Implications and opportunities of understanding the brain in order to produce breakthroughs in performance.

A definition of leadership we operate from is one who brings out the best in people.   Over the years in leading organizations and consulting to some of the worlds largest corporations leading large scale initiatives to elevate organizational performance I have been in an inquiry around how best to accomplish this using the latest research into human behavior. This has led to research and the practical application of many disciplines including neuroscience.  Recent findings about how our brains or if you prefer minds actually work is captured in this quote by Paul Churchill in 1996 when he stated:

“Today’s revolutionary advances in neuroscience will rival the discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo and Darwin”.

It has become apparent with the increasing pace of corporations that rise only to fall and the challenges that virtually all leaders are facing and dealing with that much of what we say and do as leaders is not longer adequate, in many cases counter-productive. The current model of leadership emerged over a hundred years ago a time when organizations operated inside of a master-apprentice model. One worked for another for years or decades to learn the skills necessary to take on mastery. In the last century, in the 1950’s time frame the model evolved into one of executing processes like running machinery, data entry etc. The changing nature of work in the 21st Century and dramatic increases in technology, levels of education, differences in the world view of generations X and Y, the pace of change are converging to cause the existing model of leadership spent or bankrupt. In our work with thought leaders in various disciplines and global corporations seeking a new more powerful leadership model, we have found links between neuroscience, leadership and performance.  These findings are offering new ways of thinking, listening and speaking which although remarkably straight forward are rarely seen in organizations. A few facts about our brain:

  • No two brains are alike; although the design is virtually identical the neuro pathways formed throughout our life are unique
  • Our brain consists of over 100 billion neurons each of which having about 10,000 roots or dendrites
  • The number of possible connection in our brain are difficult to imagine-it exceeds the number of atoms in the known universe, actually over 300 trillion constantly changing connections
  • It is clear that we each hear things quite differently-our brains are much different than what we previously thought
  • Or brain operates as a machine geared toward finding connections and links to what we already know.  It likes everything to fit together allowing it to predict the future outcomes in order to keep us safe
  • Our brains are oriented toward creating order out of chaos based on the tremendous amount of external stimuli it receives moment by moment
  • What we consider our thoughts and memories are actually neural pathways, or metaphorically mental maps-actual pictures in our mind
  • The brain makes one million new connections per second
  • What we refer to as “thinking” is actually taking a new idea, or a new mental map and comparing it to our existing maps to see if it is a fit
  • If it does fit with what we already know or as an insight we create a new map which ultimately becomes who we are and how we perceive the world from that point on
  • When a new mental map or neuro pathway is created the new found insight which is obtain creates both physical and mental energy and pulls for taking action

Given the enormous differences in our brains and how our experiences and environment actually shape the physical nature of them, we process and store information very differently.  The pitfall in leadership is when we assume that others brains operate alike and see things similarly. An analogy is comparing how two different computers receive, store and retrieve information differently.  Even if you and another purchased the same make and model computer, after a year of using them each person would find it quite difficult to find information in the others computer. The point of all this is that in dealing with human performance problems and issues, most of us fall into the pitfall of putting another person’s problem into our brain or mental maps, which create a solution which although making perfect sense to us will not make any sense to another.  Yet we as leaders are thrown to doing the thinking for others and to provide answers.  This way of dealing with problems and challenges is a waste of both energy and time, actually getting in the way of others figuring it out for them selves. In the next of this series we will explore an alternative way of leading, talking and being around problems related to performance.  Stay tuned!