Wednesday, November 09, 2011

2011 NeuroLeadership Summit - Day 1 highlights

There's an emerging field of research tackling a big question: how can we develop better leaders, and create more successful organizations. Called NeuroLeadership, the field each year gathers for an annual summit to explore the big questions and share new research.

The 6th NeuroLeadership Summit began in San Francisco this week. Scheduled for three days, day one was all about big picture issues, including "Creating adaptive organizations", "The beliefs that organizations should hold", "The neuroscience of global talent management", "Brain fitness" and "Neuropolitics" amongst others.

Bringing the pieces together.

First up Dan Siegel (UCLA) and Christine Williams of NASA put forward the idea of integration being crucial to the success of not only an organization but also of an individual. Diverse intelligence and organizational divisions can come together with flexible and open thinking. Rigidity and chaos are two extremes that need to be avoided.

Praise leads to cheating?

A number of seemingly innocent organizational practices, like praising people for success, is likely to not only reduce performance and increase cheating but also make people less adaptive in the work environment.

A study by Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford discovered that individuals praised for intelligence were found to be three times more likely to lie than those praised for effort.

Values for success.

Janet Van Huysse, Vice President of HR at Twitter shared three of their ten core values she believes underlie its success: Seek diverse perspectives; recognize that passion and personality matter; and innovate through experimentation.

Adaptability and curiosity key in successful hires?

Most performance management problems are a result of hiring decisions. A panel of HR experts with Stuart Crabb (Facebook), George Rose (Sony Pictures), Anna Tavis (Brown Brothers Harriman) and Evan Wittenberg (HP) discussed how neuroscience can help with talent challenges.

Psychological tests alone aren't reliable in determining how adaptive a candidate is, as those tests tend to favor people who are good at discerning patterns. A more effective method is to create an environment that demands adaptability.

Training the brain for fitness

Dan Siegel (UCLA), Alvaro Fernandez (Sharp Brains), Savannah DeVarney (Brain Resources), and Mitch Wasden (Ochsner Health), each presented on the latest thinking, techniques and technologies around the idea of optimal brain fitness.

Until relatively recently we thought that the brain ceased to grow and develop in adults. We now know the brain remains plastic throughout our life. This discovery has begun a new industry. Like with physical fitness, we are starting to see the equivalent of gyms, personal trainer and coaches for our cognitive functions. Alvaro Fernandez talked about the development of this industry and its future, while Mitch Wasden talked about the application for organizations. Dan Siegel presented the Healthy Mind Platter he developed with David Rock, and talked about the cognitive benefits of 'time-in'.

Savannah DeVarney presented some technology solutions for brain training that exist now, that engage and build strength in self regulation, emotional recognition, management of feelings and cognitive speed. Studies are showing that these new technologies have good uptake by high stress individuals and are having an ongoing positive impact on a variety of areas. Simple mindful techniques also have significant benefits in overall neural conditioning, integration and effectiveness.

What neuroscience teaches us about power

Jake Dunagan (Institute for the Future) talked about where the growth in interest and research in neuroscience may be leading us. He suggests we are in an age where people are looking for credible information, and if studies come with reference to the brain than we are more likely to believe them.

Jake also spoke of research about power, isolation and implications. The more distance we have from our consituents the more ruthlessness, impulsivity and less empathy we have. ‘People in power act like severe brain damage cases’. This has important repurcussions for organisational leadership staying in touch with lower level workers.

Another element in this new found interest is we are now looking for other ways to enhance our cognitive abilities across the board. A study showed that 20% of scientists now use stimulants on a regualr basis. We may soon find ourselves in a world where cognitive stimulants aren’t just used to stay ahead, but to stay competitive.

How to imagine the future and why it is so hard to do.

Clarity, not certainty, is key to seeing into the future. In the final group session of day one, two experts, Robert Burton and Bob Johansen took us inside ‘knowing' and what it means for our ability to think ahead with any hope of accuracy. Trends are patterns of change from which we can extrapolate future events with consistency, according to Bob Johansen, and a 10 year forecast is a story from the future that provokes insight in the present, he added.

"Some of the best are those that annoy us, because they make us really think about the present," he said. An effective forecast is one that takes us from foresight to insight to action.

A key characteristic that will help leaders view the future more effectively is an ‘opposable mind,' which Bob described as the ability to hold opposites in mind and still function-for instance, seeing the future through a threat lens of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA) while being able to focus on Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility.

In a VUCA world it is important to have an integrated mind and a growth mindset.

Begin with the end.

We wrapped up the day with a Gala dinner including a session with Kenny Moore, a former catholic monk and co-author of best seller The CEO and the Monk: One Company's Journey to Profit and Purpose.

Kenny shared his views on encouraging employees to embrace change by allowing them to mourn the loss of the company they know, and are losing through change, by holding a corporate ‘funeral'.

To find out more about the NeuroLeadership Summit click here.

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