Guest is Dr. Peter Hirst, Associate Dean for Executive Education at the Sloan School of Management on the Topic of Neuroscience and Management/Leadership
Before I introduce this week’s guest, Peter Hirst, of MIT, let me review where we are on our journey to create a future more perfect when confronted by the challenges of Globalization, Innovation, Climate Change and Technology.
Last week with David Horth we looked at why and how innovation becomes problematic for many organizations in our current economy. What becomes apparent are the tensions between the operational needs of a business, which is to make the products, which, when sold, make the profits that keep the business running, and the innovation needs, which are essential to keep the business planning for the future. We can picture a curve, which reaches a peak, before it begins to move in a downwards direction. The peak is when a business is performing well and making money, and the dip in the curve is when that product or service is no longer a best seller. Innovation needs to begin long before that curve has reached its peak and begins to decline. Such a scenario requires special skills of leaders. The enterprise as a whole can only manage these tensions via discussion and dialogue. Simple techniques to talk about, but difficult to implement. For the moment, we are going to leave the discussion on innovation at this point. I know many of you may be asking the how question. How do leaders do differently to make innovation happen and how does the organization engage in dialogue and discussion. We will tackle these issues later on in the program series, so I hope you stay tuned.
This week we will focus on the actual science behind these behaviors. It is a field called Neuroscience. If we want to name the most significant developments in this century (and perhaps before) in the field of human behavior, and especially how it relates to the workplace, I would say the insights we have gained from Emotional Intelligence and Neuroscience. The two are connected.
Neuroscience gives us the explanation of why being an emotionally intelligent person is a better predictor of success than IQ. As an example, think of the character, Sheldon Cooper, on the Big Bang Theory. Here’s a man with 2 Ph D’s and a theoretical physicist. Obviously, extremely intelligent. Yet his success with the world around him is significantly limited by his inability to be self-aware, and to understand the impact of his behavior on others. Neuroscience has shown us neural connections in the brain that have allowed us to develop a deeper understanding of how the brain and behavior connect. Looking into the brain shows us our emotional regulation strategies.
What is important to point out here is that we know, and it can be proven, that thanks to Neuroscience, we have a clearer picture of the mind body connection. In the 20th century (that sounds so far away now!) Antonio Demasio wrote a book called Descartes Error, in which he hypothesized that feelings were a powerful influence on reason. The mind and the body are connected, which refuted Descartes’ idea that they were entirely separate. This idea is highly influential in the arts and sciences and has been for centuries. Neuroscience and its focus on neural connection proves otherwise. Emotion and reason interrelate with one another in the mind and in the body.
So what is Neuroscience? Neuroscience is the study of how the nervous system develops, its structure, and what it does. Its focus is on how the brain works. Originally, neuroscience was considered a sub-discipline of biology, but today it is an interdisciplinary science which works with other fields.
What interests us in this series of programs is social neuroscience. It explores the biological foundations of the way humans relate to one another as well as to themselves. One of the most important aspects of this social neuroscience is that it tells us that much of our motivation driving social behavior is governed by an organizing principle. That principle is to behave in such a way to minimize threat and maximize reward.
Insights from the field led Daniel Goleman to popularize the concept of Emotional Intelligence. Furthermore, he related this to leader behavior in the workplace. In 2008, David Rock coined the phrase, neuroleadership in a book entitled Your Brain at Work. In it, he applied neuroscience findings to the study of leadership and coined the phrase, neuroleadership.
We also know how neuroscience informs us on how change happens, or doesn’t. How and why trust develops in teams and in the workplace. Its role in promoting creative thinking and innovation, and employee engagement.
Rock has developed a model which tells us which are the top 5 social rewards and threats that are important to the brain. This is what Rock calls SCARF. It is a brain based model and describes what he believes are the common factors that activate a reward or threat response in a social situation. SCARF stand for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness.
When any of these factors are threatened or presented with change, the brain activates the limbic system and puts it on alert This provokes the ‘flight or fight’ response. Organizations which impose change on their employees without regard to their status considerations and needs for security and predictability and leaders who ignore the relatedness and fairness needs of their staff, trigger negative responses in the brain. This leads to distrust and disconnection between management and employees.
We’re on a journey together to see if we can find some answers to our personal dilemmas as well as our organizational dilemmas in a fast -changing world. We need to understand what’s pushing change in our lives before we can devise solutions on how to deal with it. Join me as we explore what’s happening in the present, so that we can design a more perfect future.