Research

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Neuroplasticity

neuroplasticity 400x265Easier to spell than you might think!

Whilst this one’s not too difficult to say, it does involve a fair bit of science, so thinking caps on everyone!  In summary, neuroplasticity is a general term that is applied to changes in neural pathways, synaptic plasticity and non-synaptic plasticity.  Or for a more practically applied summary – this is about learning, change and our ability to flex.

Various parts of our brains such as synapses (the minute gaps between our brain cells, where information is communicated), respond to changes in the environment, thinking, behaviour and emotions.  So why is this relevant to businesses?

Well imagine a large organisation that once made desktop PC’s, who boldly declared to the world that the tablet was a passing phase.  They’ve now had to significantly change their business model and thus behaviour and thinking to accommodate the new environment they find themselves in.  That change required a fair amount plasticity, adaptability and flex.

Jelly Bean Diversity

From the shop floor right to the boardroom, an understanding of neuroplasticity can give us some valuable insights in supporting organisations with many kinds of change.

But back to the brain.  The brain works the same way as other muscles; to strengthen it, it requires exercise and regular work outs.  Unfortunately the brain has a ‘use it or lose it’ approach; by adulthood we have already lost approximately 50% of our synapses due to inactivity.  However, this doesn’t mean we can’t learn new skills as an adult.

An adult brain is still capable of making new connections from learning new skills.  In fact the more it is used, the more connections are made in the brain.

So what does this mean for learning new skills or behaviours in the workplace?

We can work with our existing capabilities but importantly, those skills and strengths can also be increased.  The brain works best when it is building on existing connections rather than starting from scratch, so it makes sense to build on what you already know or are already good at.

In Development Centres or learning programmes for example, people need to be able to identify relationships in the material or make it relevant to something they already know.

Totem Lollipops

This will strengthen the existing neural pathways which makes learning much more likely.  Similarly, repetition will reinforce the neural connections so delegates should repeat the skills or actions until these synaptic connections are solidly reinforced.

Employers can take note of these principles of plasticity, but taking advantage of these in the workplace remains a slightly grey area.  We can take a broad brush and apply some of the learning from neuroplasticity to everyone – that’s fine.  But what if employers could somehow identify employees who already had a large number of connections, in theory these people could be taught new skills – and quickly.

Could we one day look at measuring learning agility and potential through brain scans?  Then what about those employees who don’t already have high plasticity levels?  Isn’t that a form a discrimination?  That might be a debate for a future generation.

Whilst the area of neuroplasticity in employment is still an emerging field, there are some far reaching implications not just on the horizon, but in the here and now.  And we can’t put it any better than this article by not one, but three super smart people, Jeffrey Schwartz, Pablo Gaito, and Doug Lennick:

“When corporate leaders talk about change, they usually have a desired result in mind . . .. They know that if they are to achieve this result, people throughout the company need to change their behavior and practices, and that can’t happen by simple decree. How, then, does it happen? In the last few years, insights from neuroscience have begun to answer that question.

New behaviors can be put in place, but only by reframing attitudes that are so entrenched that they are almost literally embedded in the physical pathways of employees’ neurons.”

And so in the here and now, we can consider the implications of neuroplasticity for our hopes of behavioural change.  If we want managers, leaders, customer service colleagues and all to do something differently – we’ll need to build on what they know, use their strengths and challenge the attitudes and ways of doing things that are deep set in the organisational culture.

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Introducing Best

specks 400x265Drum roll please!

Here is the first of many articles covering our work on being at your Best.  So far we’ve shared one or two of the insights we’ve gleaned from our R&D and the journey we’ve been on whilst completing this PhD.

This is a little taster video just to introduce you to the concept of Best, where it came from and where we think it will take us!

And if you continue to follow our updates around Best, you might even learn why we chose a pair of glasses for this first post!

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Getting The Full Picture

Totem-Picture-400x265What Our PhD Has Taught Us So Far

Part of the process of writing up my PhD has demanded a theoretical review of concepts such as ontology (the nature of reality) and epistemology (the nature of knowledge & meaning).

This has taken me through the world of philosophy, meta-physics and back to psychology. Have no doubt…. My brain hurts! But I’ve found that the result of the mulling has really helped in decision making at work, in planning and in challenging myself and others to think more creatively.

What if you are a part of a leadership team trying to evaluate options or strategies for the future?

I thought it might be interesting to share a couple of the big questions that were involved in that journey…. And how I now have become more comfortable on the fence!

So the two big questions, philosophers and theorists have asked that relate to how research is designed:

  • What is reality?
  • Where does meaning come from?

In terms of the first question about reality, theorists call this your ontological perspective. In simplest terms it’s a question of whether we are uncovering reality (i.e. it is pre-existing) or whether we are discovering reality as a product of engaging with the world (i.e. it is relative to experiences and frames of reference)1.

Totem Lollipops

If I think that facts need to be uncovered then my approach is going to be about measurement and numbers.   My experience as a business owner highlights that whilst I can get a whole lot of measures and numbers to describe the state of the business, the reality can sometimes be very different.

My profit and loss might say one thing but comparing that to the market, our vision, expectations and the experiences we have had along the way mean that I may draw very different conclusions than when I simply look at the numbers. It is the conclusions that we draw that inform what we do so the value of both viewpoints on reality is helpful.

If we are taking the view that reality is pre-existing, it is also helpful to challenge ourselves to consider the frame of reference that we are describing that in and consider other frames of reference – surely that gives a more considered view?   Equally if we are taking the view that reality is relative, it is helpful to challenge ourselves to consider what measures we have to describe that.

Acknowledging where our thoughts are on that question will help us to know where we need to focus our extra efforts – to get the fuller picture.  That fuller picture will involve numbers and words.

Jelly Bean Diversity

The second question is all about the nature of knowledge, how do we know what we know?  Theorists call this your epistemological perspective, this time there are three camps: the objective stance suggest that meaning exists independently; the constructionist stance takes the view that meaning is developed; and the subjectivist stance suggests that without the person there is no meaning1.

This actually completely informs the way that we make sense of our world.  If we are looking for the objective truth we are seeking a measure of success.  If we are looking for how that truth has been developed then we can get a sense of growth and change.  If we are looking for how each individual interprets their world, our search may be longer but certainly there will be many colours to the interpretation!

In my work as a psychologist, I cannot avoid the evidence that I have that people interpret things in different ways and change their views based on their interactions with people.  Does that actually mean there is no objective truth?  Some would say yes, I am not sure that the two statements are necessarily linked.

Totem Gummi Bears

What is more important is to acknowledge what we are wanting to get to and the limitations that will have: a statement of fact (that may be flawed in some contexts); clarity on development (that may be difficult to define); or a very personal clarity (that may not be clear to others).

So whilst my brain hurt as I read about the differing philosophical stances I had to conclude that whilst I may have a preferred camp, acknowledging that and looking at the differing views can only add to my experience and the value of the research that I will produce.  You might not be sitting on the fence like me but asking yourself these questions can only help you develop a fuller more meaningful picture of the context and world that you are operating in:

  • Do I think reality is relative or needs to be uncovered? How does that inform my conclusions?  What else can I do to get a fuller picture?
  • Do I think that meaning is personal, developed or objective? How does that inform what I do?  What else can I do to get a fuller picture?

1 Crotty, M. (1998) The Foundations of Social Research. London: Sage

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