations had been more brain friendly.

But do they need to understand neuroleadership itself, or the learnings from neuroleadership?

I think the key need is simply to ensure that management processes, and perhaps the 'culture' as well, are brain friendly.  Eg that we should take the research on threat and reward states and ensure this is applied in performance management.  But an individual manager and direct report don't need to know that the conversation they're having is supported by brain science.

I like Neurobollocks' comment that:

"I question the utility of appealing to ‘the brain’. The point is, surely, that people are deeply social. Yes, of course people are controlled by their brains and there is a fascinating discussion to be had about how the brain instantiates social behaviour, but that really doesn’t seem relevant to the kinds of organisational processes that you mention. Understanding that, say, theory of mind is dependent on the medial prefrontal cortex doesn’t provide you with any extra helpful information, if what you’re interested in is changing behaviour."


But then I accept there are some potential benefits from getting people to understand the research.

Firstly, this forms part of an evidence based approach and therefore makes presenting an argument stronger.  As I noted above, it's hard to argue with David's perspectives as he clearly has so much science behind him.

Having said this, I think there are dangers to this approach as well.  In particular, it means we are perpetuating the analytical way of reasoning within organisations, whereas what we should really be doing is to find more opportunities to encourage people to turn this off and spend more time with their social networking circuitry activated.

So a more important reason why we may want to educate more people about neuroscience is that doing this can help activate this social network.  I was struck by the research and inputs around, for instance, asking people about why other people are feeling things rather than just how they are feeling.  And I'm sure I've seen some research earlier that simply showing people a picture of the brain plays a role in helping believe facts that are being presented at the same time?  Talking about the brain is one way of helping people mentalise about others and that's definitely something that we want them to do.

 Eg I was talking to someone from one of the big global banks last night and they incorporate neuroscience within their onboarding!


My suggestion to Jose would therefore be to concentrate on getting HR and L&D on board, ensuring that all people management processes are brain friendly.  But also continuing to extend understanding of neuroleadership within HP where there is interest and energy to do this.

And finally just to note that encouraging HR to understand neuroscience isn't really about neuroscience, it's a much bigger issue about understanding inputs from a broad range of academic fields, bringing insight and practice much closer together.


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