Vii) Not Understanding The Need For A Holistic And Multi-Disciplinary Approach (Including The Integration And Impact Of Psychology And Neuroscience)

In the industrial age, business systems were designed for it; in the information age, the brain is pivotal.

"...the human brain...... evolve for one purpose and one purpose only: to allow our ancestors to survive on the African savannah millions of years ago. Over the millennia, the brain got very good at its task, keeping our ancestors fed and out of the clutches of saber-tooth tigers and their ilk. Yet despite its humble origins, the same brain can understand general relativity, proper course of distant galaxies and comprehend the working of our very cells..."

James Trevil, 2015

Our characters are a product of many complex factors, ie genetic, development & experiential.

A mind is a delicate balance of maintaining

"...cascades of neuromodulators and neurotransmitters, each of which is regulated by others, focusing attention, damping urges, stroking desires, calming and stimulating..."

Recently a more accurate and nuanced view of human nature and behavioural change has resulted from the integration of psychology (the study of the human mind and human behaviour) and neuroscience (the study of the anatomy and physiology of the brain).

At the same time



"...the more we know about the brain, the more we realise we don't understand. Were still scratching the surface..."

Henry Marsh, 2014

"... imaging technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET), along with brain wave analysis technologies such as quantitative electroencephalography (QEEG), have revealed hitherto unseen neural connections in the living human brain. Advanced computer analysis of these connections has helped researchers develop the increasing body of theoretical work......brain (the physical organ) with the mind (the human consciousness that thinks, feels, acts, and perceives)..."

David Rock et al, 2006

Neuroscience explains the network of causation inside our brain. For example, a small generic difference like an allele (a mutant form of a normal gene) can put a brain into imbalance. Drugs can have a similar impact and sometimes there are anatomical defects.The brain is a spectacularly versatile & opportunistic finder of new pathways if given half a chance.

Types of people who do not want science investigating our most "cherished verities" (brain) include

- religious conservatives who see it as a threat to their religious beliefs

- liberal legal scholars & philosophers who fear the unweaving of our civilization fabric or mystic

- post-modernists who focus on the concept of scientific evidence as a quaint relic of a more innocent past

- many schools of 'social science' whose ideologies are threatened by the science of neuroscience

- journalists wanting eye-catching headline opportunities

Changing behaviour of people is hard, even for individuals when the new behaviours can mean the difference between life and death. For example, of the patients who have undergone coronary bypass surgery, only 1 in 9 adopt healthier daily habits, such as regular exercise, losing excess weight, etc..

Neuroscience helps explain how the brain works, We have a choice of working with the brain or against it. The most effective is to work brain friendly (see volume 2 for more detail)

Exercise - our bodies are built for walking up to 20 km per day, ie designed for mobility, not sitting at desk behind a computer. Also, it clears the brain & reduce anxiety by increasing serotonin & dopamine (calming neurotransmitters)

Human behaviour in the workplace does not work the way most executives think it does. This helps explain why many organisational change initiatives are not very effective.

Organisational change needs to take into account the physiological nature of the brain and the way it reacts to change. For example,

- change causes pain as it provokes the sensation of psychological discomfort and this is similar to feeling physical pain. There is a link between social connection and physical discomfort within the brain. The human brain is a social organ.

"... its physiological and neurological reactions are linked directly and profoundly shaped by social interaction..."

David Rock, 2009

This is the reason people resist change even when it is in their interest.

"...Working memory - the brain's "holding area", where perceptions and ideas can be compared to other information - is frequently engaged when people can do something new...... it's your working memory that takes in the new information and matches it against the old. This kind of memory activates the pre frontal cortex, an energy intense part of the brain. The basal ganglia, on the other hand, are invoked by routine, familiar activities......this part of the brain, located near the core, is where neural circuits of long-standing habit are formed and held. It requires less energy to function than working memory does, in part because it seamlessly links simple behaviour from brain modules that have already been shaped by extensive training and experience. The basal ganglia can function exceedingly well without conscious thought in any routine activity. In contrast, working memory fatigues easily and can hold only a limited amount of information "online" at any one time..."

David Rock et al, 2006

Once an activity becomes routine, it is pushed from the pre frontal cortex to the basal ganglia which operates like an automatic transmission, shifting amongst patterns of deeply-held thought.

An example of the automatic preference of the brain is that in music we prefer known melodies, ie

" ...At least 90% of the time we spend listening to music, we are seeking out songs we're heard before.  That's because familiar songs are easier to process, and the less effort needed to think through something - whether a song, a painting, or an idea - the more we tend to like it. In psychology, this idea is known as fluency..."
David Huron as quoted by Derek Thompson, 2014/5

Those facing stressful types of experiences, like organisational change, need to change hardwired routines and this needs much energy and attention. As a result, people feel uncomfortable.

Furthermore, the brain has a strong capacity to perceive differences between expectations and actuality; sometimes called errors. These errors cause intense bursts of neural firing. These error signals are generated from the orbital frontal cortex of the brain which is located above the eye balls. This part of the cortex is connected the brain's fear circuitry (amygdala), which is the source of the "fight or flight" response. The activation of the amygdala and orbital frontal cortex draws metabolic energy away from the pre frontal region (the region that promotes and supports high intellectual functions) and animal instincts take over; people become more emotional and act impulsively.

Based on the above, the changing causes discomfort as the brain sends powerful messages that something is wrong and the capacity for sophisticated thought is decreased.

- change efforts based on incentives and threats are not very effective. There is clinical research and workplace observations that demonstrate that typical incentives and/or threats (carrot and/or stick) are not effective in the long-term. Yet they are the most popular approach in many organisations. This approach has been called behaviourism.

- change that focuses on connectedness and persuasion get poor results. This approach works on empathy, ie

"...listen to people's problems, attempt to understand them on their own terms, and allow a holistic solution to emerge..."

David Rock et al, 2006

This encourages emphasis on persuasion, ie get people on-side by establishing trust and rapport so that they are convinced of the value of changing.

On the other hand,

"...the human brain......tell it what to do and it automatically pushes back. Partly this phenomenon is a function of homeostasis (the natural movement of any organism toward equilibrium and away from change), but it also reflects the fact that brains are pattern-making organs with an innate desire to create novel connections. When people solve a problem themselves, the brain releases a rush of neurotransmitters like adrenaline..."

David Rock et al, 2006

Thus it is more important to ask pertinent questions and support staff to work out their own solutions.

Furthermore, the brain structure predisposes people to being socially orientated, with people detecting differences between authentic inquiry and an effort to persuade them.

On the other hand, some ways to get people on-side include

- focus (the act of paying attention creates chemical and physical changes in the brain), ie

"...neurons communicate with each other through a type of electrochemical signaling that is driven by the movements of ions such as sodium, potassium and calcium. These ions travel through channels within the brain that are, at the narrowest point, only a little more than a single ion wide. This means that the brain is a quantum environment, and is therefore subject to all the laws of quantum mechanics..."

David Rock et al, 2006

Using the concept of Quantum mechanics, the mental act of focusing attention stabilizes the associated brain circuits, ie

"...concentrating attention on your mental experience, whether a thought, an insight, a picture in your mind's eye, or a fear, maintains the brain states arising in association with that experience. Over time, paying enough attention to any specific brain connection keeps the relevant circuitry open and dynamically alive. These circuits can then eventually become not just chemical links but stable, physical changes in the brain structure..."

David Rock et al, 2006

Attention continually reshapes the patterns of our brain, ie

"...people who practice a specialty everyday literally think differently, through different sets of connections, and the people who don't practice the specialty......have logical differences that prevent them seeing the world in the same way..."

David Rock et al, 2006

- perceptions are important. People's preconceptions have a significant impact on what they perceive. Expectations shape reality. People's mental maps, their theories, expectations and attitudes are important in creating human perceptions. This has been described as the placebo effect. For example, the mental expectation of pain relief accounts for change in pain perception, ie a decrease in the sensation of pain. People experience what they expect to experience. Furthermore, it highlights the importance of creating moments of insight, ie

"... large-scale behaviour change requires large-scale change in mental maps. This in turn requires some kind of event or experience that allows people to provoke themselves...... to change their attitudes and expectations more quickly and dramatically than they normally would..."

David Rock, et al, 2006

Using fMRI and EEG technologies to study moments of insight has found bursts of gamma waves (high frequency 40 Hz oscillations) in the brain just before moments of insight. These oscillations are productive to creating links across parts of the brain. Thus at the moment of insight, a complex set of new connections is being created. Furthermore, to hardwire an insight we need to pay it repeated attention. These connections have the potential to help the brain overcome its resistance to change. This stresses the importance of people owning a change initiative for it to be successful. In other words, to help people change we need to encourage learning around recognizing and deepening people's insights.

Need to relax the brain to increase the chance of an insight, ie had the important break-through ideas when having a "quiet drink". Two examples are of a relaxed mind include John Nash (Nobel laureate in Economics around game theory - see file entitled "A Brilliant Mind")  and John Turing (broke the Nazi code including the unbreakable "enigma" code - see film "Imitation Game") (Wikipedia, 2015a & b) .

Some more examples relaxed brain helping with insights

- Archimedes had an insight when sitting in the bath

- Einstein had one when traveling on a tram
(source: SBS, 2020b)

There is some thought that insights are linked with boredom; the latter involves mental cleansing of the brain which could lay the foundation for creativity and reflection. Maybe boredom is not a lack of purpose but an absence of distraction!!! The current habit of "being on" 24/7 and a collective digital obsession means that swiping, texting, connecting, etc have replaced daydreaming and mind-wandering.

- attention density shapes identity. Repeated, purposeful and focused attention can lead to long-lasting personal charge.

"...for insights to be useful, they need to be generated from within, not given to individuals as conclusions..."

David Rock et al, 2006

The reasons for this are

i) only by going through the process of making connections themselves will people experience the adrenaline-like rush of insight. The moment of insight is a positive and energizing experience. This rush of energy helps facilitate change and fights against responses like fear.

ii) neural networks are influenced by genes, experiences and varying patterns of attention. Remember: human brains are very complex and each of us has a unique brain architecture.

Attention density refers to the amount of attention paid to a particular mental experience over a specific time. The greater concentration on a specific idea/experience, the higher the attention density. Attention density causes your brain circuitry to be developed and stabilized.

"...with enough attention density, individual thoughts and acts of the mind can become an intrinsic part of an individual's identity: who one is, how one perceives the world, and how one's brain works. The neuroscientist's term for this is self-directed neuroplasticity..."

David Rock et al, 2006

"...with an attention model, learning becomes possible for many media, not just in a classroom. Also, given the small capacity of working memory, many small bites of learning, digested over time, may be more efficient than large blocks of time spent in workshops. The key is getting people to pay sufficient attention to new ideas..."

David Rock et al, 2006

"...any behaviourial primarily a function of their ability to induce others to focus their attention on specific ideas, closely enough, often enough, and prolonged enough over time..."

David Rock et al, 2006

In summary,

It is important to understand the need for alignment of rational thought, emotions and intuition. For change to be effective, the majority of staff have to have alignment of their mind (rational thought), heart (emotional thought) and gut (intuition). If these 3 are not aligned, it makes it very hard for change to be implemented. 

Also to understand how the brain works, ie it operates sequentially, ie top priority is survival, safety, etc. through to conceptual thinking, etc. The thinking part of the brain will not operate if its survival, safety, etc (real or hypothetical) are under threat. If change is perceived as a threat to the brain, the survival part will dominate and block out the thinking part. This makes change very hard to implement. 

It is best to schedule your activities around how the brain functions, rather than topic. This can be done by

- prioritising so that energy-demanding tasks are done first
- working chunks/blocks as the brain tires like a muscle
- make tasks more routine
- simplifying information to key elements
- using alternative ways of thinking and working like drawing, reading, listening, etc
- clearing the mind before working on a difficult task
- not allowing inhibiting/distracting impulses to become actions
- achieving optimal level of stress, arousal, alertness, interest, etc to attain peak performance
- priming (subconsciously remembering words, concepts, etc ,that influence actions

The brain is very plastic so that neural connections can be reformed, new behaviours learned and entrenched behaviours modified at any age, ie the ability of the brain to re-organise itself by forming new connections, something that continues throughout life. You can teach "an old dog new tricks", if you engage the brain in positive attention, ie mindfulness allows reflection and observation things so that self-observation can occur.

In Australia the digital brain health market is worth $1 b+ and is expected to increase to $ 6 b. by 2020 (Helen Hawkes, 2014a)

Staying mentally alert ranks higher than social security and physical health as a top concern of adults who are 50+ years old

Organisations will increasingly use digital tools to enhance mental performance and wellness in staff, addressing the causes of productivity losses, etc. Even small improvements in cognitive functions like memory, mental flexibility, attention, knowledge, conversation recall, mental arithmetic, systematic thinking, adaptive problem-solving, etc can have potentially significant impacts.

Importance of getting people's undivided attention as the area of the brain (prefrontal cortex) that is dedicated to learning, comprehension, decision-making, understanding consequence of action, sense of perspective, etc requires concentration and effort to process new information. The new information is creating new neural connections that needs re-enforcing to ingrain them in the brain structure. This can create "moments of insight" which allows people to change their attitudes and expectations, ie

"... people who focus on specific tasks can literally teach themselves to think differently over time..."

David Rock, 2007

Furthermore, people's expectations and attitudes play a central role in their perceptions.

Remember that most people have the mental capacity to focus on only one idea at a time.

Importance of thinking before reacting. This is linked with the concept of "a quiet mind" so that the prefrontal cortex (working memory linked with rational thought) overrides the amygdala (immediate response linked with the brain's fear circuitry). Generally the pre-frontal cortex activity is impaired under conditions of stress, fear and anxiety, ie noisy mind

The studies of the brain (mind) experiences in the workplace, etc suggest that the brain (mind) is more a social system than previously thought

How can people's behaviour change

"...start by leaving problem behaviours in the past; focus on identifying and creating new behaviours. Over time, these may shape the dominant pathways in the brain. This is achieved through solution-focused questioning approach that facilitates self-insight, rather than through advice-giving..."

David Rock et al, 2006

Need to reinforce behaviour that works and to give positive feedback. As the brain is constantly pruning connections while making new ones, reinforcing behaviour and positive feedback will preserve, rather than prune, neural connections.

Need to focus people on solutions and developing insights, rather than just problems

Economic modelling is based on an incorrect assumption that people will change their behaviour if they have sufficient financial incentives. Recently it has been demonstrated that these financial incentives are only effective when people perceive them as supporting their social needs.

" great advantage of neuroscience is that it provides hard data to vouch for the efficacy and value of...... soft skills..."

David Rock, 2009

Mild social pressure can result in people not doing things that they as individuals would find normally unacceptable, ie helping somebody in need. To teach something new, you have to surprise them, ie make it personal, as just a statistical fact will not be enough, ie

"...There is a deep gap between our thinking about statistics and our thinking about individual cases. Statistical results with a causal interpretation have a stronger effect on our thinking than non-causal information. But even compelling causal statistics will not the change long-held beliefs or beliefs rooted in personal experience......surprising individual cases have a powerful impact and are a more effective tool for teaching......because the incongruity must be resolved and embedded in a casual are more likely to learn something by finding surprises in your own behaviour than by hearing a surprising fact that people in general..."

Daniel Kahneman 2012


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