Neuroscience has today become an increasingly high profile. It seems that you cannot pick up a magazine or newspaper without a picture of a brain staring you in the face. Often these image show parts of the brains lit up in fantastic electro-colors - but what do these images mean and how can they actually help?
The applications of neuroscience are varied - from life-changing medical advances to the legal process, military applications, and influencing new technology.
Many organizations are watching from afar with interest wondering how all this actually applies to them. These organizations are, of course, made up of people - so neuroscience can make a real and lasting difference in many areas.
As imaging techniques have improved, neuroscience has increasingly been interpreted in terms of how it relates to our organizations; this is not surprising as performance issues revolve around understanding the processes involved in thinking, decision making and the behavior of people.
Below are seven key areas where neuroscience has already had a big impact:
New insights into human interaction and why people think and behave the way they do are only significant in terms of an organization if leaders are able to interpret and act on the information through applying the right models and frameworks. This means installing structures and personnel able to drive a new leadership focus on the needs of people through teams, departments and ultimately the whole organization.
David Rock points out that 'innovation involves being able to notice signals in the brain'. This entails being able to focus without distractions - often difficult in the constant 'noise' we are surrounded with today. Neuroscience has already helped considerably with unlocking the creative processes in the brain and with increasing the capacity for 'breakthrough' moments, many of which can be applied to the workplace.
3. Change Management
Resistance to change is often quoted by leadership as one of the main problems organizations face. This is particularly common when change is imposed without consideration for the fundamental needs of the people within the organization: expecting to change habits without first understanding why there may be resistance never works. People want to feel aligned with the change and to understand their role in the direction and vision of the organization. They need their work to have meaning - and neuroscience has been applied to create models that help us do this.
Identifying and understanding the basic needs of human beings, as the findings of neuroscience have helped us to do, help us create team environments that cater for these needs and are therefore more effective. Meetings are more productive, conflict less likely and innovative solutions to problems more likely. With the right leadership, building effective teams is one of the keys to organizational growth.
Successful decision making requires both control of the primitive thinking mechanisms in the emotional brain regions (including the limbic system) and the more rational, higher thinking brain. Neuroscience has taught us that effective decisions require the motivation and meaning provided by emotional input as well as rational thinking - contrary to what many managers will tell you.
The effect on the bottom line - productivity - is profound, once we have an organization that is firing on all cylinders. When leadership, management and teams are cohesive and aligned in purpose, better decision-making and creativity, as well as cultural change focused on people rather than systems and processes, all promote better performance and higher productivity.
Another area of organizational development that can learn a lot from neuroscience is recruitment. Learning about what makes people engaged and motivated is the key to finding the right people from the start to fit in with your organizational culture, and therefore hang around long enough to be of value.