There are many radical changes occurring in how we think and act. In an era of unpreceded change, volatility and uncertainty, we need to revisit several truths to more deeply impact how we design programs for executive development. Below are some biologically-based truths that should impact learning design.

1. Anatomy

We are made up of equal numbers of bacterial and human cells. More than 60 percent of us is water. And every living cell except for red blood cells is powered by mitochondria, which are thought to be inherited bacteria. In essence, we are mostly bags of water and bacteria with a few human cells thrown in for good measure.

On the surface, these facts may seem to be as far removed from L&D as any facts could be. Yet, when we take a closer look, we may recognize an important fact: If gut bacteria can influence our moods by increasing depression and anxiety, should we not pay attention to the moods of executives?

Action:  All new leadership programs should have a nutritional component that focuses on mood-changing gut-brain interactions. Include “nutrition” in leadership development programs.

2. Selves do not exist as we think they do

The human brain has “self” circuits, but it also has the capacity to store information about others around us and our environments as well. Every minute of every day involves the self interacting with internal representations in our brains.

Action: When you are designing individual programs, include others and the environment too. Neurocoaches could help executives bridge the gap between the people in their brains and the identical people outside of them. Neurocoaches could ask questions like, “Who would you like to be in the brains of your team members?” This helps leaders realize that they are leading from within others.

3. Designing for the unconscious

More than 90 percent of brain function is unconscious, and only 10 percent is conscious. Yet, organizations spend close to 100 percent of their learning budgets on 10 percent of brain function.

Action: Design programs that stimulate the unconscious. For example, in the book “Tinker Dabble Doodle Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind,” there are many techniques that can be taught to leaders in order to develop the unconscious. Positive constructive daydreaming, doodling and psychological halloweenism can all increase creativity and improve performance on creative teams by stimulating the unconscious.

4. Designing to transcend time

The past, present and future are all stored in our brains. The past exists as memories. The present exists as attention. The future exists as imagination and possibility.

Action: Ask leaders to re-examine their memory banks and practice mindfulness. Also design programs to stimulate imagination and build a sense of possibility. We use “The Possibility Index” as a screening tool to help organizations identify what is blocking their sense of possibility and then design programs to build on this.

5. Design to address sublimity

Engagement is at an all-time low at 13 percent worldwide.  To increase engagement, people need to activate their motivation. Motivation does not come from grit, practice, changing habits or taking small steps. On the contrary, recent research has shown that grit and deliberate practice contribute very little to motivation, and habit change is difficult, while “small steps” only work when one is really motivated.

Action: Build programs for engagement and motivation. Address the paradoxes above so that experts in motivation can help you sift through the real learning that exists outside of purely rational discourse.

As counterintuitive as this sounds, I am suggesting that internal and external providers of L&D need to design differently in this era of radical collaboration. Call on artists, neurocoaches, psychoanalysts, nutritionists and other fields to design meaningful programs that will truly move the people and business forward.