Posts Tagged ‘Business and the Brain’

NeuroLeadership Summit 2008: The Implications of Applied Neuroscience to Training Leadership

November 1, 2008

The Platform: NeuroLeadership Summit 2008, Day 2, afternoon proceedings
The Twitter: Changing brains, changing culture, one thought leader at a time!
The Big Idea: Brain-Based Coaching facing its own new frontier!


When the functional anatomy of the brain and the central nervous system was first studied by Dr. Thomas Willis (a student of the empiricist John Locke), the intellectual mindset of 18th century British society was hardly ready to think in terms of broad evolutionary and developmental change when it comes to brain/mind relations. After all, the radical ideas of Darwinian genetics and Freudian psychoanalysis wouldn’t surface until a century later and the modern models of cognition, emotional intelligence and creative problem solving would have to wait for the information age to come about.

With history as a backdrop, the afternoon of the NeuroLeadership Summit (Day 2) focused broadly and deeply on the frontier of neuroleadership. Like any pioneer in applied science, brain-based coaches and thought leaders must face the big question:

What are the implications of bringing neuroscience to bear on the culture of leadership practiced around the globe?

Lunchtime keynote speaker Dr. Karen Stephenson penetrated the issue by zeroing in on the subtle and insidious problems that plague executive communication practices: “What can neuroscience study tell us about the brain-dynamics of “trust”?, Stephenson asks. As an anthropologist and noted “pioneer” in social network approaches to advancing corporate culture, Stephenson illustrated the large gap in understanding how “trust” figures into executive communication patterns by comparatively looking at other social networks flowing underneath the radar of top-down corporate speak.

Stephenson, in other words, did not offer a neuro-anthropological view but rather brought the topic of social systems analysis to bear on the discussion of applied neuroscience. And Stephenson was not alone. Culturally sensitive systems thinking pervaded Dr. Brent Oberholtzer’s commentary on international consulting, especially in cases where U.S. companies set up shop in cultures with remarkably different epistemic values in problem-solving. Given the decades of culture wars and post-colonial critique leveled against Western Civ., and in light of the burgeoning of the Asian market, one really starts to wonder if the brains of American business leaders are just stuck in the neurochemical default mode: FEAR.

Rethinking the paradigm and strategies of “executive talent management” thus requires time and money and in the world of coaching, scalable, verifiable, cost-effective strategies can easily guarantee a coaching account. R. Scott Ridley at American Express and Christine Williams at NASA offered choice commentary on the positive effects of “brain-based” coaching in their respective leadership development programs: Each cited the cost efficiency of coaching with neuroscience fully in mind. As Williams noted, simply educating NASA scientists in the basics of neuroscience gives them a verifiable template for reframing pleasure, pain, and fear. By bringing in one hard science to bear on another, it maximizes the potential for self-awareness and “insight” in a non-threatening manner, and in the end. teaches leaders to lead by coaching!

The Take Home Message for Day 2: In Brain-Based Coaching, there are specific means to specific ends.

David Rock, reflecting upon his brand of brain-based coaching (there are others as this blog itself suggests), closed the session with a manifesto for establishing the scientific ground and rhetorical logic of a brain-based coaching practice. As one who clearly and passionately walks his talk, Rock, the visionary thought leader recognizes the pitfalls of developing a new field. His buzz words? “Remove Redundancy!“Maximize Efficiency and Interactivity!” “Create Sustainability!” As the two day conference revealed, the semantics of quantum physics, systems analysis, information processing and most of all the neuroscience insights into cultivating emotional intelligence by means of mindfulness practice pervade Rock’s paradigmatic thinking about coaching a new generation of leaders.

As the founding director of the GGI, an institute ground on remarkably similar values, I am moved to have discovered a kindred spirit who brilliantly and generously lights the way for others.

A Rock caveat: Teaching the skill of “reappraisal,” and helping people cultivate “insight” speaks to the core logic of the neuroleadership coaching narrative. And yet the two neuro-ed-psych motifs may be the only piece of leadership training that can stick in corporate culture at this time. “Self-awareness,” after all, is “unbelievably hard to improve” amongst corporate leaders.

Well, as the old saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. And as it was noted in passing during the summit proceedings, the story of the neuroscience is ironically implicated in the fall of the Roman Empire. The culprit? Environmental lead poisoning in the brain.

Ah…. the interdependency of all things.

Synaptically and Mindfully yours,

Dr. G.!

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NeuroLeadership Day 2: The Implications of Brain Based Leadership

October 31, 2008

The Platform: The NeuroLeadership Summit, 2008, NY, morning session

The Twitter: Chocolate, Sex and Bonding with Mommy light up the same area of the Brain!

The Big Idea: The Brain responds in a similar way to physical AND social reward.

The morning session of NeuroLeadership Summit, Day 2 was devoted to the questions concerning the brain and the social world, especially the implications of neuroscience for the field of leadership and leadership development. Looming before an unwitting audience of the keenly business minded were the scientific and ethical questions of reducing scientific research to “brain phrenology” and it worse, running with information that is only “partial” to create a new “trend.” Diane Coutou, senior editor at the Harvard Business Review came out strong as a critic of egregious and misguided entrepreneurialism — citing the skepticism neuroscientists have in reducing a still burgeoning science to brand and product.

While I applaud Coutu’s warning, one can hardly blame a smart, cosmopolitan audience for being attracted to the novel aspects of brain science, especially when we are told by scientists like Matthew Lieberman that bonding and social rewards have as much impact on the brain as chocolate or money in a (stable) bank. Lieberman, who runs a social neuroscience lab at UCLA, entertained the audience with FMRI studies, that tested neurochemical response to the pain and pleasure that comes in relations to playing social games and social group relations: Categories of interest:

The brain correlates to thoughts and feelings we have when we are left in or out of a game.

The brain correlates to thoughts and feelings we have when we are given an ultimatum, especially if the ultimatum hinges on “fairness”?

From Lieberman’s talk emerges a clear thought: If gaming (play) is the work of children, here we learn that childhood is our training ground for gaming in life.

Lieberman’s point: The Brain is designed for learning to engage in social groups, having social relations, for recognizing social pain and reward. He even went on to say that from the social neuroscientific perspective, the brain appears predesigned for social relations, especially if one considers the role early bonding plays in the basic physical survival of the human species.

Break Out discussions addressed the implications for both business and education. In the education session, Renee Rolleri offered a plea for a progressive brain aware, creativity model for education and discussed her own collaborative efforts in designing a new charter school, The BLUE SCHOOL which she co-founded with the members of The Blue Man Group!

More on implications later today.

Synaptically yours,

Dr. G.

NeuroLeaders Pay Attention to Brain/Mind/Body Connections

October 29, 2008

The Platform: NeuroLeadership Summit 2008, Day 1

The Twitter: Psssttt! It’s all connected — brain, body and mind!

The Big Idea: Rethinking leadership from an interdependent whole-brain, whole-body, whole-mind networked point of view!

David Rock, founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute and organizer of both the NY and Sydney meetings this year, noted last evening that today’s most urgent issue, as seen by companies and businesses across the global sphere, is the crisis of developing leadership. With that in mind, Rock invited world-class scientists to give keynote talks — presentations which should help this year’s summit partipants picture a new paradigm of “best practices” when approaching the question of developing leadership.

For yours truly, it was a deep and gratifying pleasure to be immersed in an arena wherein scientists, coaches and consultants seriously broached the topic of new neuroscience and the myriad of ways to connect body, mind and brain in human learning, performance and innovation, be it at home, school, in sport or in the workplace.

Again, time is limited to tell all (more will be fleshed out post summit) but here’s the beef on today’s keynote talks — which by the way, are followed up by generous amounts of time for question and break-out focus group discussions:

From the first keynote by Dr. Amy Arnstein to the last one of the day delivered by Dr. Kevin Ochsner, the frame for Day 1 stretched across a psychological continuum: Arnstein cogently tackled the neurochemical correlates to interrupted moments of perception and cognition (either by way of daily stress or by profound mental illness); Ochsner closed the long intense day by chunking the complex study of human emotion into a bite size expose on the neuroanatomical correlates to strategies that effect emotional experience and behavior, e.g. “reappraisal” of emotional narrative. (Arnstein gets two thumbs up for a spiffy visual presentations. As one researcher noted — the cartooned versions of neurotransmitting processes signaled well with ‘low noise’ residual.)

With the frame set by these two talks, were some real nuggets of 21st century thinking — the sort that reinforces the hard work reseachers, thought leaders and cultural changers have put forth for more than half a century in communicating

1) the value of “insight” in innovation and
2) “mindfulness” (or meditation) experiences in modifying how we use our “attention” in goal directed tasks.

Within the break out discussions, some facinating and tough questions were raised by the audience regarding cross-cultural imprinting and bias in charting the neuroscience of perception, leaving a door open to comparative cultural studies, especially with developing leaders in the global sphere is concerned.

While all of the keynotes were delivered in impeccable style, Dr. Yi-Yuan Tang’s lunchtime presentation clearly touched my brain and heart in his clear and playful deconstruction of cultural definitions of “mindfulness” experience to make room for the semantics of a neuroscientifically informed picture of brain/mind/body operations and connections that enter into the “mindfulness state.” As one who first came to mindfulness through the Martial arts, Yuan placed before us the challenge of knowing how to engage attention and awareness in a way that helps us “integrate” body/mind and brain in the experience of “being” (as to be distinguished neurologically from “thinking or doing.”) In response to Tang’s talk, David Rock offered a tip he found helpful in his study of mindfulness, namely the strategy of distingushing between narration (interpretation) and direct experience — each having their own correlates in brain anatomy and brain chemistry.

As I have noted on this blog, the brain/body/mind connection is one we can’t emphasize enough. It speaks of a new way to recognize our very humanness as a function of emergent networked processes, allowing us to integrate in a multi-dimensional fashion, a host of relations between what and how we think/feel and do.

The message from today’s proceedings: The responsibility of developing effective and even inspiring 21st century leadership rests on the shoulders of the somatically and neuroscientifically aware.

One can find the summit proceedings schedule on the NeuroLeadership.org website.

More manana.

Syaptically yours,

Dr. G.

P.S. A self-referential historical note regarding the inception of the blogsite: I wrote my dissertation in the late ’80’s on “attention and awareness training” practices used by American performing artists. Sometimes a good idea like cheese, needs time to age. Please write if you have questions about the literature on attention training.