Discusses insights that neuroscience can provide to boards and organisations and its relevance to risk management, leadership and creativity.
Beyond Bias: Neuroscience research shows how new organizational practices can shift ingrained thinking
Strategy + Business, July 2015
In Search of SuperMind - Human Synergistics Australia Whitepaper 2015
Human Synergistics, July 2015
Baroness Susan Greenfield is an eminent British scientist, writer and broadcaster specialising in the physiology of the brain. She recently gave a speech at the AICD’s Company Directors Conference in Kuala Lumpur titled “Mind Change: how digital technologies are leaving their marks on our brain”, discussing the insights that neuroscience can provide to boards and organisations and its relevance to risk management, leadership and creativity.
"The environment is key”, says Baroness Greenfield. “Why we occupy more ecological niches than any other species on the planet is not because we run fast, we don’t see particularly well, [and] we’re not particularly strong compared to many other species, but we do something superlatively…and that is we learn…we adapt to the environment.”
The rule of the pre-frontal cortex
Baroness Greenfield suggests that the pre-frontal cortex plays an essential role in learning, cognition and decision making. “The pre-frontal cortex is a very interesting area…it occupies 33% of the human brain but only 17% of chimps.” She goes on to explain that an “under-functioning pre-frontal cortex” may contribute to a “weak sense of identity” and “lower empathy”, which can act as an impediment to leadership, risk management and creativity.
Baroness Greenfield’s observations contribute to a growing body of thought on the implications of neuroscience research for business. Indeed, neuroscience is increasingly being used as a tool to help businesses, boards and directors understand decision making processes and the nature of their organisational environments.
For example a recent article on unconscious biases states: “The brain’s ventrolateral prefrontal cortex [acts] like a braking system helping you exercise cognitive control and broaden your attention beyond your own, self-specific viewpoint”.
In the view of the authors, the pre-frontal cortex helps address individual biases and can lead to improved group decision making. “Organizations and teams can become aware of bias in ways that individuals cannot”, suggest the authors.
In another study titled “In search of SuperMind”, Dr Trisha Stratford from the University of Technology Sydney and Corrine Canter from Human Synergistics used neuroscientific principles to examine the ability of senior business leaders to think innovatively and problem solve.
In a 28 day study, electroencephalogram (EEG) technology was used to analyse the brain waves of 30 senior business executives. After intense periods of information gathering, participants were required to perform certain tactile problem solving exercises following brief periods of inactivity and calm. The purpose of the study was to examine the participants’ capacity for both convergent (single solution) and divergent (multiple solution) thinking.
According to the findings of this research, 80% of participants exhibited “improved performance in creative thinking”, 63% “generated more viable solutions to problems” and 33% “experienced improved cognitive function”.
According to Corrine Canter, the SuperMind study shows that setting aside a problem, walking away and working on another task for a period of at least 15 minutes allows the unconscious mind to continue working after even an individual has stopped consciously attending to a problem.
Dr Trisha Stratford suggests this is in part due to the “optimal state” or “calm” in the temporal lobe, the area of the brain where emotions and stress are processed.
“By reducing…stress levels business leaders are able to implement new ways of working creatively to develop more constructive working cultures that stimulate new thinking in their people and their teams”, suggests the SuperMind study.
“To effectively respond to the challenges of the digital age, leaders need to increase their ability to think flexibly and creatively while reducing their stress - literally enabling them to access new ideas with less effort.”
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