Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Leading with the Brain in Mind

Businesses everywhere are faced with change. Innovation, creativity and success aren’t possible without change. So, how do we make it work and why does it fail so often. Recent research in neuroscience integrated with organizational psychology theory may show us the way. In general people resist change. In many studies of patients who have undergone coronary bypass surgery, only one in nine people, on average, adopt healthier day-to-day habits. Leaders that take into account the complexities of the human brain may have a leg up in the race on change. They understand that change is pain and expectations shape reality.

Change is Pain: People resist change because it is actually painful to their brains. Familiar information and actions activate the basal ganglia involving a minimum amount of energy whereas new and unfamiliar information activates the prefrontal cortex, an energy-intensity area of the brain. Furthermore, changes from routine to non-routine activate amygdale creating the feelings of fear and anger.

Expectations Shape Reality: Cognitive scientists have illustrated that individual’s attitudes play a more central role in human perception that was previously understood. Think of the placebo effect. Research participants actually feel differences because they believe they are receiving a drug when really it is a sugar pill. Similarly, employees can change their perceptions of a change process simply by changing their mental idea or how it will turn out. When looking at attitudes concerning racism research indicated that racists individuals whom experience a life changing event that counters their original attitude toward another ethnic group will drastically alter their perceptions. Organizations that can create a moment of insight can create complex new connections for employees thus, increasing the likelihood of lasting change.

So whether you are at work or going out with new friends try to maximize the aspects you are familiar with (such as bringing along a friend you like as support) and focus on your attitude before you go (tell yourself “I am going to meet interesting people tonight”).

Rock, D. (2009). Managing with the brain in mind. Strategy & Business, 56.
Rock, D., & Schwartx, J. (2006). The Neuroscience of Leadership. Strategy & Business. 43.

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