10 ways understanding the brain helps us in business 

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Uncover how the brain fuels business success and try these actionable strategies to enhance leadership and productivity from Dr Lynda Shaw

Astute business leaders are tapping into neuroscience to gain deeper insights into the behaviour, thoughts, habits and ideas that influence themselves, their employees and their clients. By taking into account the brain/behaviour axis, these leaders understand that our brain alters our behaviour and vice versa, thereby giving them an edge over competitors, and holding the key to greater success and a healthier, more engaged workforce.  

Leaders who are nimble and flexible can throw off habits and pivot, changing the structure and functionality of their brain for the better 

Understanding our brain and neuroscience helps business leaders and managers in many ways. Here’s how: 

Enhance thinking, learning and memory through neuroplasticity 

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to learn, change and adapt according to life experiences. We improve our neuroplasticity by strengthening important networks and leaving less important information to fade. We make new connections and alter, reorganise or remap existing connections through our experiences as well as learning, repetition, trying new things and practising. By expanding our neuroplasticity, we are doing something similar to updating our computer software to make sure we have the most up-to-date system possible. 

Focus better 

Multitasking takes attention and involves us constantly switching between tasks which can lead to mistakes, agitation, fatigue. It also affects our memory and our ability to learn. Ironically, western culture thinks it is highly admirable to be able to multitask but there is always a cost – we are not achieving as much as we think, and it often wastes time and money.  

Demonstrate consistent, concise and effective communication 

Our brains complete missing information by filling in any gaps based on our beliefs and experiences, as well as input from others (who may well be ill-informed or have bad intentions). So, if your method of communication is clear, honest, based on integrity and supported by your actions and role-modelled, the chance of miscommunications or poor messaging is lessened.  

Improve reward systems 

Rewards affect different people in different ways, activating neurotransmitters like dopamine based on individual perceptions of value. These rewards may be extrinsic such as money or gifts, or intrinsic such as mastering a skill, experiencing enjoyment, or successfully moving beyond their comfort zone. Other factors are influential such as cultural norms, novelty, personality traits, upbringing and life experiences. This understanding can help us align with an individual’s long-term goals rather than merely satiating short-term gratification. 

Have greater emotional and cultural intelligence 

When we are more aware, empathetic and sensitive to other people’s opinions, emotions and needs, this leads to more positive working relationships and opens the door to increased diversity. When we recognise unconscious bias more and actively try to regulate ourselves, this will positively affect our business relationships. Conversely, being overly emotional means that rational thinking, logic and empathy are put on hold in that moment. Our beliefs, thoughts and emotions impact our behaviour, but they may also impact others. It is always possible to improve our emotional and cultural intelligence, even when it is also often innate. 

Know when to use intuition 

The prefrontal cortex excels at foreseeing and forecasting consequences, but knee-jerk reactions should usually be avoided in favour of relying on the cognitive control functions of the brain. However, intuition has its place and following our gut feelings means we can make quick, intuitive problem-solving decisions, when necessary, using subliminal processing and leveraging data from our past experiences, memories and beliefs. The more experience we have, the more we can rely on intuition to resolve problems quickly. 

Make analytical decisions 

When we are making a thought-out choice the stimuli in question alert the neurons which travel to the prefrontal cortex to ascertain if any further information is needed to make a decision and to activate rational thinking. The amygdala, meanwhile, processes emotions and makes risk assessments. Acknowledging the difference between fast, intuitive decisions and slower, analytical ones helps us to make appropriate decisions in different circumstances and contexts. 

Replace habit with agility and quick decision-making 

While we need to stay true to ourselves and our business’s purpose and values, leaders who are nimble and flexible and can adapt to individual, local, national and global changes can throw off habits and pivot. Those who are dexterous and responsive change the structure and functionality of their brain for the better.  

Build rapport, confidence and trust 

Oxytocin (also known as the love hormone) is produced in the hypothalamus, released in the pituitary gland, and is deeply influenced by trust and sociality. When we actively and deeply listen to a colleague (junior or senior), customer, client or peer, we are more likely to build a connection, build trust and instil confidence. Both non-verbal and verbal communication are important cues. Trust means more oxytocin, less stress, better performance and greater engagement.  

Manage stress 

Some short-term stress does little harm and can even improve our performance but when cortisol is secreted for long periods, it can detrimentally affect our physical, mental and emotional health. When we effectively manage our stress, we feel more in control of our emotional reactions and impulses, and can more ably focus on priorities. This in turn means we will feel calmer and more engaged, and are less likely to become involved in conflict or to burn out.  

Over to you 

By harnessing the principles of neuroscience, business leaders are not only gaining a deeper understanding of human behaviour and cognition but also fostering a workplace environment that is more adaptive, empathetic and efficient.  

This holistic approach enables organisations to thrive by promoting continuous learning, effective communication, and emotional intelligence. As a result, companies can achieve a harmonious balance between intuition and analytical thinking, leading to better decision-making and innovation.  

Embracing these neuroscientific insights is not just a strategic advantage but a pathway to sustainable success and a healthier, more engaged workforce. 

Dr Lynda Shaw is a cognitive psychologist, neuroscientist and C-suite mentor at her own company  

Dr Lynda Shaw

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