Science of Learning - Dr. Srini Pillay

Beth Comstock, vice chair at GE, recently emphasized that we live in an emergent era. The emergent organization is one in which culture, social relationships and decision-making processes are constantly in evolution. And recent research demonstrates that organizational culture is central to “readiness to change.”

“Readiness to change” requires a specific mindset, one that alternates between intense focus and “letting go.” Sometimes, these processes are indistinguishable and require an emergent mindset. Luckily, we are endowed with a brain to boot. Let’s examine how brain-based coaching conversations can help leaders develop a culture of emergence within their organizations.

Process #1: Neuroplasticity

Although the brain is resistant to change, it is wired for it: a phenomenon called neuroplasticity. In the face of constant change, the brain will often default to a fight, flight or freeze mode, when in fact, you want to engage it in “flow.” The first step is recognizing that you are wired to do this expertly.

Cultural Conversation Tool #1:

When constructing vision and mission statements, develop a “culture of neuroplasticity.” Tell employees that their performance and profits require resisting the temptation to freeze. Help them to understand the distinction between stability and stagnation, and how all living systems must change.

Process #2: Self-connection and intuition

The deeper you connect with yourself and your intuition, the more likely you are to connect with others. That is because the same circuit in your brain allows you to connect more deeply with yourself and others as well.

Cultural Conversation Tool #2:

When talking with teams, emphasize that they function both as a collection (one system) and a connection (different parts that make up a whole). Help employees understand that this dual state mimics how the brain functions, and that when you are deeply connected with yourself, you also enhance your intuition and your perspectives of others as well. In an emergent organization, intuition and self-connection are stabilizing forces.

Process #3: Thinking circuits in the brain fail when exhausted by continuous focus.

Being able to stabilize yourself in the context of continuous change requires constant self-regulation. However, studies demonstrate that when your brain is exhausted by continuous focus, it causes self-regulation depletion. This in turn leads to people being less helpful, and it can lead to emotional overreactions due to overstimulation of the amygdala, the brain’s emotional processor. In fact, during acute stress, the brain demands an extra 12 percent of energy. This, on top of the 20 percent of the body’s energy it already uses, is quite an energy budget for an organ that just occupies two percent of body volume!

Cultural Conversation Tool #3:

An emergent culture is one that knows how to conserve energy to thrive. Learning how to build “un-focus” into your day to enhance productivity is key. Help employees understand that the brain conserves energy by constantly rejuvenating its attentional networks, and that they must build this rejuvenation time into their days. Physical exercise, 10-minute naps, and many other factors can be implemented to satisfy the energy budget of the emergent brain.

Brain science is a very effective way to engage people in an understanding of themselves, their body’s demands, and their connections. By allowing people to understand how the changing brain adapts to its own demands, leaders can inspire their teams to “own” and leverage their intrinsic capacities to build an emergent culture.

As William Arthur Ward said, “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” Every day we can wake up, and feel so grateful that we have been endowed with the brains we have to succeed.