Neuroscience is becoming a very powerful tool for productivity, creativity and people management. In addition to offering practical and efficient methodology and solutions, it provides the kind of information that satisfies the logical, linear and objective part of our brain. In recent years, progress in this field has been exponential, even spreading to the world of organizations. This is how we came to talk of neuroleadership, a discipline that focuses on the intellectual and emotional factors tied to decision making, problem solving, change management, innovation and motivation, among other organizational aspects. David Rock, the father of this child, undertakes interesting research applied to leadership, creativity and learning at The NeuroLeadership Institute. This provides us with a new perspective on how leadership is asserted within the context of how the brain functions.
By bringing science to the working world, we can say that we face a double challenge. There is a big difference between what science has discovered and what organizations do with people management and leadership. Actually we still continue to use outdated techniques to motivate, encourage creativity, evaluate performance or develop the potential of people. And yet, if you look at what the science tells us (and the results we get), we know these will not work. So awareness of these contributions, while bringing them closer to our everyday reality through simple practical recommendations, can fast track us to easily achieve and surpass our individual and business results. Furthermore, since the brain is an organ of great plasticity, the good news is that you can enhance leadership development. That’s to say we can train ourselves to be better leaders. So the challenge of 21st century leaders is to acquire new habits, in pursuit of excellence, balancing brain function and even the way their teams work. What are the keys that science offers for this commendable task?
Recent discoveries have shown that brain neuroplasticity goes beyond what was thought at first. Even in adulthood, we can generate new neural tissue in our hippocampus. That is, our neurons not only die, but can also be created. Welcome to the era of neurogenesis! This changes everything and kills the deterministic idea that leadership and many other skills are innate and as such cannot be developed.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to transform, to adapt to changes (external and internal) in two ways: by creating new neural circuits (Hebbian networks) that allow new challenges to be solved, and by eliminating circuits which have become obsolete and no longer useful. The adaptive nature of our brains confirms that we can learn throughout all stages of life, not just when we are small or young. This is extraordinary news for professional learning and development (in adults) as we can create specific tools and techniques to strengthen favourable neural connections, to generate new connections, and to gradually weaken those that cause trouble for us.
Each experience, each surprise, each memory is recorded in a neural network with a specific spatial arrangement. This memory model was developed in 1949 by the Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb. At that time, he stated that the footprint of a memory, the outcome of an experience, first happens and then fixes through the transformation of our cells that first mark out the structure of a neural network and then renders it. This means when we learn, we are in fact transforming our brain. This way we can truly become the designers of our brain, shaping it and achieving sustainable internal transformations, as life in all domains acts like a true school.