Use Neuroscience To Be A Better Manager And Innovator

Want to be become a better leader in your workplace? Not sure how to encourage creativity in your developer team? Research in neuroscience can help provide new ways of thinking about those problems — and helps explain why open-plan offices don’t produce more work.

Neuroscience picture from Shutterstock

Dr David Rock, director of the NeuroLeadership Institute, made several interesting observations on the topic of how neuroscience and workplace culture can intersect at the Oracle CloudWorld event in Melbourne yesterday. These are edited highlights from his main remarks.

How Neuroscience Helps Leadership

“We’re at a really interesting time in neuroscience — for the first time we’re really able to understand human interactions at a completely new level. So leadership development is at a really interesting point.

“Right now we don’t have any robust fundamentals or frameworks for improving leadership skills — it’s much more of an art than a science. You need two sides of the coin. You need really good data about the leaders you have, but what’s been missing is really good data about how to develop those people. We’re at a point right now where literally one of the most important things for CEOs is growing talent. We have lots of data about people but we don’t have lots of good science about how to improve them. What we need is a combination of data and really good insights rooted in science We find the more rational and data-focused leader is much more interested and willing to have a conversation about improving their leadership if there’s more science in there.

“For people involved in rolling out a big change strategy like cloud, everything looks really logical and looks like it should work until you hit human beings. We’re trying to give people a more accurate understanding of how to drive change. If the ocean’s on fire, you don’t need another burning platform, you need a safe harbour.

How Neuroscience Helps Innovation

“There’s very good science now about how to increase innovation and insights about how innovation works and increases people’s capacity for breakthroughs. We can get a significant increase in a manager’s ability to innovate. There are implications systemically. For instance, 35% of people have any kind of creative moment in the morning. The minute you get to work it plummets to 8 per cent, and it never comes up very much. Creativity is hard, and it’s easily pushed out by noise. Letting people come in a few hours later seems to be a very practical idea.

“Innovation involves being able to notice signals in the brain All you need is a mobile phone on and you decrease your ability to innovate quite dramatically.

How Neuroscience Informs Social Media Usage

“Social media is a double-edged sword. The research in the last decade is showing that social issues are deeply important to the brain. When your reputation is attacked on social media, you’re getting the same reaction as real pain.

“There’s also new research showing there’s two types of networks for learning in the brain: one for facts and figures, and a completely different network for learning anything socially. It’s very good for driving change, getting people thinking and working the same way. Social memory is very powerful.

Why You Can’t Change Too Much At Once

“All these changes are really about changing human habits. What we often neglect to do is to think about a basic human bottleneck, which is how many habits you can change at once. We often don’t line up these habits and prioritise.

“We have to line up the habits and maybe do a sprint for a while on a couple of habits, then a rest, then another sprint. We need to respect this data and change initiatives will work much better.

Why Leadership Needs A Programming Language

“One of the great advantages of something like an Oracle system is everyone on the same language — you can build apps on top of that. We have a real challenge in terms of leadership development in that we don’t have a consistent language. Talent management’s just a mess in terms of software — there’s one model for conflict, one model for growing people, one for onboarding people. You should always come back to how the brain functions. Consistent data and a consistent software language and a consistent human language is really powerful.”

Why Open Plan Offices Suck

“The news isn’t all pretty. We don’t look at both sides of the balance sheet very often when we make decisions about where people should work. We asked 6000 people where they do their best work and only 10 per cent of people said at work. It’s confounding.

“If you’re thinking of going open plan, you’ve probably worked out the finance benefits, but you can bet on a 15 per cent drop in productivity and a 32 per cent drop in wellbeing. Letting people work from home more, you get the equivalent of an extra day a week.”

Disclosure: Angus Kidman travelled to Melbourne as a guest of Oracle.

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