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Business The Brain


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The human brain was fully evolved by the time of the Lascaux cave paintings, more than 20,000 years before writing, cities, and taxes, and 25,000 years before the Industrial Revolution. Modern business makes stressful demands on a brain that evolved in the Stone Age. The webinar will explore how we can be smarter and more nimble by working with the brain's natural wiring

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Business The Brain

  1. 1. Business and the Brain Are You Fit to Thrive in Any Economy? © The BestWork People 2010
  2. 2. Commerce and the human brain evolved together <ul><li>The brain reached its current configuration 25,000 years ago – around the time of the famous Lascaux cave paintings </li></ul><ul><li>People were herding, carving elaborate tools, trading raw materials over thousands of miles; their competition brought about the extinction of the saber-toothed cat </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  3. 3. Our brains evolved in the stone age <ul><li>Our ancestors did not have resumes or sales conversations; they did not endure jet lag, face prolonged ambiguity, or fear layoffs </li></ul><ul><li>They experienced very little change or ambiguity </li></ul><ul><li>The stresses in their lives were fast and short: predators , weather, game </li></ul><ul><li>They knew the people with whom they ‘worked’ and traded their entire lives – they were part of a community – did not exchange with strangers </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  4. 4. <ul><li>We humans make our living in exchanges </li></ul><ul><li>Exchanging with others is in our biology – it’s an essential part of being human </li></ul>Some of the demands of modern business are ‘natural’ to the brain © The BestWork People 2010
  5. 5. Reality – as processed by our brains - is social <ul><li>We are designed to consider others: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>What they may be thinking and feeling </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How they respond to us </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Whether we are safe with them </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Whether they are safe </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>“ The brain is built for sociality” </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Matthew Lieberman, PhD, Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, UCLA </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Marco Iacoboni, MD, PhD, Neuropsychiatric Institute, UCLA </li></ul></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  6. 6. Social animals thrive together – not separately © The BestWork People 2010
  7. 7. The brain responds to social pleasure and pain as powerfully as to sex and chocolate <ul><li>The pain of a broken heart is just like the pain of a broken leg – both respond to Tylenol </li></ul><ul><li>Contributing to others fires the same part of the brain as sex and chocolate </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  8. 8. The exchanges that make up commerce are social experiences <ul><li>Because we are social mammals, some of the brain’s powerful wiring around sociality is very old; we share it with dolphins, elephants, dogs… </li></ul><ul><li>Some of our brains’ wiring around exchanges evolved with human communities, over approximately 3 million years </li></ul><ul><li>Recent neuroscience is illuminating how we can best work with our brains, and those of our customers and employees, rather than against them. </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  9. 9. Many aspects of modern life conflict with the brain’s wiring <ul><li>The pace of change continues to increase, creating uncertainty; most adults experience ambiguity as risk </li></ul><ul><li>We constantly meet new people doing business; strangers provoke anxiety </li></ul><ul><li>Multitasking ‘dumbs us down’; it requires ‘autopilot’, thus blinding us to new input </li></ul><ul><li>Constant new information is over the capacity of working memory; tires the brain </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  10. 10. Some of the demands of modern business are not ‘natural’ for the brain <ul><li>We’re often required to design important exchanges – a rare event in tribal life </li></ul><ul><li>Worse, the Industrial Revolution – and the educational systems it spawned, in which we grew up – discouraged individual ingenuity and curiosity </li></ul><ul><li>Our brains are stressed with constant new ‘stuff’: global information bombarding </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  11. 11. Some aspects of living and working are the same as they’ve always been <ul><li>In some ways our brains are very well-adapted to exchanging with others </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  12. 12. Commerce is based in vulnerability <ul><li>The roots go back more than 3 million years: walking upright made birthing increasingly difficult; babies were born increasingly immature </li></ul><ul><li>Cooperation became essential </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  13. 13. We become ingenious when ‘our people’ are vulnerable <ul><li>People mobilized instantly in 18 degree weather </li></ul><ul><li>The mood of the whole country changed </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  14. 14. The basis of sociality and the basis of commerce are the same <ul><li>Noticing what others are concerned about </li></ul><ul><li>Making reliable promises </li></ul><ul><li>Commerce is in our biology – we’re made for it </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  15. 15. But the vulnerability we face in modern life is not what the brain is built for <ul><li>Wild predators presented short intense moments of stress </li></ul><ul><li>For most of human history, people faced little ambiguity – the rules of living were clear </li></ul><ul><li>They knew their trading partners all their lives </li></ul><ul><li>The pace of change was slow </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  16. 16. The Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) – the brain’s executive function - is highly sensitive <ul><li>At it’s best, it’s capable of extraordinary feats </li></ul><ul><li>To question </li></ul><ul><li>To invent </li></ul><ul><li>To create </li></ul><ul><li>To interpret </li></ul><ul><li>To communicate </li></ul><ul><li>To choose </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  17. 17. (c) Kevin Ochsner, Columbia, 2008
  18. 18.
  19. 19. How can we best use the brain’s natural functions in modern business? <ul><li>What do we have to do? </li></ul><ul><li>What might we avoid? </li></ul><ul><li>What is unavoidable? </li></ul><ul><li>What can we learn to do better? </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  20. 20. What do we have to do? <ul><li>Understand ‘belonging’ as the brain’s key driver </li></ul><ul><li>The human way of belonging grew over 3 million years, from primate roots, under selective pressure to cooperate </li></ul><ul><li>Our brains are exquisitely attuned to status, sincerity, and whether their concerns are known and respected </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  21. 21. (c) Matthew Lieberman, UCLA, 2008
  22. 22. What might we avoid doing? <ul><li>Inhibiting Neuroplasticity and PFC function by: </li></ul><ul><li>Multitasking </li></ul><ul><li>Provoking status anxiety </li></ul><ul><li>Exhausting working memory </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  23. 23. What is unavoidable? <ul><li>Living in an uncertain, fast-changing world: we are all vulnerable </li></ul><ul><li>Designing new exchanges to meet shifting concerns </li></ul><ul><li>Learning to ‘trade’ with people we don’t know </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  24. 24. Peoples’ concerns are continually shifting <ul><li>“ You can’t teach an old dog new tricks…” but we humans can learn for our entire lives </li></ul><ul><li>We retain Neuroplasticity into adulthood </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  25. 25. New challenges invariably demand new exchanges © The BestWork People 2010
  26. 26. What might we learn to do better? <ul><li>Embrace shared vulnerability as the basis of commerce </li></ul><ul><li>Remove stress from the corpus callosum </li></ul><ul><li>- Exercise and mindful breathing </li></ul><ul><li>- Rest </li></ul><ul><li>Cultivate Neuroplasticity </li></ul><ul><li>Pleasure the brain’s sociality drivers </li></ul><ul><li>- Focus on inclusion; neutralize concerns for status </li></ul><ul><li>- Create opportunities to contribute </li></ul><ul><li>- Spark curiosity with compelling questions and new terms </li></ul><ul><li>- Fuel ingenuity with focus on others’ vulnerability </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  27. 27. Whatever business you may be in… <ul><li>You’re competing in the business of generating pleasurable exchanges </li></ul><ul><li>Increasing the pleasure of exchanging with you will greatly increase your success </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  28. 28. Pleasure the brain - Provoke curiosity <ul><li>Ask sincere, compelling questions </li></ul><ul><li>Introduce new interpretations, labels, or distinctions (Novelty drives up dopamine activity) </li></ul><ul><li>Focus on others’ vulnerability </li></ul><ul><li>Open possibilities for contributing </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  29. 29. Compelling questions fuel intelligence <ul><li>Reduce status anxiety by including people </li></ul><ul><li>Generate focus required for Neuroplasticity </li></ul><ul><li>Reduce the experience of ambiguity and risk </li></ul><ul><li>When focused on others’ well-being, reduce fear </li></ul><ul><li>Require both sides of the brain </li></ul><ul><li>Provocative questions hinder multitasking and are hindered by it </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  30. 30. Curiosity is the silver bullet <ul><li>What does it take to operate in curiosity – no matter what? </li></ul><ul><li>Courage </li></ul><ul><ul><li>To question </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>To see/hear/feel ‘unwelcome’ news </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Fitness </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Limber body </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Full breathing </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Actively manage stress </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  31. 31. Optimize Neuroplasticity and PFC function <ul><li>Choose a regular practice to ‘empty’ your mind: 3-5 minutes of guided breathing will de-stress the corpus collosum and allow the two sides of the brain to inter-function </li></ul><ul><li>Find enjoyable moving/exercise 3-4x/week, and change it frequently </li></ul><ul><li>Deeply stretch your body at least 2x/week </li></ul><ul><li>Build new neural pathways – enjoy ‘baby’s mind’: embrace new tasks, exercises, and brain teasers </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  32. 32. You’re in the business of generating rich exchanges <ul><li>What would your world be like if exchanging with you were the richest experience of peoples’ day…week…? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>When your PFC is not stressed, you can design exchanges </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>When clients’ and employees’ PFCs are not stressed, they can fully partner </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Our brains are plastic; you can learn to make it happen. </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  33. 33. At its best the PFC is powerful and generative <ul><li>‘ Executive’ PFC function manages emotions and we can enjoy: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Interpreting vulnerability </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Building relationships </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Identifying opportunity </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Devising ingenious ways to use resources </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Driving innovation </li></ul></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  34. 34. Train to be fit for any economy <ul><li>Optimize PFC function </li></ul><ul><li>Reduce perception of risk </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Labeling gives the feeling of being in control </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Reduce ambiguity with clear outcomes, roles, & measures </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Be inclusive; minimize concern for status </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Reduce Stress </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Make it hip to rest and take breaks </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Make it un-hip to multi-task </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mindful breathing, eg yoga </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Provide focus and meaning </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The brain’s primary orientation is social; focus on others’ needs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Introduce novelty: new questions and challenges, </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>especially about others’ vulnerabilities </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Encourage play to stimulates the brain </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Explore exercise and Moving </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010
  35. 35. Brain fitness increases value and contribution: yours and those around you <ul><li>Exercise and moving </li></ul><ul><li>Focus on an interesting question </li></ul><ul><li>Labels and patterns </li></ul><ul><li>Breaks and rest </li></ul><ul><li>Pictures </li></ul><ul><li>Concerns for status </li></ul><ul><li>Multitasking </li></ul><ul><li>Fatigue </li></ul><ul><li>Stress </li></ul><ul><li>Danger/risk/rejection </li></ul><ul><li>Ambiguity/change </li></ul>© The BestWork People 2010 Enables fitness Impairs fitness
  36. 36. What might be possible if you could leverage the brain’s powerful wiring? © The BestWork People 2010
  37. 37. <ul><li>“… human cognition, even in its most abstract and sophisticated form, is deeply embodied, deeply dependent on the processes and representations underlying perception and motor action. </li></ul><ul><li>“ We invent all kinds of complex abstract ideas, but we have to do it with old hardware: machinery that evolved for moving around, eating, and mating, not for playing chess, composing symphonies, inventing particle colliders, or engaging in epistemology for that matter. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Being able to re-use this old machinery for new purposes has allowed us to build tremendously rich knowledge repertoires. But it also means that the evolutionary adaptations made for basic perception and motor action have inadvertently shaped and constrained even our most sophisticated mental efforts.” </li></ul><ul><li>Lera Boroditsky Assistant Professor of Psychology, </li></ul><ul><li>Neuroscience, and Symbolic Systems, Stanford University </li></ul>(c) The BestWork People 2009                             
  38. 38. With gratitude for the teachers and researchers who illuminated the path Marsha Shenk is a veteran consultant, one of the pioneers of Business Anthropology.  Her syntheses of the cultural, biological, and historical influences that impact modern commerce have empowered business leaders for 3 decades. © The BestWork People 2010 39