What neuroscience can teach us about management

In a recent article by Harvard Business Review entitled Your Brain at Work, the authors Adam Waytz and Malia Mason highlight that new research is updating what we know about the brain almost every second. But in order to really understand how the brain affects management, leadership, and marketing, it’s vital to separate fact from fiction, resist facile narratives and establish a more sophisticated view of brain science.

This is one of the reasons why we, at Knowledge Resources are hosting the Neuroscience in the World of Work Seminar and pre-Seminar Workshop on the 15 and 16 of September in Johannesburg. This seminar will highlight the latest discoveries in neuroscience and how they can be applied to the world of work.

And academics are taking these advances in neuroscience seriously too.

Neuroscientists are now adopting a new and better framework for this discipline; one that shifts the focus from studying the activation of brain regions to learning how networks of brain regions activate in concurrent patterns. Waytz and Mason describe it like going from using video from a single surveillance camera at a crime scene to do detective work to using footage from multiple cameras positioned in different locations. And these new tools and approaches have already produced insights into:

  • how to enable creative thinking
  • how to structure rewards
  • the role of emotion in decision making
  • the opportunities and pitfalls of multitasking

Neuroscientists have discovered as many as 15 neural networks and sub-networks; however, the four described here are considered core and are the best understood:

1. The Default Network Activates: When people are awake but not focused on external stimuli or any specific goal.

What it controls: Introspective thought and the ability to envision the past, the future, or alternative realities.
Crucial for understanding: Creative thinking and breakthrough innovation.

2. The Reward Network Activates: In response to stimuli that induce enjoyment – such as food and water, money, and praise.

What it controls: Perceptions of pleasure and displeasure.
Crucial for understanding: Motivation and incentives.

3. The Affect Network Activates: When people experience emotions.

What it controls: Autonomic and endocrine responses (alterations in blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature) that the brain interprets as feelings.
Crucial for understanding: Hunches and gut instincts, and the role that emotions play in decision making.

4. The Control Network Activates: When people weigh long-term consequences, check their impulses, and selectively focus their attention.

What it controls: People’s ability to align their behaviour with their goals.
Crucial for understanding: The benefits and risks of multitasking and how to set and manage priorities.

To learn more about what is happening in the field of neuroscience how you can apply these advances to your organisation, attend our one day seminar, Neuroscience in the World of Work Seminar, on the 16th of September 2014. Click here to learn more!


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