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5 lessons from the last frontier, our brain

Liz Guthridge Posted by Liz Guthridge, Managing Director, Connect Consulting Group.

Liz Guthridge is a coach, consultant and facilitator who helps leaders turn their blue-sky ideas into greener-pasture actions. She uses applied neuroscience, behavior design and mindful communications. 


5 lessons from the last frontier, our brain

What’s the last frontier left on earth to explore and conquer?

Our brain.

In the past 10 years, scientists have learned more about the brain than in all previous decades combined.

Yet, many mysteries remain around this three-pound mass that consumes a disproportionate amount of oxygen and glucose for its weight.

This energy hog powers our creativity, emotions and memories, as well as directs our physical movements, actions and intelligence.

The brain is the seat of intelligence, emotion and memory, and it initiates movements and behaviors. The brain─especially when collaborating when other brains─can still outperform a computer.

Yet computers can be more reliable and consistent. As one of my classmates observed, “We can predict what will happen in a tiny space craft 10 years from now a million miles away but we can’t predict what will take place in a meeting tomorrow.”

As I wrap up my formal applied neuroscience programs I’ve been taking over the past two-and-a half years, I’ve been reflecting on the most powerful lessons I’ve learned, some counterintuitive.

In no particular order, here are the lessons, which built on the basic applied neuroscience I learned from my coaching program almost five years ago. After each item, there’s a link to a blog post if you’d like to explore more.

  1. Our built-in biases. Biases are part of our biology. As one of my professor often says, “If you have a brain, you’re biased.” Scientists have identified more than 150 types of biases. Even when we learn about them, we can’t prevent them. Instead, we need to adopt processes and other actions to mitigate against them. (Bless your biased brain!)
  1. What improves the collective intelligence of a team. If you want to build a high-performing team, don’t necessarily look for the smartest people in the organization. Instead look for individuals who will take turns talking and have at least average or higher than normal social intelligence. And by the way, at least one female member who can help the team keep harmony because women generally score higher in social intelligence. (3 ways to increase your team’s smarts)
  1. The value of emotions and spacing for adult learning. Wonder why it’s hard to remember what you learned in a corporate training class just days after you returned to work? It’s probably because the program wasn’t designed to take into account how adults learn and retain content. Research shows that four elements need to be present: attention, generation, emotions and spacing or AGES for short. Social learning, that is the enjoyable experience of learning with others, and spacing, that is spreading out the content over a period of time rather than cramming it into one day or a few hours, helps the brain embed the memories. (How bad learning drains/pains the brain)
  1. Why a growth mindset gives individuals and organization an edge. If you want to be more resilient, nimble and willing to take more calculated risks, you want to strive for having a growth mindset, rather than fixed. A fixed mindset values “being good” while a growth mindset strives to “getting better” through continual learning and embracing challenges, which is necessary in our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. (Why you don’t want to be #1)
  1. The power of self-generated insights. Insights that individuals get on their own may be one of the more useful tools to change behavior. When individuals think for themselves and get their own “aha!” moment, they’ll learn more with better recall, become more engaged, and be more inspired to act. (Why an “aha!” helps behavior change)

Over the past 18 months, I’ve been incorporating these lessons into my coaching, consulting and facilitation practices, which are leading to improved results.

Now that I’m graduating from my formal NeuroLeadership Institute programs, I’m planning to continue tracking the new research and applying it to my work. It’s a great way to bridge the gap between what science knows and what business does, especially as scientists continue their exploration of our last frontier.

Note that I’m always interested in partnering with like-minded people─as in those who strive to build a growth mindset─to work to close this gap.

By being mindful to adopt more brain-friendly practices, we can work smarter and perform better.

Are you willing to join me at this last frontier?