Disconnect: what science knows versus what business does
On the weekend of June 14-15, 2014, Linda Ray and Tara Neven, co-founders and co-directors of neuresource group, headed down to Jupiters Hotel & Casino on the Gold Coast for the National Retailers Association (NRA) Conference. Both had important roles to fill – Neven as the conference host and Ray as an ‘Insight’ speaker.
The summit was the first of its kind for the National Retailers Association with a specific focus on “people and operations development” (also known as POD). The POD concept provides a unique platform for applying groundbreaking ideas to the world of retail – and, for that matter, event management.
Neven said. “I’ve been very impressed with how acute and far-sighted the organisers have been to include some of our ideas in order to make the summit more brain-friendly. This includes offering brain-friendly food, delivering content in ‘chunks’, and giving practical applications as to how neuroscience can change the way people work.”
Ray’s keynote address focused on the disconnect between what science knows and what business does. For example, in order for people to remain productive, people need to be kept in a ‘reward’ state. This isn’t necessarily about money or accolades, rather, it refers to how the brain is organised. At any given moment, we can be either calm and engaged, moving towards an experience, or we can feel threatened and want to move away from an experience – in other words, so stressed we feel pushed into a fight or flight state. The problem is that many workplaces are set up in such a way that people are kept uncertain, worried about status, with little autonomy. A command-and-control hierarchy actually prevents people from being productive.
Science tells us that we can do only one thing at a time, and yet more and more demands are heaped on our heads. We are asked to do more with less support. Time is fractured by long meetings and constant interruptions. Multitasking is a myth and yet many businesses require their employees to switch tasks all day long. Not only does this tire the brain, leading to increasing ineffectiveness, but it can take up to 23 minutes to get back into the thinking space you were in before the interruption.
“It’s a wonder we get anything done at all,” Ray says.
She has a solution, however. Science has shown that adjusting one’s attention can have a big impact on focus. Being aware of your awareness builds ‘attentional intelligence’, a term Ray coined in 2012. She defines attentional Intelligence is an intelligence which when highly developed allows you to effortlessly but ‘mindfully’ notice where your attention is at any moment and to intentionally choose where you want it to be.
“The problem is,” Ray adds, “most workplaces are hives of distraction. We need to find ways to offer quiet spaces for long stretches of time, as well as open areas for meetings and social connections.”
The brain-friendly organisation accommodates all kinds of work tasks and all types of work preferences.
We know from science that the brain resists change. However, many businesses are constantly seeking new ways of doing things, often implementing change plans without considering that employees feel stressed when changes are announced and they are naturally designed to revert to old ways of doing things when they feel stress. Handled the wrong way – by not considering the neuroscience of change, in other words – means a change plan is set for failure even before it’s been implemented.
“The paradox is that the brain is highly plastic throughout our lives, so we know we can change. We just have to get the formula right, Ray says.
It can take anywhere from 18 – 236 days for a planned change to become a habit. It is no wonder, then, that a big issue facing organisations attempting to implement a change plan is that change doesn’t always happen to the proposed schedule and it doesn’t always ‘stick’. Even when employees are well-prepared and amenable, it’s still important to communicate openly (avoiding threat states), focus on areas of resistance (developing emotional intelligence), and remain patient. In time, brains can be rewired to accept new processes and procedures in ways that are sustainable over the long-term.
Ray left the audience with a final question: “What can you do when you get back to work to address the disconnect between what science knows and what your business does?”
She suggests it might be time to do something different.
“All of the speakers offered solid insights and emphasised that engagement, vulnerability, and a focus on increasing the number of women in senior leadership were the way forward,” adds Neven. “And we think the best way to do this is to use what we’re learning from neuroscience in our business practices.”